Why Pharma Needs Transformational Leaders


Rodrigo Araujo of global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry outlines what he sees as the leadership profile of the future – agile, digital, self-aware, and able to transform both themselves and their organizations.


What are the qualities you look for in a Country Manager?

Capable leaders are those who can transform themselves, help their organizations transform, and question and shift their own and others’ mindsets.

Today’s environment is characterized by rapidly changing strategies, business model innovation, and operational transformation. To ensure organizations succeed in such an ecosystem in the years ahead, a new kind of future-ready leader must take priority. This new model of the high-performing leader incorporates and builds on existing concepts of agile, digital, and inclusive leadership, but also highlights the importance of leaders who are experts in the creation of opportunity (e.g. drive growth) and the capitalization of the flow of knowledge.

Where leaders trapped in yesterday’s mindset often struggle to find their place in the new economy, those “self-disruptive” leaders proactively question and shift their own methods to keep pace with the ever-evolving landscape. They’re highly learning agile, self-aware, emotionally and socially intelligent, purpose-driven, able to manage paradox and assured but humble. They base their leadership success on their way of being rather than their skill at doing, enabling every person to navigate and succeed in a shifting business environment.

Leaders who make their teams dependent on them hinder growth, but those who can get companies behind their vision—and then empower others to execute on it—are well-positioned to achieve. To sum up, capable leaders are those who can transform themselves, help their organizations transform and question and shift their own and others’ mindsets.


Is there an ideal profile/professional pathway for pharmaceutical industry leaders?

To pressure-test this model, we analyzed the leadership profiles of 150,000 leaders from the Korn Ferry Institute’s proprietary data and found that “Self-Disruptive Leaders” were strongly linked with high performance. This research highlights five aspects of future-ready leadership: the ADAPT dimensions, which encompass the ability to anticipatedriveacceleratepartner, and trust.

The new leadership paradigm incorporates what we already know about agile, digital, and inclusive leaders. But in addition to these existing concepts, there are extra, invaluable qualities needed in tomorrow’s effective leaders. These five dimensions of high performers allow them to move quickly, self-disrupt, and – importantly – bring organizations with them. For leaders to succeed in the future of work, they must ADAPT, regardless of their career advancements choices and positions taken.


  • Anticipate: Demonstrate contextual intelligence to make quick judgments and create opportunities; focus on the societal needs that the organization wants to serve; provide a direction to unify collective efforts even among disoriented environments.
  • Drive: Energize people by fostering a sense of purpose; manage the mental and physical energy of themselves and others; nurture a positive environment to keep people hopeful, optimistic, and intrinsically motivated.
  • Accelerate: Manage the flow of knowledge to produce constant innovation and desired business outcomes; use agile processes, quick prototyping, and iterative approaches to rapidly implement and commercialize ideas.
  • Partner: Connect and form partnerships across increasingly permeable functional and organizational boundaries; enable the exchange of ideas; combine complementary capabilities to enable high performance.
  • Trust: Form a new relationship between the organization and the individual that centers on mutual growth; integrate diverse perspectives and values; help individuals to uncover their sense of purpose and facilitate them in providing their maximum contribution.


Among the five ADAPT qualities, Drive is the most prevalent in life sciences. But Drive is just one piece of success in the new health economy. AI, machine learning, and other emerging technologies are shaking up the industry in a way that’s never been seen before. Traditional models of operating and working are becoming less relevant to today’s generation. They’re trading in-office doctor visits for quick video consultations. They’re swapping brick-and-mortar pharmacies for specialized prescription apps. And they’re using smartwatches—not specialists—for long-term health monitoring.

These disruptions are putting pressure on life sciences organizations to perform better in new ways. But to do that, companies must first Anticipate what’s coming down the pipe. Any strategic leader will have to look beyond the horizon for indications of trends and get clarity on how those trends could impact the industry. This will allow them to better discern where and when they can take risks—and where and when they should stick to protocol.


Which are the main challenges pharma executives need to be ready to address?

The life sciences sector is being destabilized by the very same forces disrupting the future of work. Globalization, digitalization, and new technologies have dramatically changed the business landscape, transforming the way entire industries perform. And the combined impact of disruptive megatrends has forced companies to evolve rapidly.

A dramatic shift toward breakthrough therapies, for example, is upending traditional payer models and drug delivery systems. Similarly, a need for data-driven solutions is pressing firms to reconcile their disjointed data architectures. And growing heat around research and development recapture is forcing companies to divest their assets and focus more on where they can “play and win.”

As a result, the industry is experiencing a tremendous amount of angst, specifically around finding, developing, and organizing leaders to innovate in the face of disruption. This age of disruption has made transformative leadership even more crucial to sustained success: not only are capable leaders vital in an increasingly complex and evolving ecosystem but companies that fail to satisfy market demand for exceptional leadership risk losing investments.

With that, if companies want to avoid self-destructing, leaders need to embrace, rather than react to, the external disruptions they face. They need to “disrupt” themselves—their ways of thinking, doing, and being—in order to handle disruption in the market.  In a nutshell, companies must disrupt their ways of working, including their assumptions about effective leadership.

They will need to Partner and Build Trust with diverse, digitally-minded talent—both inside their own organization and with potential joint ventures—who are energized by disruption and can fill in the dimension gaps. This means executives must be willing to both learn from and be challenged by others, not only to transform themselves into self-disruptive leaders but to cultivate those high-potential successors for the future.

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