Life Science Leadership > Project and Portfolio management

Mobile leadership 4 – developing the skills

Cross functional leaders who have up to now worked in expert functions, are accustomed to learning more about their specialism – increasing ‘depth’ of knowledge. Now they must acquire more ‘breadth’. They also must learn to balance seemingly conflicting mindsets and this is rarely an easy transition. We must think carefully about how we design their learning.


A key to success for life science in the coming decade

Part 4 – Developing the skills

Key takeaways in this article:
• We usually need to engage and inspire leaders’ behaviour change before culture change in the organisation
• People need to experience and get feedback to shift their mindset – not just be told to change it
• Leaders can learn from team members’ feedback – live, not just from 360 analysis

In the previous articles we discussed the importance of mobile leadership and the mindset and critical skills that it requires. In this article we look at how we develop that mindset and the skills people require to work effectively in a changing environment.

In our corporations we face several challenges to making this happen.

There is often no clear definition of the role of a cross-functional leader. This means that senior management struggle to set clear expectations for these special leadership behaviours – and for their part, team leaders may feel ignored.

Culture and governance structures of our corporations may be slow to modernize. The most senior structures tend to be heads of functional silos – strong cross-function leadership culture is not at the top of their priorities.

The mindset and the skills required for the mobile leader are not ‘natural’ or easy to develop. ‘Mobile’ means that leaders may step into situations where team members have expertise that they do not, using transferrable communication skills, despite that uncertainty.

People comfortable with this are sometimes known – see the graphic at left – as ‘T-shaped’ managers.




Also, we’re all aware of two opposite team styles – ‘driver’ types – ruthless with goals – and in contrast, ‘facilitative’ people – bringing teams together, empowering others. Mobile leadership means blending these two styles seamlessly – not often straightforward!

How can we best develop peoples’ skills?
‘Changing the mindset’ of staff groups is a common topic at senior management meetings – and rightly so – it’s key to improving productivity.

Typically it just means changing ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. There are frequently gripes about the mindset of staff, at the senior management table, but without sufficient acceptance that changing the way we lead is the key to development. And before the organization has had time to change and evolve in this way, modern business demands a working cross-functional, entrepreneurial approach to survive and thrive in today’s world.

Organisations periodically mount ‘town hall’ meetings where new ways of working are presented, breakout groups create strategies, and so on.

Nothing to really object to here, but the strategies identified often fail to make any real change.

The right things often surface – like better collaboration across teams. (It was rated #1 in a survey of necessary leadership trends) But just telling people to think, work and collaborate in a different way doesn’t make it happen.

One way to make a difference is prioritise training toward high potential staff. These are people who are enthusiastic about new ways of working and high achievers. They are the people who will break the ‘rules’ of a slowly changing organization, and model great behaviours to everyone else. At the same time, it is critical to look out of the right types of behaviours being displayed, and reward them.

In parallel with this, transform the training. HR people frequently love inspiring speakers and thought leaders. The latest thinking is important, but it’s just theory! Any leadership workshop must provide practice and feedback. Also best in the context of work simulation to make it really relevant. eLearning gives knowledge and guidance – so provide it in small chunks, preferably accessible on-tap when it’s needed.

Another great tactic is team-based development. Often done within a session to look at the effectiveness of a whole work team. The leader can get ‘live 360’ feedback, precisely focused on relevant work – and critically, make commitments to change and improve certain aspects of their style, to get the best from others.

Good employees keep their real gripes to themselves. Especially the concerns they have about their own weaknesses – and how these will fare in the face of reactive organization. Coaching helps people work these things through confidentially and develop their own best ways forward.

How can we make a measurable change?
There are essentially two metrics: the impact someone has on the business, and the views of those being led. To do the latter we need a meaningful (preferably simple) set of indicators and a credible mechanism for getting measurable information about any development activity. The real challenge is to get the most senior management to own both.As we will say more about in article 6, Seeking sponsorship, this is best done in partnership with a diverse group of stakeholders.


Contact us (see below) to discuss any aspect of leadership, team effectiveness, change, internal/external relationships. Take our free diagnostic!

Written by John Faulkes