This article explores the neuroscience of success and how a different, more thought-out approach to our behavior in the workplace can lead to higher chances of career success in the long run.
Here we explore how some of the top Medical Affairs leaders from Johnson & Johnson think about evolving from a highly skilled individual contributor to a people leader.
Executive Vice President & CMO, UCB, Iris Loew-Friedrich discusses the importance of a purpose-driven culture to employee engagement
Caring for people – patients and colleagues – coupled with the science are the twin elements that form the foundation of Professor Doctor Iris Loew-Friedrich’s approach to her role. And this aligns neatly with the vision of her employer, global biopharma company UCB, and provides a platform for collaboration both within and outside the organization.
A physician by training, Professor Loew-Friedrich started her professional life at the Frankfurt University Medical School and has always tried to combine patient care with high-quality research. Today she is Executive Vice-President Development and Medical Practices and Chief Medical Officer at UCB, where she provides global strategic leadership across a range of areas.
“I still very much consider myself a physician, so patient care is really at the center of what drives me – and more generally it’s care for people: people living with diseases and also people in our company, in my organization and people in our industry are what motivates me very much.” This approach chimes with the way UCB articulates its vision: “Inspired by patients. Driven by science.” Professor Loew-Friedrich is confident that this “really sends out a message about who we want to be.”
Culture is a key driver
She explains: “I think culture is the key driver and so creating a culture that gives colleagues a sense of purpose and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact is important. At UCB, we have one central question that we ask all the time: how will what we do make a difference for patients living with severe diseases? It’s the value-creation topic that is at the center of all of our work.”
And, of course, this vision resonates especially within the Medical Affairs function.
“Our mission in Medical Affairs is to drive the continuous modernization and integration of data from multiple disciplines and sources. Then we need to translate them into actionable insights with scientific integrity, efficiency and transparency so that we optimize the patient and healthcare professional experience. That’s a mission behind which we can all align. We try to ensure that all colleagues in our Medical Affairs practice understand how each of them contributes to this mission and we combine this with forming a culture of high-performing teams.
“Everybody is focused on the same purpose of creating value for patients. On top of this, we try to ensure that we are an organization that cultivates learning, innovating and high performance and all of that integrated with opportunities for personal development, recognition, and rewards. It is the entire package that is required to attract the talent for the future and to maintain and develop that talent in our organization.”
Moreover, continuous learning is key to fostering agility and adaptability, according to Professor Loew-Friedrich. “As the environment keeps changing so quickly, the ability of an organization to be agile and to adapt is very important and so these are important traits that we’re looking for when we are hiring talent – a mindset to innovate, to grow, a mindset of continuous learning.”
How can the organization attract this type of talent? “We aim to create the sense of purpose, the sense of belonging, and key opportunities for personal development and growth. In line with our practice thinking, we are trying to establish communities of colleagues who either have the same role in the organization or who work in the same geography or who are engaged around the same patient population. So, our communities are aligned on common themes and we see that as a major driver of identification with the Medical Affairs organization and a source of inspiration and learning.”
Leadership for Loew-Friedrich has always been about empowering people to have maximum impact in a team environment. “I consider myself very much as someone who creates opportunities and empowers people. I believe you cannot be a leader without being passionate about what you are doing. Of course, we need to be very objective in our decision-making.”
Asked about the key capabilities to be developed within Medical Affairs as we move towards value-based medicine, Professor Loew-Friedrich is clear: “From my perspective the biggest topic is probably around creating and mastering medical insights. The second area of focus is collaborating very broadly for evidence generation.
“In terms of generating and mastering medical insights, I think we have already plenty of data available but how do we then use the data to truly generate insights? For me, this means that it’s not about just generating outputs and results, but really going one step further and distilling meaningful insights, providing context and ultimately driving impact. “On the second topic – collaboration for evidence generation – I think we have plenty of opportunity to join forces with academia or other institutions outside of our industry to invest our joint resources into the acceleration of the advancement of medical science. If a medicine gets to a patient in its first indication, there is a vast opportunity in terms of further knowledge and insights being generated: how can we get to the best ideas and how can we turn them into a true win-win situation that will create value for patients? This is where I believe we can collaborate closely with academic institutes, patient advocacy groups and other stakeholders to really get to the best possible outcome.”
Professor Loew-Friedrich points out that collaboration will be enhanced by advanced technology. “What I am seeing for the future is that we need to launch artificial intelligence capabilities – so that we use the data to simulate scenarios that will very objectively inform the next steps and ultimately enhance patient care. One of the big topics around collaboration for evidence generation is building on the strengths of human intelligence and artificial intelligence and establishing seamless interaction between both.”
How can we measure our performance in this new world? “Performance management is a topic that we continuously need to evolve and that is not as easy as it sounds. We’re trying to move away from very simple, quantitative measures – number of scientific exchanges, number of publications, impact factors – to measuring the quality of our analytical skills and the insight generation. Getting to meaningful qualitative measures is not an easy task. And I understand it’s not only difficult for UCB, it’s a challenge for the entire industry.”
Finally, the new operating model elevates Medical Affairs from a supportive role into a strategic decision-maker and trusted scientific partner: how is this change manifesting itself within the organization? “We are moving towards an integrated model that provides the Medical team the right space to be a trusted scientific and strategic partner ‘eye-to-eye’. What we need to continue to enhance is leadership and business acumen of our medical colleagues. This is not only about scientific leadership and leadership in insight generation, it’s also leadership in the most classical sense of providing direction, engaging and inspiring colleagues – inside Medical Affairs and beyond. That’s a work in progress and a key competency that we continue to strengthen in the organization.”
Prof. Dr. Iris Loew- Friedrich: Career Path
Dubbed by New York Times best-selling author and leadership guru Tasha Eurich as the meta-skill of the 21st century, self-awareness is as desirable as it is elusive, given that a staggering 95 per cent of people think they possess self-awareness, but only about 15 per cent of people really do. Self-aware people are more fulfilled, more creative, successful, more confident, build better relationships, and are more respected and effective leaders with more profitable companies. There’s just one problem: most people don’t see themselves quite as clearly as they could, and it’s rare to get candid, objective feedback from colleagues, employees, and even friends and family.
In her new book, Insight, organizational psychologist Eurich tackles this paradox and offers an explanation for this disconnect. “The reason I call it the meta-skill is that it’s underlying or foundational to all of the skills that are required to succeed in the 21st century – things like emotional intelligence, influence, persuasion, sales. If you are not self-aware, if you do not understand who you are, how others see you and the role you play in the world, you are going to come up short. But for most people, it is easier to choose self-delusion over the cold hard truth.”
Eurich argues that the increasingly “me-focused” society makes it easier to fall into this trap. “Recent generations have grown up in a world obsessed with self-esteem, constantly being reminded of their special qualities, and it is fiendishly difficult to examine objectively who we are and how we’re seen.”
Indeed, psychological research indicates that are we are not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately, frequently overestimating our abilities: for example, the Dunning-Kruger effect results in “illusory superiority” – a condition of cognitive bias whereby a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of others. What’s even more alarming is that those with the least ability are most likely to overrate their ability to the greatest extent.
For Anne Welsh, Executive Coach and founder of Synthesis-in-the-City, the first step for a leader is to have a willingness to be self-reflective and, from being self-reflective, to build greater self-awareness over time. “If we think about the old style of leadership, it was very different from now where leaders are asked to be a lot more relational. Personally, I think that it takes courage to build self-awareness, because if you become more self-aware in one area, if you like, you have to actually open to your shadow as well as the positive aspects of self-awareness. So, I think self-awareness is a leadership journey and it demands courage.”
For Welsh, this journey needs to be a conscious choice. “In some ways, this learning could come from feedback from others, from 360-degree feedback from subordinates, colleagues and supervisors, but also I think you can begin to choose to take ownership, even keeping a reflective journal, to begin to recognize what works well in my relationships with others and especially as a leader. Where do I, maybe, get caught where my own beliefs and mindsets are stopping me actually being able to be relational as a leader?”
3 Tips on Self-Awareness
Watch Tasha Eurich in the video below to learn how to become more self-aware by making three life adjustments: deciding to learn the truth, getting more feedback, and asking what you can do to make a change in every situation.
Internal and external self-awareness
In her book Insight, Eurich talks about two types of self-awareness: internal and external. “Internal self-awareness has to do with seeing yourself clearly. It’s an inward understanding of your values, passions, aspirations, ideal environment, patterns, reactions, and impact on others. People who are high in internal self-awareness tend to make choices that are consistent with who they really are, allowing them to lead happier and more satisfying lives. Those without it act in ways that are incompatible with their true success and happiness, like staying in an unfulfilling job or relationship because they don’t know what they want.”
External self-awareness according to Insight is about “understanding yourself from the outside in – that is, knowing how other people see you. Because externally self-aware people can accurately see themselves from others’ perspectives, they are able to build stronger and more trusting relationships. Those low in external self-awareness, on the other hand, are so disconnected with how they come across that they’re often blindsided by feedback from others.”
Eurich names “three building blocks” that must be in place for a leader to drive a self-aware team.
“First, if the team doesn’t have a leader who models the way, the process will be seen as insincere or even dangerous. Second, if there isn’t the psychological safety to tell the truth, the chance of candid feedback is almost zero. But even with all this in place, you need an ongoing process— not unlike Ford CEO Mulally’s BPR (Business Plan Review) to ensure that the exchange of feedback is built into the team’s culture.”
For Welsh, it comes down to reviewing your emotional state and having the awareness and capacity to shift that state when needed. “Internally, consider what sort of state am I in: am I in a state that’s available and do I have the capacity to shift my state? And this is where mindfulness can come in or knowing how do we shift our state at any given moment.
The second self-awareness is about awareness of ourselves in relation to others and that takes quite a lot of sensory awareness as well. So, if we think that leaders maybe have to come from a place of ‘head, heart and gut’ (in the old leadership style, it’s much more head-identified) a leader can have greater sensory awareness and the guts to risk finding out ‘how am I coming across to others?’ So I think there’s a piece about awareness involving how we, as a self, are relating to others and how we’re impacting on the environment.”
Welsh advocates that leaders need to be conscious of their impact and how their message affects employees.” I think it’s picking up on body language, even if you think about a leader giving a presentation, do they talk at the people or are they gauging ‘how is this coming across to the people in the room? Are these people who need me to be more relational or do they just want slides?’ Because so often in presentations that leaders are giving, they’re just talking at the audience, they’re not checking out how this is landing, for instance asking “does this have a resonance with you?” which would be a much more relational way of interacting as a leader – so the leader actually asking questions, not just giving information.”
Welsh also advises that leaders be conscious of the dynamics at play within a team setting. “I love Nancy Kline’s work on Time To Think and if we look at self-awareness in teams, we have to be conscious of the psychological dynamics that go on within a team – noticing, what’s the role that I take on in any team; am I always the one that’s the challenger? Am I the icebreaker? Inviting teams to reflect on what are the dynamics that are going on in this team, alongside what is it that we have to do and what do we need to deliver? Because it might be that somebody gets labelled and gets scapegoated in a team and the other members of the team can feel quite comfortable because it’s not them. So, I think that in a team, helping them to think about what is the role that I maybe take on, even from [family] history – because teams are just like families: often you’ll find that the role that people took on in a family is the role that they’ll take on in a team. This can be useful, and especially it can be useful for the ones who are maybe playing a role that they actually don’t want to play anymore.”
The quality of self-awareness requires self-reflection: the act of setting aside time – ideally every day – to quietly and honestly look at yourself, first as a person and then as a leader. Yet according to Eurich’s research, people who introspected were more stressed, more depressed, less satisfied with their jobs and relationships, less in control of their lives. She is in favor of a considered approach when it comes to self-reflection. “Self-analysis can trap us in a mental hell of our own making. Thinking about ourselves is not the same as knowing ourselves.”
Why questions: “why did I behave that way”, should be changed instead to “what”. “Why-questions trap us in that rearview mirror. What-questions move us forward to our future. As human beings, we are blessed with the ability to understand who we are, what we want to contribute, and the kind of life we want to lead. Remember, our self-awareness unicorns had nothing in common except a belief in the importance of self-awareness and a daily commitment to developing it. That means we can all be unicorns. The search for self-awareness never ever stops.”
Increase your self-awareness with one simple fix:
Finding and fixing blindspots
Blind spots can be the Achilles heel of leadership. Even the most iconic leaders have blind spots and, the more senior the leader, the less likelihood of receiving honest and accurate feedback from employees. Blind spots can help you maintain your confidence in the face of significant obstacles but, when they inhibit you from seeing the truth or make you blind to important issues, they need to be addressed. It’s not always easy to figure out what your own blind spots are and admitting them can seem like admitting weakness. Surround yourself with people who can help you manage your blind spots or weaknesses. If you don’t have strong analytical skills, recruit someone who can help you. If you tend to get defensive when your views are challenged, find a colleague or mentor who can help you deal with those feelings and process the information presented to you. By bolstering your team with people who help you overcome your blind spots, you’ll be better positioned to compensate for them.