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  • Date posted:11/09/2023
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With Martine Zimmermann & Michael Lynch

When it comes to developing a career, it’s the leader’s responsibility to create a professional environment for growth and development. A dedicated employee in a positive and supportive environment, can quickly develop their skillset and become a high-value asset for their employer.

To learn exactly how leaders can create this environment for their team, Katy Barber spoke with two high-ranking and successful Life Science professionals, Martine Zimmermann and Michael Lynch.

Martine Zimmermann is currently the SVP, Head of Regulatory and R&D Quality at Ipsen. With over 25 years of global experience, Martine has been involved in every phase of drug development across multiple therapeutic areas. With this experience, she has developed exemplary leadership and mentorship skills.

In fact, Martine and Michael first met at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, where she hired and began mentoring him. Since then, they have strengthened that connection into a friendship. It’s because of their friendship that Martine and Michael wanted to take part in this Lift Up blog together.

Michael Lynch, meanwhile, is the Executive Director, Head of Global Regulatory Affairs CMC, Regulatory Operations, and Regulatory Operational Excellence at Alexion, AstraZeneca Rare Disease. Michael’s focus on leadership, performance, and project delivery means that he has wide experience and knowledge, and can offer greater insights into how leaders can more effectively manage and develop their people.

Show Your Struggles

If you’re a leader who genuinely wants to get the best out of your team and build a professional environment for growth, you have to be open to showing your struggles first.

If leaders hide their struggles and pretend they can handle everything, their team will mirror that behaviour. They’ll believe they should be able to handle everything too, and are unlikely to open up about their struggles. In turn, they’ll bottle everything up, until they reach a breaking point and burn out, or leave the organisation.

On the other hand, when Leaders raise their challenges and struggles, it gives their team the space and confidence to raise their worries too. By taking the first step, you can create a more harmonious workplace, where your team are comfortable speaking up to say they aren’t at their best.

And when you become aware that they’re starting to struggle, you can help them prioritise, rest, and recharge. In fact, Michael explained it perfectly, “in order to be effective at work, you need to be recharged. You can’t be coming in exhausted, physically or mentally.”

Martine then followed with her own experiences, “you always think you need to show more, to perform more, so you put the bar higher — but at some point, you need the capacity, the ability, the courage to say no. This, for me, was a lifesaver, to preserve my own balance.”

Give Your Team Responsibility & Accountability

Of course, helping your team feel comfortable enough to share their struggles is only part of the challenge. Refusing to hand over any responsibility or accountability for tasks is the fast track to making the entire team miserable.

Your team will feel as if you don’t trust them, that they’re incapable, or both. You’ll end up burning out, as you try to juggle an entire team’s workload, and quality will drop which may have even greater consequences.

Alternatively, giving your team responsibilities shows that you have faith in them, gives opportunities for growth, while reducing your workload.

This is especially true for women in the workplace. Women can feel a pressure that everything needs to be perfect, but often that isn’t the case. These feelings can come from Imposter Syndrome and other insecurities, which can be more prevalent in a male-dominated field.

To prevent this, showing that you have trust in your team can help empower them — thereby giving them the confidence to accept that not everything has to be perfect.

When leaders give accountability and show faith in their team, those team members feel more confident taking risks. Compare applying for jobs between men and women, for instance. When going for a new role, men will typically apply if they meet a lot less of the requirements, whereas women focus on meeting as many as possible.

But giving responsibilities isn’t the only way to create a professional environment for growth in your team. You can help individual members get sponsors, who will help them gain extra opportunities.

Sponsors Help, But Aren’t Magic

It’s important to understand that sponsors aren’t guaranteed to accelerate a career. They can provide insights and opportunities, but they can’t magically get you a promotion.

Throughout their careers, Martine and Michael have had sponsors, and been sponsors. One interesting insight they both shared was that having a man as a sponsor can give women the push they need to take more risks.

Women are more conservative with promoting themselves, but having a supportive male figure to give them encouragement often helped them flourish.

They also raised an important point. While sponsors are great at aiding development, they can also put significant pressure on the sponsee. A successful woman told Martine that she didn’t have time to have a baby, and she’d disappoint her company. She had been given so many opportunities and promotions that she felt she couldn’t disappoint those who had invested in her.

In response, Martine took her aside and had a thorough conversation with her. Martine was able to explain that if she wanted one, having a baby was also an amazing opportunity. She further explained that organisations will continue to push you, which can be great — but it doesn’t have to come with personal cost.

Martine then explained that being a sponsor requires balance; “it’s important to balance business acumen with emotional intelligence. Recognise this person is a great talent, but also monitor how they’re doing.”

Advice to Employees

Martine and Michael also had some excellent advice directed specifically towards employees, rather than leaders.

Build Networks

Building your network is an integral part of your career. You never know where or when a contact from your network may help you. As mentioned earlier, Martine and Michael first met when she hired him. Since then, they’ve become friends and despite now working in separate organisations, they remain strong connections in each other’s network. They’ve also become sounding boards for each other, offering unique perspectives and guiding each other towards success.

Learn Other Parts of the Business

Understanding all the moving parts of a business can make you a desirable candidate when going after that promotion, but that won’t happen unless you put the time in now. If you’re in a large organisation, use the opportunity to explore different departments, learn about the wider business, and develop your understanding.

Have a Plan B, C, and D

Plans change, career goals change. The position you initially wanted could be drastically different to where you end up. It’s crucial that you follow the opportunities in front of you, and see where they lead.

Capitalise on Your Happiness

Life’s too short to waste it doing things that make you unhappy. Think about what makes you happy at the end of the day, and capitalise on it. You’ll find yourself in a career you enjoy, and build a life around that.

Looking for More Guidance?

Martine and Michael are some of our Lift Up special contributors. By offering their insights, they are actively working to support women across the Life Sciences and provide you with the knowledge you need to accelerate your career, or help others improve theirs.

Want to easily access a wealth of information designed to promote your career?

Join Lift Up, the completely FREE and ACCESSIBLE Life Science community for women from C-Suite to Academia.