Taren Grom, Editor
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Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others – John Maxwell
More than two dozen women who sit in seats of influence are using their talents, strategic acumen, and tenacity to create change throughout the life-sciences industry and their organizations. They are stalwart mentors and sponsors and are passionate about bridging the gender and diversity gap and creating opportunities for the next generation of women leaders.
Female executives in some ways have two jobs — running their companies/divisions and being a role model. They manage to do both by exhibiting sound leadership traits: honesty and integrity, confidence, inspiration, commitment, accountability, creativity, innovation, and passion.
We asked these leaders to define their view of influence, discuss the traits that make a leader influential, and outline how they are influencing their organizations.
Bartolomeo. Influence is defined by the degree to which one is able to guide and effect positive change. It is one thing to be well-liked and respected for your talent or skills, but to truly have influence, you need to be known for your ability to make sound decisions and drive progress and measurable growth.
Beesley. For me, influence is the ability to lead people to perform at their highest level, both from a professional and a personal perspective. To influence can never simply be to “tell” how but it must be to “show” how. The behavior and cultures I want to see at HCB start with me and end with me. I have to model these behaviors first to show consistency and commitment regardless of the situation or I risk losing the authenticity that true influence must have.
Sometimes, that is harder than it sounds but it is not optional in the sphere of influence.
Influence is also the ability to give people just enough coaching that they can discover the very best of themselves and to have them think differently about a problem or respond to change in a way that elevates them — both in terms of their own self-esteem and how their peers see them. Influence should always be measured through the lens of change — making the work, the people and the industry better through thoughtful leadership.
Callahan. Influence is when you lead by example, inspiring others with your actions and decisions, even when you don’t have authority.
Dunsire. Influence is the ability to drive a desired behavior or outcome through engaging others so they choose to exert their skill and energy to achieve the desired outcome or emulate the wanted behavior.
Falconio. Influence isn’t always obvious or showy. Sometimes it’s in the smallest gesture or action. Or sometimes it’s simply knowing how to navigate and orchestrate other leaders and team members to create positive change. To me, influence is less about power, position or title. It’s about motivating others to believe, to want to learn from you, and most importantly, to see their own potential through you.
Gottlieb. Influence is power. But that power doesn’t come easily and not everyone knows how to attain it. Influence is about being consistently trustworthy and reliable. It’s about inspiring people through a clear vision and knowing how to rally them around it. And it’s also about humility, about listening and learning from others, building consensus and admitting mistakes when you’re wrong.
Graham. Influence is the ability to cause a desirable and measurable effect and outcome. In this age of influencers, there’s a difference between influencing and popularity, which goes to leadership. Popularity means people like you, but influence is when people actually listen to you. As a leader, you want people to like you, but more importantly you need people to listen to you.
Grossman. Being able to influence has to do with integrity and authentic leadership. You also have to have a platform in which to influence, and currently my platform is women’s health and specifically my organization, which is a nonprofit pharma organization. The way that we get there is through our leadership skills, our abilities to take risk, and of course hard work, tenacity, and grit.
Heymans. I believe that influence stimulates change and inspires innovation. This happens by facilitating multi-stakeholder collaborations that focus on finding solutions to complicated problems and motivating and empowering people to go out to make real-world change happen and create a better world.
Highsmith. Influence is the ability to define a problem, engage the appropriate stakeholders, and empower the right people to implement a top-down, bottom-up approach. At Genentech, when we launched Advancing Inclusive Research, we used data to underscore the need for underrepresented populations in clinical trials and connected it to potential impact for patients and society. As a result, it has become an enterprisewide movement that has people saying: “I want to be a part of that.”
Horning. Influence is the ability to affect the behaviors, character, decisions, and direction of individuals and organizations.
Huang. Throughout my career, I’ve had three important mentors in my life who have defined influence for me. They’ve all helped me to realize my own true potential as a future leader.
Influence is defined by how a person can positively impact another person through both words and actions. As CEO, I hope that my actions have influenced my team members and other professionals in the space to tackle the hardest problems that our industry faces.
Kalk. I believe influence stems from one’s track record and standing up where needed. For example, I’m proud of my record of providing consistent quality products and where I have stood up for patients. Ultimately, to be influential and effective, leaders need a keen understanding of the emotional quotient — EQ — which is connected to respecting that each role and perspective broadens your own perspective, which is extremely valuable.
Mitsi. I believe being driven by a higher purpose is vital to influence. The fact that there are so many people out there who live with chronic conditions and need to find the right resources or therapies is what keeps me going. Additionally, influence requires discussion and collaboration to overcome the fear of failure of trying something new for the very first time. This is very relevant to be able to make advancements in digital health.
Morgan. Influence is transferred potential energy. One who exerts influence makes you think and, more importantly, feel. Influencers trigger emotions, which often results in action. Sometimes it’s small and subtle — a friend recommends a new hair product; it makes you think or feel like yours may be inferior, so you try the one they recommended. You have been influenced. Or it could be on a larger scale — you hear a speech about a charity and you think to yourself that you could be doing more and you start to invest your time and energy into championing that cause. You have been influenced. We are influenced daily in micro moments — social media, friends — and in macro moments — world events.
Orr. Strategic fitness is the bedrock for effective leadership. Influential leaders understand how to make sound, strategic decisions; how to not only best articulate the why to teams, but how to inspire, not just instruct, employees to pursue a shared vision. Good leaders also have strong instincts and industry awareness. They can make decisions quickly and be an adaptable resource for an agile team.
Powers-Han. Influence is all about inspiring your team members to be their greatest. You do so by giving them the opportunity, pushing them when they need it, and redirecting only if you feel the end result is at risk.
Ross. Defining influence from my perspective is how one person causes change in something or someone else — behavioral, character, or developmental. With individuals, the amount of change is often dependent upon the relationship between the two parties and perceptions of the receiving party.
Schwab. Influence helps to drive the tone of an organization’s culture, as well as its results. Our company culture is one of a bold, visionary mindset influenced by a set of values and principles that motivate all of us to do everything we can to improve cancer care and outcomes for the patients we serve.
Verst. My definition of influence is the ability to substantively impact or change someone or something.My most important barometer of influence is the well-being of my children and their ability to positively influence their world.
White. Influence is the ability to inspire people, based on your character, to have an impact on the issues you consider important.
What It Takes to be an Influential Leader
Bartolomeo. Influential leaders have vision and strong credibility. They are forward-thinkers who recognize trends early and set ideas in motion that rally teams and steer organizations toward success. It is easier said than done. First, you must have multiple experiences in which your vision actually works. That is when people start to trust and believe in you, and subsequently, your range of influence grows.
Beesley. The most important trait of being an influential leader is accountability. To lead with influence, one must be willing to first take accountability for both what one does and the impact those actions have on others. Influential leaders don’t seek to blame, rather they seek to understand their own actions inside of the situation. Humility is another important trait. Influence can be gained through powerful actions, but it can also be gained by putting others first.
Authenticity can’t be taught or coached; but it is a key component of influence because it ensures credibility. Curiosity is key because you don’t learn while you are talking. The most influential leaders do a lot of listening.
Callahan. I believe there are five traits to being an influential leader. First is patience; this is not being easy on people, but being consistent and predictable in your responses. Patience tells people that you value your full relationship with them. Next is humility. We all make mistakes, and people are always more understanding, more forgiving, and more patient when you demonstrate that you are willing to learn from others, regardless of your title or position. Third is respect — considering others’ opinions before offering your own and not over-talking or interrupting is essential to influential leadership. Then there is integrity. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. If you can’t do it, let people know why. Tell the truth. Finally, influential leaders need commitment. You must be committed to your role as a leader, to your work, and to helping those you lead grow and develop.
Carter. It takes honesty and integrity to earn the trust of those around you. When you have the opportunity to influence, inspire, and motivate people, it is a privilege that should not be taken lightly.
Dunsire. To be influential, a leader must be trusted first and foremost. They must be able to provide a vision for the future outcome that ignites imagination and excitement. They must be able to communicate effectively and must enroll people in the envisioned outcome. They also recognize the ideas and efforts of others that can build and adapt the plan forward. Keeping consistency in the message of the vision and recognizing progress along the way also drives influence.
Falconio. There are three key traits shared by influential leaders: empathy, open-mindedness, and self-awareness. Empathy empowers leaders to connect with teams in deep and meaningful ways. Open-mindedness means shedding pre-conceived notions and biases. And self-awareness is an influential leader’s greatest gift. Receiving feedback and constructive candor as well as really knowing how others perceive you — and what you need to build around you to fill your own gaps — is by far the most important trait of an influential leader.
Gottlieb. One of my favorite authors, Simon Sinek, writes about this topic in his book Leaders Eat Last. He talks about how leaders are not simply those with authority. They are selfless and willing to relinquish their best interest for the betterment of those they lead. Although being decisive, resilient, and resourceful are important leadership traits, leading with empathy and humility are the secret sauce that foster employee engagement and, in my experience, produce great results.
Graham. I believe it boils down to several important traits. The first one is having vision. Influential leaders have the ability to look beyond today to tomorrow — the micro and the macro have to come into play together. The second is optimism. Leaders have to be able to inspire and motivate others to get through what could be challenging situations. There also has to be a level of transparency and honesty. There’s no one single leadership style that’s right for all times, all people, all places. With that, leaders need to be agile and adaptable. They also need to be strong and clear communicators. Influential leaders are confident. Confidence means knowing that you may make a mistake, but also owning it and figuring out a corrected plan. And lastly, being decisive. This fits together with adaptability, confidence, and communication skills. You have to be able to put a stake in the ground when it matters and make a decision. Too often I see people who are afraid of making mistakes; that fear paralyzes them so they don’t make any decisions.
Heymans. For me, the key trait of a leader is to inspire empathy in others. Those who lead with heart, developing emotional connections and consistently putting themselves in others’ shoes, broaden their understanding of people’s needs and push the boundaries of what’s possible. The perfect vehicle for this is mentorship. Inspiring empathy in others can also look like asking for help. When leaders share their own struggles, it allows others to see their humanity and relate.
Highsmith. I believe there’s value in authenticity and the ability to convey your message through storytelling. Influence isn’t just about title or position — it’s also about the ability to bring an experience to life through a relatable anecdote that helps others understand why they should care. It’s equally as important for leaders to be willing to broaden their own experiences so they can relate to multiple perspectives.
Horning. An influential leader sets the standards in her own behaviors and what she prizes in others — these traits include credibility, reliability, empathy, humility, authenticity, courage, collaboration, innovation, and intellectual curiosity.
Huang. As a scientist-turned-entrepreneur, I have had my share of challenges. As such, an influential leader must be open to “learning how to deal with setbacks” and how to learn from these setbacks. To be a truly influential leader, you must show your team that you are resilient and learn from the experience, then pivot and strengthen the proposal. There’s always a time and place to still be a student and learn how to grow and improve.
Kalk. I believe that integrity, respect, and the ability to make a difference are powerful traits of being an influential leader. The biggest lesson I have learned is to be authentic. Be your true self. That is key advice about influence that I give a lot of the people that I am mentoring.
Mitsi. Not only do you have to be a subject matter expert to be an influential leader, but you also have to be determined, patient and inspirational. I have also learned the importance of perseverance and having a clear vision to keep you moving forward. Something I share with other women as they try to climb the corporate ladder is to never give up.
Morgan. I see and hire for these three traits. One is vision — nothing motivates action more than a clear, articulate, passionate depiction of what needs to be done and how we are going to do it. Two is perseverance — teams will run through walls for leaders who always have the will and drive to get it done. And three is likeability — people want to be around those they like, laugh with, and learn from.
Ragan. Biotech is a challenging industry, especially during the critical early years of rapid growth. I believe it’s my job as a leader to help my team navigate the path to approval and instill resilience through leading by example: to maintain a steadfast belief in our science and our mission, to both care for and challenge our talented team members, and ultimately to make a difference in the lives of patients, one patient at a time.
Ross. I believe key traits of an influential leader begin with creating a safe environment where trusting relationships can be created and where all individuals can be their best. In addition, an influential leader clearly articulates a vision or objective with passion, communicates updates frequently, and always shares the “why.” The vision and communications must be surrounded by great listening, probing for understanding or challenges, and demonstrating consistency and adaptability skills.
Schwab. For me, becoming an influential leader is dependent upon leading by example, showing that you can persevere during the challenging times, and are always striving to do better.
Influential leaders that take the roads less traveled, feel confident in making the right decisions — which may not always be the popular decisions — while simultaneously motivating others to think outside of the box.
Swaroop. An important trait of being an influential leader is an ability to listen to others and their varied views. Earning respect and fostering an environment of mutual respect comes from valuing people and perspectives, even in adversarial situations such as a negotiation. A related factor is the ability to commit to understanding people from a perspective of empathy and compassion. Leaders often make hard choices but this perspective allows a leader to connect and have a greater understanding of others. Finally, an influential leader must possess integrity. Ultimately, it is not about just who is in charge but how to encourage and motivate to achieve mutual goals.
Verst. An influential leader must exhibit integrity and trustworthiness and cultivate an atmosphere that inspires creativity and innovation. An influential leader calibrates courage with humility and takes great pride in the accomplishments of those they’ve mentored along the way.
White. The key traits for being an influential leader all revolve around character. For me they include authenticity, empathy, and a focused purpose. You have to be believable and consistent in your words and actions to be an influential leader.
Influence in Action
Bartolomeo. I try to focus less on boundaries and obstacles standing in our way, and more on the possibility of what could be if we think differently and act bravely. I also listen to my gut. When I feel that my vision is what is going to make the difference, I will do whatever I can to drive it forward. I also don’t let myself get discouraged. Ideas can fail, and despite that, you have to be able to keep putting yourself out there.
Callahan. I bring my whole self to work every single day.
Carter. It is the responsibility of influential leaders to work together, put aside differences, listen actively, consider thoughtfully, and then take deliberate action.
Cooke. Our industry is an amazing place to have a career; we impact the health of the world’s citizens. And the role of an influential leader is critical to this. Influential leaders create a sense of urgency to deliver value, and do so by inspiring, motivating, and empowering a diverse, engaged workforce. They are self-aware, authentic, and deep listeners that engender a culture of respect, create belonging, and leverage their team’s individual and collective skills and experiences.
Dunsire. I influence mostly by continuing to engage in discussions around the vision, asking questions about where we are and what we can do to advance. It’s also important to celebrate the progress and then envision the next hill to take and make the journey fun.
Gottlieb. First, I am clear about my vision for the company and my teams and giving them the inspiration, confidence, and support to do their jobs well. Second, it’s about having the emotional intelligence to know when they need encouragement or they’re ready for a new challenge. And, third, be compassionate. We work with entrepreneurial people in a fast-paced business. When we’re running 100 miles an hour, it’s important to know they know I’ve got their back.
Grossman. I believe in leading by example. Quite a few of my executive team members are women. My chief business officer is a woman. My chief operating officer is a woman. I also believe in giving credit where credit is due. Nobody likes a boss who hogs the spotlight. It’s important to take care of your employees and treat them well, treat them right, and listen to where they want to go in their careers. I believe in transparency. In fact, I don’t have an office, nor do any of our c-level employees. We have an open floor plan.
Heymans. To be influential, establish a vision. When people understand what they’re going for and why, they follow, creating new partnerships that bridge gaps, break down silos, address unmet needs, and solve the most complicated problems. One of my visions is to champion industry-wide initiatives that address important challenges.
Highsmith. I think there are three qualities critical to being able to exert influence: passion, courage, and collaboration. I have always been passionate about helping others, which connects me deeply to Genentech’s mission, and I’m not afraid to ask questions that challenge the status quo. That coupled with the joy I get from leading and empowering teams to collectively identify solutions that improve experiences for our people and patients is what allows me to influence new ways of thinking about diversity and inclusion within our company and beyond.
Horning. The effective leader serves as a role model, communicates a compelling vision, architects the environment to catalyze her vision, and coaches others, always with the understanding that leadership is service.
Huang. I’ve found that the greatest challenge, and opportunity, to grow your company is to make sure that your team is constantly learning through collaboration. Encouraging collaboration is a powerful way to exert influence. We can all learn something new from one another, and by sharing ideas and creating synergies between team members, we can continue to grow from the inside out. This increases productivity and fosters a more meaningful work environment for all.
Kalk. In addition to putting patients and the company first, my aim is to inspire and coach employees to continue to deliver results and high-quality performance. Additionally, I continue to leverage my executive leadership position to inspire other women in my company. I am executive sponsor of a leadership essentials program and other initiatives at my company to help strengthen the leadership skills of women.
Mitsi. I am encouraging our company and other industry organizations to embrace a new patient-empowered technology model wholeheartedly and offer services and solutions as a value-add along with treatment options. I’m very proud of being part of various groups with my organization and multiple stakeholders that are focusing on innovation and patient care and this is in perfect alignment with what I’m doing each day.
Morgan. I live by the Maya Angelou philosophy: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I say this almost daily and try to live by it. I truly believe that if you are available and present with people they feel it. It is hard with everything coming at you every minute of the day, but I try, truly try, to be conscious of my presence. Am I in the here and now? With my teams across four different offices, I want them to feel how important they are to me — I am responsive, consistent, and available. Through these efforts I want to be an example of the types of leaders and teams I want to be building.
Orr. Leaders gain influence when they demonstrate that they can act before others are able to see either the storms or their subsequent opportunities ahead.
Powers-Han. I believe that if people are given the opportunity, they will rise to the occasion. I invite their point of view; create an atmosphere that welcomes ideas no matter the position or experience. We are stronger together than any individual could ever be on their own, so I want to inspire imagination, risk taking, and encourage ideas that would never be realized otherwise.
Ross. I share love and respect for my employees, build on strengths of people, lead by example, hold people accountable for work product excellence by asking them if it’s their best work, embrace, own and learn from failures, and celebrate successes often.
Schwab. At Exelixis, I’m so fortunate to work with a dedicated team in which each and every person is fully committed to delivering on our mission to help cancer patients recover stronger and live longer. I strive to set a direction and goals for our Medical Affairs and Product Development organizations that are appropriate and achievable, while also pushing us to stretch and reach our next milestones. I try to emphasize fairness, active listening, and an environment that rewards creative problem solving and resilience.
Verst. I believe the ability to exert influence over an organization is earned and developed over time. I impart influence within my organization by leading by example via deliberate internal and external collaboration, disciplined delivery of aligned objectives, and a relentless focus on strategic innovation.
White. To exert influence and make an impact you need to practice active listening with the people closest to important issues, have the confidence to make informed decisions, and have the communication skills to bring people along with you. (PV)