Leadership: You Get What You Ask For

Sunshine, blue skies and the first colourful flowers are providing me with happiness this week. And I have just finished planning a business trip to Israel. The last time I was there was on my gap year, before I started medical school. I met an Israeli family at a bus stop and ended up living with them for a couple of weeks, learning how to make lachuach – a type of Yemeni bread. We have not been in contact since that gap year. However when I emailed them last week, they phoned me back within an hour. I am very excited to be meeting up with them and their grandchildren next week. In these dark times, I treasure the connections I have with people from all over the world – people of different nationalities, religions, cultures, backgrounds and outlook on life. The warmth I share with them, the relationships that may lie dormant for decades but are easily revived, cheer me and sustain me. 

Today’s topics: 

– Leadership: you get what you ask for

– Your energy: invest it wisely

– How to get project funding  

– Communication: culture, context and interpretation

Leadership: You Get What You Ask For

A senior director I once knew had the habit of roaming the halls of the company, quizzing employees on the clinical trial results of the products they worked on. Whenever I was quizzed, I would provide the numbers, when I knew them, but when I didn’t, I’d reply: “The data is within this range, however I don’t know the exact results to the week and day for this specific trial”. I was told to do better and to emulate a colleague who always knew all the answers. I asked my colleague for her secret. Her response was, “There is no secret. There are so many similar trials it’s not possible to know all the results off by heart.” I said, “But you always provide the correct answer.” My colleague replied: “Ah, actually, no, the data is always within a certain range. I give him a number within that range. He doesn’t check. And there is no way for him to know the correct answer either. So, he believes me. It keeps him happy.” Unlike my smart colleague, who had done a risk benefit assessment on the best approach, I had been using flash cards in a desperate bid to keep the numbers in my mind.  What can we learn from this tale? As a leader: if you lead through fear, you will be told what you want to hear, not necessarily the truth. As an employee: when comparing your performance to someone else’s, which is generally a bad idea, make sure you understand what you are comparing yourself to. Set goals for yourself remembering that there may be more going on under the surface than you realise. 

Your Energy: Invest it Wisely

As a teenager I spent time with a family in Israel. I would play with the baby. I would swing him around and around in the garden, tell him stories and spend hours in the hot Israeli sunshine, shaping Plasticine dinosaurs.  He loved dinosaurs. I loved the creativity of making miniature creatures in all the colours of the rainbow. I remember the joy I felt when I showed him my creations. His reaction? He raised his fist, squashing the dinosaurs into a single lump of mud-coloured Plasticine. The value I placed on my creations was not the value he, as a baby, placed on them. The lesson here is: invest your energy wisely, enjoy your creations and don’t be too tied to them or upset if others don’t value them as you do. 

How to Get Project Funding

Getting the budget you desire in order to implement the project you feel your company needs is hard unless you are in a commercial function, the project has an obvious financial ROI, or you are managing a huge transformation. The fact is that the activity you treasure most in your role, such as interacting with patients, is not necessarily the activity that is going to get you budget approval for the project. Budget access is typically simple in only three situations: when a huge transformation is mandated by a senior leader, when the ROI can be easily calculated or when you are addressing inspection results. 

So, what does this mean for everyone else? When you next need to gain senior stakeholder buy-in for a project, try to frame the project benefits in the context of key focus areas for the company overall, such as customer access, market insights, an effective product launch or patient safety. For example, if a new product is to be launched in 2025, identify how your project might support that launch to make use of the product safer, customers’ understanding of the product better or improve the content of educational materials for customers. 

To do this, it can be a good idea to interview senior leaders to identify where they are focusing overall company efforts, business opportunities and threats, the markets, and customer groups that are in focus, as well as new access channels and what projects are ongoing in other departments. Aim to understand company goals, short, medium and long term

If your project can help to solve your manager’s burning issues, you are a huge step closer to getting budget approval.

Communication: Culture, Context and Interpretation

I have been thinking recently about how communication is interpreted in context. For example, as a teenager my school made me take part in a parade. Permitted, at least, to pick the group I would walk in front of, I picked the flower children – in my mind they were a group of hippies. Instead, to my horror, I found myself leading a group of small children dressed as flowers out of the school gates and through the village.

And only last year in England, a young woman was killed by a police officer. She got into his car, trusting him because he was a police officer. Here is another example: LinkedIn is full of reports on how the platform has mutated from a professional networking tool to a type of “Amazon of human interaction” where users pursue romance, finance scams or political agendas and sometimes work-related activities. 

To facilitate life, we tend to interpret interactions within the official context in which they take place or, as in the first example, based on the culture in which we were raised – in my case, initially the UK. The risk is that we discount our instincts about situations we may find ourselves in, instead trusting the context we are in and what our frontal cortex is telling us. Unfortunately, it seems that more vigilance is required in navigating the modern world. 

I hope, as ever, that my article provides you with some useful insights. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And of course, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, do reach out and we can arrange to chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash