By: Dr. Wendy Heckelman and Dr. Loretta Cate


Fewer than half of 1,000 C-suite executives surveyed in the 2018 Global Leadership Forecast by DDI ranked their organization’s overall leadership quality as “excellent” or “very good.” Additional research suggests that less than 20 percent of executives believe their leaders have the skills needed to achieve their organization’s current and future business or cultural priorities.

Bottom Line: Top-level executives are uneasy about their organizational leaders’ ability to handle unexpected challenges!

The Business Challenge: Leadership pressures and continuous change!

When we talk about the changing landscape in technology and the healthcare industry, some use the term VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. Accelerated clinical and scientific innovation, a complex marketplace with multiple stakeholders influencing treatment decisions, increasing pricing pressures, and healthcare policy uncertainty all create unexpected challenges for leaders. These rapid, continuous changes force biotech and pharma companies to constantly redirect their strategic direction in order to meet patient needs.
There’s a lot at stake! BioPharma leaders at all levels must understand these global and economic market challenges, identify the business and cultural priorities, and transform the way the company operates and navigates through change if the organization is going to thrive and survive in the future!

The Business Need: Leaders who can guide the company into the future!

In the VUCA world, leadership development goes beyond building foundational skills related to leadership style, coaching, and team development. An effective leadership development strategy will create agile leaders who can deal with volatility and uncertainty while inspiring others to achieve the right results. It will enhance strategic and creative thinking so leaders can focus on how to better position the organization for success in a fast-paced business climate.

The Solution: A leadership development strategy that goes beyond building foundational skills!

Over the past three years, WLH has worked with company leaders and key stakeholders to identify the leadership competencies required in the BioPharma industry to ensure the company’s success going forward.
In today’s healthcare environment, companies have to differentiate their brand and services from the competition. In order to drive current and future enterprise success in the BioPharma industry, today’s leaders (at all levels) must:

  • Anticipate trends in highly competitive markets and develop innovative strategies
  • Be agile to successfully guide self and others through continuous change
  • Collaborate across leaders and functions within complex matrixed organizations
  • Develop and inspire future talent and create an inclusive culture
  • Execute strategy with discipline to achieve the right results

Building the Leadership Bench

An effective leadership development program strengthens the skills of their current leaders and ensures a steady pipeline of future leaders. According to the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2018, when asked to name their biggest challenges, 64 percent of executives’ top choice was “developing next-gen leaders.”
In the 2019 Future of HR Survey conducted by Gartner, 43 percent said their succession management process(es) didn’t yield the right leaders at the right time and 45 percent said their organization struggles to develop effective leaders.
We need to think differently about how we assess leaders in a VUCA world. A new focus on business critical skills is needed to improve the way organizations select and develop their future leaders.
To build future leaders, these competencies need to be developed early in their career and expanded upon as their role and scope increases. By expanding the required business critical skills as part of the leadership development journey, current and future leaders are less reactive and more proactive!

New Ways of Learning

Leadership development is a systematic approach that is not achieved through a single stage or step, but rather through a journey. This journey is the process of leadership development and requires bold new approaches and delivery methodologies.
To be more effective, leadership development programs should:

  • Identify core competencies: A clear understanding of the components related to effective leadership at all levels is crucial for effective succession planning.
  • Assess learning needs: Use 360° assessments focused on the required leadership competencies by level to easily assess and develop leadership candidates.
  • Customize learning: Tailor development opportunities to a leader’s particular needs. Focus skills application where they need experience.
  • Align with business and cultural priorities: Identify the challenges the company and the industry will face and link to development opportunities.
  • Immerse leaders in real situations: Ensure that what participants are learning can be used immediately to address the situations and challenges they face on the job
  • Leverage new technologies to provide enhanced and sustainable ways of learning transfer.

The Leadership Development Journey

There is no single best way to lead. And there are a wide variety of leadership models that may each serve as well as the next. However, it’s vital for leaders to understand the organization and context within which they lead including the specifics of how the organization provides value to its customers, the organization’s unique culture, and how the leader is expected to function within the organization.
Our integrated approach to leadership development has proven successful for many companies, working toward a set of preferred outcomes through a broad range of learning solutions and approaches to thought leadership. It takes into account the differing expectations of leaders, as well as unique organizational practices to create a system that allows them (and the organization as a whole) to function at peak efficiency.

  • Leaders collaborate with upper management on a preliminary plan related to his or her individual development, identifying goals, and any foreseeable obstacles that would impede success.
  • Provide in-house or external workshops to teach all elements of leadership: Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Across the Organization, and Leading the Business.
  • Assess leaders’ ability to adapt and solve future problems by immersing them in business case simulations that apply to their organizations.
  • Structured intersessions focused on experiential learning provide the greatest rate of success for transforming potential candidates into high-functioning leaders.
  • Formal mentorship enables them to build their level of leadership competence in a safe environment, typically outside the presence of subordinates.
  • Measure and success with sustainability and measurement tools with the ability and data to demonstrate the leadership and business impact.

What Sets us Apart?

Simple: We bring real world experience to the table – beyond consultation and academic theory because we’ve been there holding senior and executive level positions in the pharma industry!
Our team of experts has over 25 years of experience designing and implementing talent management and assessment systems across a variety of global, high-stakes settings. Our competitive advantage is people, services, and resources linked to world-class talent with direct industry experience in leadership and business development.

Wendy L. Heckelman

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has 25 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, consumer products, financial services, and distribution service organizations. Wendy has also worked with international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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