Leadership Insight for Life Sciences

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“The led must not be compelled; they must be able to choose their own leader.”                 – Albert Einstein

Leadership Insight for Life Sciences

By Jordan Warshafsky. Life Sciences and leadership. Is that any different than Information Technology and leadership, or the financial sector and leadership? Yes, and no. There are both significant differences in the Life Sciences industry, which apply to leadership, and similarities – principles that apply to every C-Suite team regardless of industry.

First, we will discuss the differences –

The emotional connection: Life Sciences carry a unique role in that their products and services play a crucial role in the health and well-being of the people they serve. It often involves life and death issues. The industry’s focus is researching, developing, and delivering innovative technologies, medical devices, drugs, and treatments that ideally will save, prolong, and improve lives.  This focus creates an emotional connection between the public and the industry.

The value complexity: As Professor Brian D Smith (brian.smith@pragmedic.com) points out, the supply and demand factor of Life Sciences sits at a much higher level of complexity due to the complexity of patients, health issues and diseases, therapies, injuries that are not illnesses, “the market for pharmaceutical and medical technology products is revealed as not a single homogenous market, but an enormous interconnected hive of markets.”

Furthermore, Brian continues, “the supply side compasses a deep and broad array of physical and social technologies and a complex network of organizations. The physical technology involved –pharmacology, engineering, and other application –is often at the very edge of our knowledge.”


Risk factor: While many companies have high-risk levels, the risk connected to drug and medical device development is exceptionally unique. Demanding regulatory requirements alone create uncertainty and high risk. Ultimately, how the human body is going to respond adds another level. Consider a company that spends years and billions in developing and perfecting a new drug, therapy, or device that did well in clinical trials and then a few years later was discovered to have complications, resulting in a massive lawsuit.


Workforce factor: Three dimensions characterize a company’s workforce. A) expertise of its most qualified professionals B) range of different expertise required and C) the % of the workforce, which includes highly educated and skilled professionals. Life sciences companies are comprised of extremely high concentrations of professional intellect across multiple disciplines. As Smith also says, “There are few industries in which the most specialized employees are comparable, in experience and reputation, with the leading academic authorities in the field, yet this is commonplace among the disease area specialist in the pharmaceutical industry and among material scientist and design engineers in medical devices.”


So how do the above differences affect leadership principles in the life sciences industry?

It shapes both the mission statement itself, and its level of significance

While many companies have a mission statement that is loosely adhered to and sometimes completely forgotten, life sciences’ emotional connection holds the industry to a much tighter line. While society recognizes that the life sciences industry must be profitable to continue, it also expects the industry to balance financial measurement and humanitarian goals.

In a workforce of highly educated professionals, each with their expertise and ideas, there must be a clearly articulated mission that provides guidelines concerning discretionary activity rather than running a tight command and control.

In addition to society’s expectations and discretionary guidance, the life sciences mission also plays an essential role in reputational risk by building trust with stakeholders.

Finally, given the high-level professional workforce in life sciences, the ability of a compelling mission to unify the players and ensure the commitment is high.

Second, how is leadership in life sciences like other industries –

COVID-19 has done more than put 2020 in a tailspin; it has shaped leadership for the future.

Traits such as integrity, transparency, authenticity, agility, flexibility, and the human connection have always been essential to outstanding leadership, but now more than ever, they are crucial to an industry’s ability to survive. They are the foundation that will help life sciences meet the challenges of post-Covid leadership, such as

  • Maintaining connections and a sense of belonging within their teams even when they cannot share laboratory space.
  • Learning to work together in virtual environments – fewer people physically in the labs requires increased automation and remote robotic labs.
  • Employing virtual connections for clinical trials.

Like all industries, life sciences leaders will need to:

  • Keep pace, or even a step ahead, of technological advancements and increasing the use of AI to augment their team.
  • Promote well-being among their workforce, engaging innovative ways to keep people connected, fostering a sense of belonging and commitment to a common objective.
  • Re-evaluate the effectiveness of their communication among professionals, research, developers, management, and stakeholders.

Life sciences leadership happens in different contexts/situations every day. It is a continually evolving process shaped by the current challenges. At the C-suite level, it revolves around many complexities. Still, when the C-suite in pharmaceutical and medical device companies recognize their industry’s uniqueness and adapt their strategy around it while not losing sight of basic leadership principles, they will set the pace for the future.

When you need direct-hire or interim, highly qualified, experienced leaders, contact Ashton Tweed. Our partners have more than 75 years of life sciences and human capital experience. We excel in finding the right candidates for your workforce at all points in your growth and across all your specialized staffing needs. Besides retained executive search, we place highly experienced life sciences and industry candidates, as interim executives providing just-in-time solutions to your urgent business issues.


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