It may sound like a cliché, but as I have progressed during my 17 years here at GSK, determined to add value, I continue to wonder what it takes to be a great leader here in our company. Certainly I have met many on my journey here, through my job opportunities and rotations, both in the field and in Philadelphia, but what else should I be doing to be considered a GSK leader?
Last fall, I was honored to be included as one of 20 people chosen to have a private lunch with our CEO, Andrew Witty. Like many good leaders, he was genuinely interested in our feedback and asked us to speak our minds. Career development and advancement challenges were the most popular issues discussed. When Andrew asked us about those challenges, we felt that it came down to determining which career path to take and what jobs were considered appropriate to becoming a successful leader at GSK.
Andrew shared with us his own experiences of holding several positions within his first 5 years--learning many facets of the organization, but not necessarily becoming an expert in any one. He discussed our company's culture and described the type of leaders he would like to see at GSK. After a couple of hours, we ended as Andrew needed to get to his next appointment. That is when an idea popped into my head. I had nothing to lose, so I asked Andrew a question. "Would you ever consider letting me shadow you for a day, to witness first-hand what the top leader of our company does?" To my surprise, he thought it sounded like fun. He wrote a note to himself and said he would follow up with me when he got back to the UK.
A couple of months later, the date set, I would have the opportunity while Andrew was in the US to deliver a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Appropriately, the topic would be on how GSK was going to be a leader through innovation and development of medicines to battle neglected diseases in under-developed countries. Of course I prepared myself by reading everything I could get my hands on about Andrew and some of the more global challenges our company faces. What I could not have prepared for was the whirlwind of a day I was about to be a part of. (Including an interview with the New York Times--the profile was published today!)
We met at 6:30AM and off we went. Honestly, I was pretty nervous at first. I mean--what an opportunity! A million things ran through my head and I also felt responsible to properly represent the US portion of our company well. Andrew and his staff did a great job, making me feel at ease and a welcomed member of the entourage that would hustle from place to place that day. Off we went for the first event of the day; the speech with Q&A to the Council kicked things off. Immediately after the event, Andrew was interviewed by a reporter from the Financial Times, followed by a phone interview with the BBC. We were back into the car to go to Forbes for another interview and then to the New York Academy of Sciences to meet and answer questions from a blogger group. This was all before lunch!
Of course it would be a working lunch followed by a meeting with the Wall Street Journal. We took a short walk to a café across from Rockefeller Center to meet with a journalist from Management Today. Beyond the brisk pace of the day, it amazed me that no matter what question was asked of Andrew--the announcement about GSK opening up our patents, technology, and lab in Tres Cantos, Spain to help drug development for neglected diseases; the industry trends; the impact and fate of the proposed healthcare reform; or how he was bringing the GSK culture to life, he answered with thoughtful transparency, integrity and respect for our company and always with a focus on the patient.
During the day, Andrew shared with me that he wanted people at GSK to be "restless" and not get complacent about bringing great innovation and ultimately new medicines to patients we are trying to help. "If we are restless, we will work with a sense of urgency and challenge each other to be better and be more focused on our customers (patients)," he said. I asked him for an example of what I could do as one of those many thousand to demonstrate restlessness and help GSK be a better company. He suggested that "if each of us gives 10% more to our jobs, imagine what we could accomplish each and every day."
Our whirlwind of a day was done, but my learning continued while I reflected on what an honor and privilege it was to spend a day with Andrew and his staff. I learned much about our company and the man who leads it and have a renewed pride about what each and every one of us does every day to improve the lives of so many. Through the entirety of the experience, I also think I have a better idea about what we need to do to be leaders at GSK.
To some degree, we must be fearless. Had I not taken the opportunity and assumed some risk by asking for the opportunity to shadow, I would never have had such an enriching experience. If you are a sales person, you have to ask for business. If you are a scientist, you have to ask--why not? We have to push beyond our comfort zone to take on the new challenges of today and innovate. As Andrew explained, we need to also be restless. We need to work with a "sense of urgency" and feel comfortable challenging each other to improve and not stagnate--not just with the intent to be recognized and moved up in the organization, but to broaden our experiences laterally in other areas to improve.
Finally, as exampled by Andrew himself on my shadow day, leaders need to be both prepared and hard-working. Andrew worked full-court press the entire day and in every situation he and his staff were fully prepared to meet the challenges each experience offered. Without that preparation, we are ill equipped to take advantage of opportunities when they do present themselves. And, if we each as leaders give 10% more every day as Andrew suggested, we will also increase our chances that something great can happen. The shadow day with Andrew Witty, for me, was just a start.