Walk the talk. If you can’t authentically represent the company’s core cultural elements, you are probably in the wrong company. If you can authentically represent them, be sure you can cite examples for your employees. One way that healthcare industry leaders do this is by sharing patient stories, so employees who may be more removed from patient care can also connect the dots to the contribution of their work.

The number one leadership initiative in any organization today is improved coaching. Coaching empowers employees, empowerment drives engagement, and engagement drives performance. At its core, coaching is about transformation. Leading distributed teams requires transforming how we coach and changing our play calls and playbooks to get things done. As a part of our interview series called “Moving From Command & Control to Coaching & Collaboration; How Leaders and Managers Can Become Better Coaches,” we had the pleasure to interview Dr. James Creeden, former Chief Medical Officer at Roche Diagnostics and founder of Creeden Consulting.

Dr. Creeden is a US-trained physician with a PhD in molecular toxicology and 20 years’ experience in global pharmaceutical and diagnostics leadership, medical affairs and marketing roles. Currently starting his own mission-driven healthcare company and serving on startup boards in Switzerland, he credits his success in building and sustaining global teams with diverse international backgrounds to his transformational work with his own executive coach.

Thank you for joining us to explore a critical inflection point in how we define leadership. Our readers would like to get to know you better. What was a defining moment that shaped who you are as a leader?

I can vividly remember the moment I realized I was in a sink-or-swim situation, after being promoted to the Chief Medical Officer role at the largest division of the global Roche Diagnostics business, and I was sinking. I had all the clinical and scientific expertise I needed, and even the support of my former boss (now a peer), but I was in over my head from a leadership perspective. I sought the support of an excellent executive coach, Dr. Alexander Schuster, who quite literally saved my life by teaching me that my expertise and experience to date was just the raw material for my future success, and the new role would be the crucible.

John C. Maxwell is credited with saying, “A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” How do you embody that quote as a leader?

Walking the talk is an absolute requirement, especially now that employees are often looking for more than a job and salary, but also meaning and connection with their work. They expect to see authentic leaders who practice what they preach, from dedication to improving patient care to environmental sustainability to inclusiveness. If you aren’t able to authentically represent these commitments, you will struggle as a leader in companies that embrace these cultural elements. Remember that you are not necessarily expected to solve all these issues single-handedly, but be able to talk about complexity, your personal struggles and what you are doing to work on these issues.

How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?

Leaders-as-managers are expected to provide guidance and instruction to ensure work is done “correctly” — and by doing so also represent much of the inherent culture in the company. Middle management is the most entrenched reservoir of company culture, for good or bad. Leaders-as-coaches are able to resist the temptation to instruct, and find the employee’s growth edge, where they can be encouraged to take risks and solve problems on their own. This is where employees grow, and how we develop future leaders.

We started our conversation by noting that improved coaching is the number one leadership initiative in any organization today. What are some essential skills and competencies that leaders must have now to be better coaches?

Self-awareness and some experience working with a coach themselves. I think it’s very difficult to be an effective leader-as-coach without having lived through struggle and self-development yourself. Aside from that, the key aspect of effective coaching is the realization that every time you give your employee or coachee or mentee an “answer”, you are essentially stealing development opportunities from them.

We’re all familiar with the adage, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” How are you inspiring — rather than mandating — leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling?

Leading by example, by ensuring that the company has a clear statement on the culture we wish to maintain, what that means in terms of behaviors and what won’t be tolerated, along with a clear talent strategy on what we expect from our leaders. To some that may feel like vinegar, but it’s honey to the most talented and selective employees who are increasingly choosing companies by their culture and not just the benefits.

Let’s get more specific. How do you coach someone to do their best work? How can leaders coach for peak performance in our current context? What are your “Top 5 Ways That Leaders and Managers Can Be Effective Coaches?”

  1. Again, walk the talk. If you can’t authentically represent the company’s core cultural elements, you are probably in the wrong company. If you can authentically represent them, be sure you can cite examples for your employees. One way that healthcare industry leaders do this is by sharing patient stories, so employees who may be more removed from patient care can also connect the dots to the contribution of their work.
  2. Believe, truly believe, that strength comes from diversity of background and thought. The world is complex and challenging, and no one person will have all the right answers. Be sure your team represents the diversity of thought and culture of your customers and clients, and you will have a better chance of delivering industry-leading services and products.
  3. Stop stealing your peoples’ development opportunities! Cultivate the patience and self-control required to resist giving an answer or suggesting the right approach, even if all your long years or training compel you to. Ask questions, even leading questions if necessary, and embrace the fact that you will never have all the best ideas. And when your people find good solutions, remind them that they did it themselves!
  4. Practice appreciative inquiry. So much of manager/staff interactions quickly become uninspiring because the focus is on what went wrong, or on solving the problem as quickly as possible. Take a few moments to recognize good faith effort and innovative ideas, even if they were not successful, to be sure you encourage more effort and innovative ideas in the future.
  5. Differentiate. Meritocracy breeds performance, and uniformity breeds mediocrity. Your top talents know this, and they need to see that their performance is recognized with growth opportunities. Of course, we all need to be aware that our society is not meritocratic, and enormous advantages (or disadvantages) are bestowed upon each of us through mere luck. But the effective leader must take these into account and still differentiate work performance to keep talented employees engaged.

We’re leading and coaching in increasingly diverse organizations. And one aspect of workforce diversity on the rise is generational diversity. What advice would you offer about how to effectively coach a multi-generational workforce? And how do you activate the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce?

Appreciate the different worldviews, skills and experiences of your different generations, and encourage them to work together. Just as with other aspects of diversity, exposure and experience working together on diverse teams will build familiarity and performance over time. For example, social media marketing did not exist decades ago, so younger digital natives have much to teach more tenured colleagues. But many business challenges have not changed much through the ages, and experienced colleagues can bring their wisdom to bear on many problems.

You’re referring to emotional intelligence, in a sense. What are two steps every leader can take to demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence?

This is also an aspect of leadership that can be learned, or at least developed. It starts with a mindfulness practice to allow you to insert some space between stimulus and response. In their book Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter capture the secret ingredient to Emotional Intelligence: that crucial split second during which you can take a breath and decide how to respond to a given situation. Learn the practice, apply it in your work while talking about it with your team to set an example.

Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?

Vulnerability I think, and appropriate sharing to overcome the elements of shame the cause limiting beliefs that hold so many people back.

I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?

For me, usually it’s Rumi’s “your task isn’t to seek things you want, but to find the barriers you’ve built against them,” because I think this provides a much more constructive context for our life ambitions. But on the days when I am struggling, I am heartened by Corrie ten Boom’s “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength,” and press on.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation. What’s the best way for readers to connect with you and to stay current on what you’re discovering?

Check out my Leading Medical Affairs blog at leadingmedicalaffairs.com, or on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/leading-medical-affairs-6968131362222481408/

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.