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Lessons from Pharma Leaders

Posted by | 10:47am on Thursday, March 15, 2012
Nancy Santilli, Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, Debra Weiss

Your burdens are your blessings and vice versa 

On March 7, 2012 I attended a Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) event, “Strengths-Based Leadership.” The panel featured Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer; Nancy Santilli, Vice President Scientific Engagement at HealthTronics a subsidiary of Endo Holdings; and Debra Weiss, Vice President, Global Quality Assurance at Shire Pharmaceuticals. These charismatic women had the sold-out crowd at Pfizer captivated for more than an hour. I’m going to summarize a few of the key takeaways.

Dr. Lewis-Hall started the session by saying the three qualities that make her an effective leader are being a connector and having courage and tenacity. She noted that instead of tenacity she had unsuccessfully tried to think of another word that started with the letter “c.” To the delight of the audience, moderator Eve Dryer then suggested the word “chutzpah!” Weiss said that being able to influence others is another essential quality. Santilli garnered laughs when she attributed being unafraid to fail to the fact that as a child she always had to stand up to her older twin sisters.

Be authentic
Both Weiss and Santilli described being recruited to specific jobs where they did not have all the necessary experience. They recommended being open about your weaknesses and strengths and hiring team members who support your weak areas.

Dr. Lewis-Hall mentioned how she once had a boss who was a self-described “visionary leader.” She looked behind him and didn’t see anyone following. She dubbed his style “hallucinatory leadership—you can see it but no one else can!”

Modulation required
An audience member asked whether the panelists had ever found their personalities to be “too much” for conservative pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Lewis-Hall replied, “Your burdens are your blessings and vice versa. Leadership isn’t about bringing all of you all of the time, but about bringing the right amount needed to the company at that time.” The panel agreed that you have to serve the moment and the need, and to moderate the power of your strengths. Santilli recalled reading feedback from a presentation and being surprised and hurt at the audience perception of her. Now she considers ahead of time: who is the audience, am I coming on too strong and how will my opinion be taken?

Words to live by
“You do what’s right for patients and the rest will follow,” commented Santilli. Her background as a nurse helps Weiss to keep perspective: “When someone says there’s an emergency, unless someone isn’t breathing it may be urgent but it’s not an emergency!”

In terms of overall career growth, Dr. Lewis-Hall advised defining the pinnacle role of your career and then working to be ready for that. Develop the skills and go after jobs that will help you reach this. “Big ideas require small steps,” said Lewis-Hall.

The power of the HBA
I’ve written about the HBA before, and I strongly recommend attending a local program. As you can tell from the quality of this event, they are excellent learning opportunities as well as offering networking opportunities.

(Image courtesy of Pfizer.)

About Eileen O'Brien

Eileen has more than 16 years of digital healthcare marketing experience. She is an opinion leader on social media and biopharma, and has been invited to speak at industry conferences and quoted in publications.

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    15 March 2012 at 3:03pm
    Gr8 advice on strength-based ...
  • Eileen O'Brien
  • 15 March 2012 at 3:03pm
    @pfizer_news great insights from ...
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  • 15 March 2012 at 4:03pm
    Gr8 advice on strength-based ...
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  • 16 March 2012 at 10:03am
    "Lessons from Pharma ...
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  • 16 March 2012 at 10:03am
    "Lessons from Pharma ...
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  • 16 March 2012 at 12:03pm
    RT @pharmaphorum "Lessons from ...
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    Lessons from female pharma Leaders ...
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    "Lessons from Pharma ...
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  • 22 March 2012 at 5:03am
    @eileenobrien: Nice summary of the ...
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