Magazine Article | July 31, 2014

Ask The Board

Source: Life Science Leader

Q: What Is The Best Leadership Advice You Ever Received?

A: IT CAME FROM DR. RICHARD COUTO, a professor of leadership studies. He taught me that adjusting to change is much like transitioning through the stages of grief. While the leader has had the benefit of understanding why the change needs to happen, those being led may need time to adjust and to come on board. Continuous communication and patience are critical. This knowledge has been invaluable to me both as a leader of change within biotechnology and as a teacher of leadership at Johns Hopkins. All too frequently, great change ideas are implemented but fail because not enough information and time are given. Put together a core, guiding coalition of believers in the change, articulate the vision early and often to everyone, and especially communicate small wins. Once people see that the change is working, more will come on board.

Lynn Johnson Langer, Ph.D., MBA, is president emeritus of Women In Bio (WIB) and the director of enterprise and regulatory affairs programs in the Center for Biotechnology Education at Johns Hopkins University where she teaches graduate courses in biotechnology leadership and management.

A: I RECEIVED SOME GREAT ADVICE WHILE IN MY FIRST JOB at a large pharmaceutical company. I had previously worked at a biotech where the environment was fast-moving regarding processes and decision making. While trying to move at the same speed at the pharma company, I encountered a lot of “That’s not the way things are done here” and the perception that there was always a wall in front of me. One of my colleagues observed my frustration and suggested I, “Just run right through the wall as if it’s not there.” His point was that often we find ourselves in a box of our own making, thinking there is a rule or a reason preventing us from taking action. Another mentor and friend of mine put it this way: “We are far more empowered than we realize.”

Dr. John Reynders is the CIO for Moderna Therapeutics. He has held senior R&D and technology leadership positions at AZ, J&J, Lilly, Celera Genomics, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A: MY FIRST MENTOR IN BUSINESS WAS ART BENVENUTO, the CEO to whom I reported at my first company, Advanced Tissue Sciences. I used to drive him crazy by adopting the perspective of whoever had presented the most recent reasonable argument about a given business issue; then someone would present a reasonable counterargument, and I’d appear to adopt that position. I wasn’t necessarily agreeing with the position, I was just “trying on” each perspective to see how it fi t. But to people around me, the behavior could come off as indecisiveness. Art insisted I not appear to “sway with each passing breeze” and helped me understand that there can be a fine line between considering options thoroughly and appearing to be wishywashy. That advice helped me grow Acorda from just myself and a laptop to more than 420 people and over $300M in annual revenue.

Ron Cohen, M.D. is president, CEO, and founder of Acorda Therapeutics, Inc., a public biotechnology company developing therapies for spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and other nervous system disorders.