Can you be a Successful CEO and Still be Nice?

Can you be a Successful CEO and Still be Nice?

I recently had lunch with a serial successful CEO (more than 1 successful company he led to significantly increased shareholder value. We talked about requirements for successful CEOs. I was curious, I wanted to hear his point of view. What was important to him. The CEO role is a lonely job, and he felt he needed to be comfortable with who he is, the decisions he makes, and the board communications, and the results he was getting due to his leadership capacity. A few concepts surfaced: authenticity, generosity, level-headed behavior, developing and mentoring talent, focus, open communication and highly developed emotional intelligence. It is important to understand that kindness is not synonymous with weakness, and can be considered a competitive advantage. Let’s explore this concept further.
This CEO suggested strength in these key attributes helps him perform at his highest level and build trust and credibility with his team at every level. He suggested that at times, being nice means being firm, and keeping the team on track. It does not mean to acquiesce or defer to not offend someone because they think differently. This CEO believes that it is nicer to be direct, to keep everyone on track, and focused on the right activities to drive the right results.
The CEO role is complex and requires many skills and diverse activities: raising money (public and private markets), manage the Board communications and feedback, set strategic direction for the company, communicate goals to the team, manage the people to the goals, and set the tone for how work is accomplished. Every CEO is measured both by the results they get and how they manage their relationships at all levels. There is some misperception that being an effective leader is to be difficult, abrasive, demanding or curt. However, the most effective CEOs are considerate, transparent and firm. The more consistent and emotionally even the CEO is with communications, the more trust ones builds and the more is accomplished with their teams. You are probably thinking, this sounds like a lot of soft skills, right? It is, being true to yourself is also important. Authenticity builds trust quickly at all levels. It is about possessing the emotional intelligence and honing this skill over time, leading small teams, learning what does and does not work, and applying that learning to each assignment.
When assessing CEO’s for clients, I want to know how they approach leading a team – both with an inherited team and one they choose. I want to know their capacity for mentoring and leading. Their tolerance for development and how they make hiring/ firing decisions. What their preferences are for building and leading teams, and working with the board (communication style, setting strategy, etc.).
Understanding their approach is important to the selection committee on the board of directors, because hiring the RIGHT CEO is the most important job a board has. The Right CEO makes all the rest of the work of being on a board much easier. It is also critical to the success of the organization.
When we help clients find the right CEO we dig as much into understanding the candidate’s soft skills and abilities as we do the technical – we know leadership is an art as much as it is a science and getting the right fit is critical for our clients’ success.
We have over 20 years working with top performing companies in lifesciences to get them the very best leaders. Feel free to give us a call so we can learn more about you and your business and how we work with clients to ensure their success through hiring the right talent.
How Can I Stay Close and Focus My Team from Home?

How Can I Stay Close and Focus My Team from Home?

In this digital-age leaders are already vying for attention from their teams. The digital divide has happened.  People are distracted by social media, glued to their mobile devices for texts, email and calls. Now people are not even in the office anymore – no more social pressure to stay focused.  How can you emerge victorious and increase both emotional closeness and engagement? Here are a few ideas:

1. Schedule regular communications:


Move your 1:1 and team meetings to a video platform as video requires more engagement than a phone call, and you can see physical cues versus relying solely on voice inflections.


2. Be Prepared and organized


You need to prepare for your communications – especially when you are home.  Keep distractions to a minimum and know that things will come up. Tell people when you first get on the video what your situation at home is – ie young children, the contractor, the dogs, deliveries, etc.


3. Allow for and anticipate that there will be messes and flubs, first check-in.


Real-life can be messy – interruptions happen.  Be yourself and be vulnerable to allow your team to be open about the interruptions, be curious about their children, or pets.  At the beginning of the call be sure to check in with all participants – be sure they are ok, and understand that this is very disruptive to everyday business.


We are all adjusting to this rapidly imposed behavior change – not everyone on your team will embrace the changes, and some will need more assistance adjusting.  Pair people up so they can help each other.


Acknowledge the circumstances you find yourselves in, be vulnerable and share what you struggle with and leave room for open discussion, watch your team start to relax.

4. To increase collaboration, communicate plans and schedules clearly: Daily, weekly, Monthly, Quarterly

When you communicate expectations on a daily, weekly, monthly basis – it keeps people focused on the right priorities.  You establish new routines and lay the path forward, set up a path for people to follow. Everyone understands their role, and you bring teams together.  We are just doing this in a distance learning format.


5. Identify which remote tools you want to use to communicate with your teams.


In addition to the video communications platform, you will likely also want to use accountability and project tracking tools.  I use a tool called Monday.com to manage communications across distributed teams, it helps me keep track of what was said to whom, and what the next steps are.  It is very simple and easy to use and comes with templates already made, including a COVID-19 communication plan.

6. Last but not least:  LISTEN

Listen for what is being said and or not being said. Listen for tone, tension in the voice, and word choices.  Listen for hope, optimism, and despair. You need to provide leadership and comfort. Your people are scared, as we live in a highly unpredictable time.  Be the light, extend hope, generosity. Communicate hope and faith – this too shall pass.


I am curious as to how you are managing through a complex and rapidly changing world, and if you have any more ideas I can share with other clients. We have no idea how long this crisis will last, or how we will finish, but then again, do we ever know what’s ahead?

Be well, I am here for strategic hires, and to help you build strong teams.  Happy to just be an ear to listen, or to cheer you up. Next week we will talk about what recruiters look for in top talent, and how you use this skill to improve your hiring too.
How Do I know Any Candidate is Great without Meeting Them in Person?

How Do I know Any Candidate is Great without Meeting Them in Person?

We are all in the thick of it: needing to advance our businesses after a pandemic. We have progressed
through the initial panic, and rearrangement of how we do business – remotely and in person. We have figured out how to be effective and work efficiently away from the office and at the office. Now we need to hire people to move our businesses forward. What steps can you take to make sure your hire is a great one? Is it necessary to meet them in person?
Here is a 9 step process that has worked for us:
1. Write a position description that identifies all the top 10 key objectives to accomplish in the
near term. Use this as a template to score candidate strengths to the role.
2. Know your team’s core strengths and abilities, and how they communicate. Ask yourself, when
interviewing the candidate. Does this person compliment my team?
3. Expand your interview jury. Make sure all key stakeholders, and at least one board of directors’
members are involved in the interviewing process. Investigate all concerns.
4. Take your time, you can be selective, but do let the candidate know that the process is going to
take a bit longer than usual as this is a KEY HIRE for your organization.
5. Zoom/Video interviews are very important tools. You will be able to identify most strengths and
weaknesses and communication habits in your candidates.
6. Meet candidates in person, at least once, preferably twice, to get a feel for the fit of this candidate –
7. Reference checks – be sure to get a 360-degree approach. At least one, preferably two people: supervisors (board of directors if a CEO) peers, subordinates, and a customer (commercial or clinical roles). The point here is to verify what you already know, it is a bonus if you get more information.
8. Use an assessment tool – Ipsative is best – one that will grade skills (including leadership) on a
curve. You can have an assessment custom-built for the role, and it is not that expensive. Think
of it as an insurance policy.
9. A good recruiter. We know good talent and fit when we see it. We often have many candidates
in our pool that we have worked with or met over the years and can quickly assess whether
there will be a good fit or not.
Feel free to reach out to me if you think I can help – either identify great talent for you or help you
design an assessment tool for better hires. Thank you for reading my blog, and I would love to hear from you about your experiences.
Brands Matter to Top C-Suite Talent – Make Yours Shine

Brands Matter to Top C-Suite Talent – Make Yours Shine

You as a brand, is a popular concept. It seems that people are embracing this concept and communicating their brand in their LinkedIn profiles, Twitter handles, resumes, and other social media profiles. How does this apply to the selection and hiring of top C-Suite talent?
One way to look at this is to identify the employers the person has worked with before and what their brand stands for. How does your company brand rank against this candidate’s previous employers? What do those brands and your brand stand for? What is this candidate’s personal brand communicating? This is very important when bringing on someone unfamiliar – someone you, your board of directors, or your team has not worked with at a prior company. Because you do not have the first-hand experience, you will rely on the brands the candidate has worked with to tell a story about the candidate.
For example, someone who has worked for a top-five industry leader (Merck, Goldman Sachs, Edwards, Illumina, Johnson & Johnson) or who graduated from a top university is going to have a higher standard of performance, a feeling of comfort when working with other people from similar companies and educational backgrounds. Each of these companies and academic institutions have a distinct brand and culture that is derived from the brand. How does work get done? How are processes, thinking, and behaviors influenced by these brands? Expectations for results will also be higher, especially if these individuals were top performers at these companies and academic institutions.
If your company is viewed as a top-performing company, or a “hot and up and coming company” attracting a candidate from a top school or other top brands will be easier. You are one step ahead in attracting good talent. If your target candidate is not similarly ranked as you are (i.e. either one of you is significantly better) then you need to answer questions, such as:
  • Why are you interested in them, or why are they interested in you?
  • Does this candidate bring a special set of skills, and are they ranked in the top 20% of performers in a similar role?
  • Why would this candidate be interested in your company?
  • What is it that they will gain by joining you?
  • How will candidate compensation be affected by brand comparisons?
  • Will my company be willing to stretch to acquire a prestigious candidate or will the candidate be lucky to join my company?
If you understand your position with respect to each candidate, and proactively adjust your approach, you will be both more efficient in your hiring process and candidate target selection. The most effective way to identify your “why” is to know your company values and mission, which naturally reflects the brand and focus of your business. For instance, “Our company develops technology to address unmet neurological disorders that affect over 10% of the world’s population.”
The brand conveys your “How” including how you execute and the standards you adhere to; and how people communicate within your organization. This creates impressions feelings, and it is how you will be remembered. It can also help you identify fit. Brand speaks to the level of quality, and standards (i.e. Walmart vs Nieman Marcus).
In summary – knowing your brand and knowing your candidate’s brand (and employment history / brands) will help you identify if the candidate is up to your standards, or whether your company is to their standards. This is a great filter and will help save you time and effort in the recruiting process.
Laura and her team specialize in working a very well-defined process to ultimately find you the very best executive talent in life sciences available. We have over 20 years building companies and relationships with the very best in the business.
How to Recruit Great Candidates: Managing Perceived Risk

How to Recruit Great Candidates: Managing Perceived Risk

We have all experienced it – make a great offer and boom, and your C-Suite candidate declines. WHAT??? How does this happen?

After all, you received verbal acceptance, you checked references and the last thing you thought was that the candidate was all in – or were they? Probably not.

Most candidates juggle perceived risk when making a decision to change from one company to another. Let’s examine the three main risk factors and how to uncover, address and negotiate them before you make an offer, ensuring you a hire.

There are four areas of risk for top candidates to consider:

New Manager Risk
New Team Risk
New Product/Service Risk
Market Risk

In our current recruiting climate, you will need to address each one of these risks, and likely address how you plan to navigate through the pandemic. You will need to make sure your opportunity exceeds what the candidate currently has, or he/she will not move.

New Manager Risk

Most important to address is the new manager risk. Assuming you are the hiring manager – this person
is coming to work with you. You need to show them what a great manager, and great person you are. You need to build trust to the point where your candidate believes and feels that you are the very best choice they have.

It goes beyond chemistry and into work ethic, integrity, trustworthiness, ability to lead, how well you communicate.

Finally, the candidate will assess how you treat them at
every step of the way in the recruitment process. You need to make sure you are consistently sending the appropriate signals, presenting an emotionally even persona, and following through promptly on all promises.

You cannot take too much time (more than a week or two) to deliberate on whether you like this person or not, it is imperative that you perform your candidate diligence in parallel with the hiring of the candidate – or you will lose them. You, or someone on your team, or the recruiter, will need to communicate continued interest to your selected candidate every 48-72 hours.

You should ask them out socially to dinner with their spouse or significant other – so you get a feel for what they are like (and they will get a feel for what you are like) in a more casual setting. Now with only outdoor dining, this gets people more relaxed and informal, you will actually get a glimpse into who this person really is.

Your process to hire from start to finish needs to be about 8-10 weeks max. If the candidate does not feel
important you will lose them. Conveying of sense of significance to the candidate can be as simple as
thanking them for their time, following up when you say you will, and communicating next steps and timelines while they are in the process. Also, addressing any concerns you may have openly will go a long way into building trust and a strong working relationship.

New Team Risk

The candidate will need to coalesce with his/her peers – the people you already have in the company at the executive level. It is important that all key stakeholders (maybe even a customer or two) be exposed to your top selected candidate.

It would be ideal if you sent candidates in a short time for everyone to meet, and decide if they are a good “fit” – you want the candidate to also share the fit sentiment – the
team and the candidate can see themselves working together in a productive manner. Communication
styles, work ethic and stamina, alignment all need to be considered in the fit equation. It should be a
mutual “feel”.

Group video interviews via Zoom/ Microsoft Teams/ etc. are growing in popularity and allow everyone to see each other’s reactions.

New Product/Service Risk

The candidate wants to feel comfortable that the product or service will perform, and that their contribution will make a significant impact on the business. Most candidates want to add something to their resume – that means that the “been there-done that” candidate is not going to be enticed unless you can offer them a skill or accomplishment to add to their CV.

For instance, a Chief Medical Officer/SVP Clinical
wants a product to go from start in the clinic until approval and market. A Chief Commercial Officer needs to have a product launch, and successful commercialization under their belt. A CFO wants to take a company public. You get the point. The CEO is a different animal, and typically loves a challenge, and wants to lead a team to develop a product that impacts the market in a way no other product has to
date, or fix a company that is under performing. The CEO will ultimately join because he/she feels that the board will support him, and he likes the product and the market opportunity, and feel like he/she can make an impact.

Market Risk

This is evaluated three ways – size of market opportunity, competitive landscape, and timing, is the market ready for this product/service?. Another factor to consider, is does the candidate buy in? Does your candidate think that the opportunity is real, and is the timing for this product in the market right now or soon?

Top-level candidates are going to evaluate opportunities in a way that others won’t. They are typically loyal and approach risk of change like this cautiously. Top-level candidates want to see a product through start to finish, and build strong relationships with their current CEO/ board and team. Your opportunity must be significantly improved from what the candidate currently has in order for you to acquire this talent.

A strong recruiter will assist you and inform you of what the candidate is really looking for in a new opportunity, and assist you in positioning your company as a top choice. In addition, a strong recruiter will only provide candidates that have an interest and are a good fit for you and your stage of development or growth. The recruiters also know the market and who is available and what the candidate’s motivation an appetite for change.

Remote Working – Getting Results

Remote Working – Getting Results

In this digital-age leaders are already vying for attention from their teams. The digital divide has happened. People are distracted by social media, glued to their mobile devices for texts, email and calls. Now people are not even in the office anymore – no more social pressure to limit distractions. How can you emerge victorious and increase both emotional closeness and engagement? Here are a few ideas:

Schedule regular communications

Move your 1:1 and team meetings to a video platform Video meetings require more engagement than a phone call, and you see physical cues and not relying solely on voice inflections

Be prepared, organized, open

You need to prepare for your communications – especially when you are home. Keep distractions to a minimum and know that things will come up. Tell people when you first get on the video call what your situation at home is – ie young children, the contractor, dogs, deliveries, etc.

First Check-in, know life can be messy, create an environment of trust.

  • Real-life can be messy – interruptions happen. Be yourself and be vulnerable. Allow your team to be open about the interruptions, be curious about their children, or pets.
  • At the beginning of the call be sure to check in with all participants – be sure your employees are healthy – both physically and mentally. Communicate empathy and let them know that you understand that this stay at home order is very disruptive to everyday business.
  • We are all adjusting to this long term imposed behavior change – not everyone on your team will embrace the changes, and some will need more assistance adjusting. Pair people up, one adjusting well with someone who is not adjusting well, so they can help each other.
  • Acknowledge the circumstances you find yourselves in, be vulnerable and share what you struggle with and leave room for open discussion, watch your team start to relax.

To increase collaboration, communicate plans & schedules clearly: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly

When you communicate expectations on a daily, weekly, monthly basis – it keeps people focused on the right priorities. You establish new routines and lay the path forward, set up a path for people to follow. Everyone understands their role, and you bring teams together. We are adjusting to performing and executing well in a distance working format.

Identify which remote tools you want to use to communicate with your teams

In addition to the video communications platform, you will likely also want to use accountability and project tracking tools. I use a tool called Monday.com to manage communications across distributed teams, it helps me keep track of what was said to whom, and what the next steps are. It is very simple and easy to use and comes with templates already made, including a COVID-19 communication plan.

Last but not least: LISTEN

Listen for what is being said and or not being said. Listen for tone, tension in the voice, and word choices. Listen for hope, optimism, confusion, distress and despair. You need to provide leadership and comfort. Your people are scared, as we live in a highly unpredictable time. Be the light, extend hope, generosity. Communicate hope and faith we know that “this too shall pass”, we just don’t know how long it will last.

I am curious as to how you are managing through a complex and rapidly changing world, and if you have any more ideas I can share with other clients. We have no idea how long this crisis will last, or how we will finish, but then again, do we ever know what’s ahead?

Be well, I am here for strategic hires, and to help you build strong teams. Happy to just be an ear to listen, or to cheer you up. Next week we will talk about what recruiters look for in top talent, and how you use this skill to improve your hiring too.