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The evolving role of a business leader: 10 lessons learned from the past decade

As a leader, you will have to make decisions without objective data sometimes. Having the mindset to make those calls and taking risks while trusting your intuition is key.

It’s no secret that the typical workplace dynamic has shifted in the past couple of years for both employers and employees. I’ve watched the leadership role evolve as priorities, decision-making processes, and capabilities changed. The constant evolution of technology has impacted all major areas, leadership included, creating new efficiencies and allowing leaders to facilitate collaborative, flexible work environments. The life sciences industry, specifically, has faced challenges, successes, and accelerated growth amid the pandemic.

As a founder approaching our company’s 10-year anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned about what it takes to run a successful business and to continually bring value as a leader. Here are 10 leadership lessons learned as an entrepreneur in a high-growth organization:

1. OPERATE WITH A MISSION-DRIVEN APPROACH

It’s imperative to have a strong goal that all teams can align themselves to. Operating with this mission-driven approach can serve as motivation for the entire company and lay the foundation for a strong company culture. In my experience, it’s more enjoyable to come to work when surrounded by others who are equally passionate about your purpose.

2. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who are not only great business partners, but believers in our mission and vision. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people—without people, you don’t have a business. Starting out with the right team in the beginning is key, but as the organization grows, it’s equally important to maintain that approach to hiring and recruiting the right talent. Most important of all, enable opportunities for your team to grow with you by building strategies around their development and well-being.

3. PRIORITIZE CHANGE MANAGEMENT

The distributed workplace is here to stay. The workforce composition is changing, and the next decade will be more complex with more technology, adapting processes, and increasing expectations. Present new technologies to your organization with the mindset of creating better experiences, rather than having your technological evolution feeling disruptive. Take the time to communicate changes to your company and coach them through the process.

4. ASK QUESTIONS, DON’T JUST GIVE ANSWERS

The human mind’s first instinct is to come prepared with an answer to every question. As a leader, don’t come to meetings to propose solutions; instead, ask questions so the team can collectively come up with the answer on their own. It’s important to take this step back, as it can be a teaching moment for leaders and a learning moment for teams.

5. THERE’S NOT ALWAYS A PLAYBOOK

As a new leader, there isn’t a playbook that lays out how to ensure the company grows, wins, and survives. Starting a new company, I became a leader without a playbook to follow, learning and adapting along the way. As the company grew, we shifted from the mindset of not only surviving, but also thinking about the current state, while maintaining focus on our vision for the future.

6. IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO

In the early days, it wasn’t always easy for me to say no. It’s great to be involved and raise your hand, but if you take on too many tasks, you can quickly burn out. It’s smart to be realistic about what you can and cannot handle to deliver quality work.

As young leaders are starting out, it’s important for them to remember that it’s okay to say no. In the beginning, it can be tempting to say yes to opportunities because you worry about when the next one will come along. But it’s important to realize the opportunity cost associated with leaving yourself less open to better chances that might come along. There can be big rewards in taking the risk to say no to something so that you are available to say yes to the right opportunities when they come.

7. LEADERSHIP IS A CONTACT SPORT

I believe the more you have the mindset of engaging and thinking about being a better leader, the higher your chances are of becoming one, especially for those who are new to the leadership role. The best way to learn is to do. You should also have a coaching mentality, working hard and keeping the strengths and weaknesses of  yourself and those you’re coaching in mind. Read, observe what others are doing, and be open to learning—always evolving and absorbing new information.

8. LEAN INTO TECHNOLOGY TO INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY

To be a successful leader for a growing organization, you should be productive and focused. With the evolution of technology, there’s a plethora of tools to help you engage and communicate with teams, prioritize work, and eliminate manual tasks. Take the time to learn how you can best leverage tech tools for optimal productivity.

9. TAKE RISKS AT SPEED  

The speed at which leaders must make decisions has increased, and time is of the essence. As a leader, you will have to make decisions without objective data sometimes. Having the mindset to make those calls and taking risks while trusting your intuition is key.

10. IT’S IMPORTANT TO INSPIRE

As a CEO, part of your job is to inspire and remind the team about the mission. I take the time to remind my teams that we are supporting our customers who are helping improve clinical research and the lives of patients. I regularly share examples of how our work is making a positive impact and remind our teams to take a step back to acknowledge and celebrate what we’ve accomplished. I believe this is an aspect of leadership that should never change, no matter how many years down the road you look.

I’m excited about what the future holds for the life sciences industry and opportunities for leaders overall as innovations continue to transform markets and expectations continue to change. Along any business’ growth journey, it’s important to reflect on how far you’ve come, what you’ve learned, and how you can continue your growth throughout the following decades to work toward your mission. Looking back can be the key to successfully moving forward.


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