Reflecting on this variability in leadership conjures up the following pearl of wisdom from five-star U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur: “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
Medtech CEOs have undoubtedly experienced moments of isolation and abandonment in their top-level role, and it’s probably occurred more often in the past several weeks. Regardless of size, there is an unwritten rule that the CEO is supposed to know what to do in any circumstance. Often, this is more of a self-imposed burden than an outside-driven reality. It’s a natural result of human behavior—as humans, we expect more of ourselves than what others place upon us, and this is particularly true for CEOs.
While the business world lacks an official management protocol for the COVID-19 pandemic, the good news (as outlined in last month’s issue of MPO) is that most CEOs are well-equipped for decision making. C-Suite executives who draw upon their experiences and training are likely to make decisions based on their managerial knowledge, regardless of their experience dealing with a particular issue.
Good decision-making, however, draws on the managerial talents of C-Suite executives. Our March MPO column focused on leadership and noted the basic components of effective directorship. As many business executives can attest, good C-Suite professionals make good decisions but the exceptional ones provide excellent leadership through both good and turbulent times.
Management guru Peter Drucker once stated, “Management is about doing things right. Leadership is about doing the right things.” In uncertain times, leadership is necessary to provide both clarity and control, to a seemingly unmanageable situation. There have been numerous examples of both good and bad crisis management during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as exceptional leadership.
One company (which remains anonymous) cancelled all business travel early in the crisis “out of an abundance of caution.” But the way the announcement was worded made it seem like the decision was made more for the benefit of the company itself than its employees. The underlying implication from the decision was that corporate executives feared legal action over travel during the worsening COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing infection potential for travelers (employees).
Certainly, it is understandable for C-Suite executives to be cautious about travel, especially during a public health crisis. Hence, this was an example of good management (the company did right by all corporate stakeholders, including employees). But it’s not the best illustration of great leadership. An employee could have been planning to travel for personal or business growth, for example, or to meet a personal income- or corporate sales-related goal. Case in point: We heard of one executive who was under pressure to “make a certain deal happen” within a defined timeframe but was then denied travel (out of caution) to complete the transaction.
Excellent leadership goes beyond the obvious corporate decision-making. It involves ensuring all stakeholders feel accounted for and somewhat protected in the face of changing dynamics. The company in the previously cited example, for instance, could easily have made accommodations to help its stressed deal-maker more easily attain his (or her) goal.
It takes extra effort to ensure all individuals feel a leader’s empathy. C-Suite professionals that accomplish this provide extraordinary leadership in uncertain times. There are many medtech executives who are either extraordinary leaders or possess the potential for such excellence. Strong leadership is not only necessary during tumultuous times but also appreciated.
There have been many examples of extraordinary leadership over the last month or so as the coronavirus outbreak turned into a pandemic. Consider the comforting words of Microsoft president Brad Smith (March 5): “Microsoft has asked its employees who can work from home to do so…We recognize the hardship that lost work can mean for hourly employees. As a result, we’ve decided that Microsoft will continue to pay all our vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs…While the work to protect public health needs to speed up, the economy can’t afford to slow down. We’re committed as a company to making public health our first priority and doing what we can to address the economic and societal impact of COVID-19. We appreciate that what’s affordable for a large employer may not be affordable for a small business, but we believe that large employers who can afford to take this type of step should consider doing so.” Smith’s full announcement can be found at bit.ly/2U3pjU3.
Obviously, not every company (particularly smaller ones) can take such extraordinary measures to account for all stakeholders. Smith’s announcement, though, is an ideal example of the type of leadership to which all medtech executives should aspire.
On the contrary, another Fortune 500 C-Suite leader (who will go unnamed) sent out an employee notice also in March with the headline “2019 Results and Coronavirus.” The message was mostly about the company’s recent financial performance; only a short paragraph was dedicated to the rapidly evolving coronavirus. The communication said the firm was “aware of the growing concerns around Coronavirus” and that “employee health was of primary concern.” Seeming like a footnote in an otherwise business results-oriented document, the mention of apprehension over employee health was not very reassuring.
In thinking about the difference between management and leadership, there clearly is room for improvement among C-Suite executives. A more ideal response from the aforementioned company would have addressed real-world concerns of all stakeholders (not just investors) without focusing on the firm’s financial performance (if need be, a separate communication focusing on that issue could have been sent). Leaders at this firm also could have acknowledged employees’ and customers’ fears, and the potential steps being considered to address those concerns. As the virus has made clear, the difference between fear and panic is often information.
Likewise, the difference between “showing up for work” and employee engagement is often simply “empathy.” Extraordinary leaders exhibit empathy for all stakeholders. It’s not easy—it requires a lot of critical thinking, active listening, and the ability (as well as the desire) to step outside of one’s comfort zone. The rewards, however, are inimitable.
Consider, for example, the kind of undertones associated with the following message (purely fictional): “We understand all of our valued customers and employees have concerns during this rapidly evolving epidemic currently unfolding throughout the world. Due to these rapidly changing dynamics, we acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. But we know there are potential risks to our team and our customers during these unprecedented times. Based on staff and customer input, we are immediately implementing the following measures: (1) All employees who are currently in the field or in contact with the outside world will be given hand sanitizer, and hand sanitizing stations will be set up in all our facilities; (2) Anyone not feeling well is required to stay home. Sick employees will be given an extra personal day (more details to follow) to offset any potential financial challenges missed workdays may cause. These are interim steps. We will continue to actively listen to customer and staff concerns will update our policies as necessary. Our priority will always be the health and safety of our customers and our team.”
This type of response would most likely lead to employee engagement. The actual communication, though, could potentially trigger employee turnover.
Since it’s impossible to witness the inner workings of any medtech company (other than our own), we’re optimistic there are many extraordinary leaderships in this industry. Both good managers and top-notch chief executives can learn some valuable lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. We welcome industry executives to share their examples of strong leadership at this time to help provide a roadmap for navigating these unchartered waters and through future unanticipated events. Stay informed, and stay healthy!
Florence Joffroy-Black, CM&AA, is a longtime marketing and M&A expert with significant experience in the medical technology industry, including working for multi-national corporations based in the United States, Germany, and Israel. She is currently is CEO at MedWorld Advisors and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Sheppard, CM&AA, is a former medical technology Fortune 500 executive and is now a managing director at MedWorld Advisors. He can be reached at email@example.com.