A new cohort of leaders: New health economy. New skill requirements | HBA

A new cohort of leaders: New health economy. New skill requirements

New health economy. New leaders. New skill requirements.

“Get ready for the ‘new health economy’” rallies the headline of a MedCity News article ushering in the year 2016. As a report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which informs the article, warns: “The health industry has long been a closed and highly-siloed system. But powerful global forces are transforming the industry into a nimble, innovative and modular ecosystem serving the consumer, with profound implications for players new and traditional.”

The question for many in the industry is does this new economy require a new cohort of leaders? It might not hurt, says Ankita Deshpande, director of corporate and business development for Genocea Biosciences. “We’re at a pivot point right now in healthcare,” she notes. “And sometimes, when you’re at a pivot point in the external environment, it’s good to have a pivot point in the internal environment because that creates a bit of chaos—and that’s when amazing new things can emerge.”

 For Abigail Jenkins, VP and head of market access for Relypsa, whether or not existing leaders adapt or new leaders emerge, it’s clear that the new economy will take a whole new skillset. “Today’s healthcare leaders cannot afford to remain entrenched in their businesses,” Jenkins says. “The environment is calling for change, and change is going to happen with or without leaders. Either it is going to be thrust upon us, or we are going to lead it.”


New skills for the new health economy

Here are the skills that Deshpande and Jenkins say leaders will need to successfully usher their teams—and their organizations—into the new health economy:

Wisdom: “It’s easy to come in as a new leader and throw stones at the house that was built,” says Desphande. “But we need to understand why that house was built so that, as we think about how to take the next step, we have that institutional knowledge with us. Because we did not get to a broken healthcare system intentionally.”

Strategic thinking: “New leaders must be able to think strategically in two dimensions,” Jenkins explains. “Number one is being able to take the long view. Number two is being able to think outside of your box and put yourself in the shoes of all of the different stakeholders to find solutions that are good, not just for your business, but for everyone, and then to be able to open a conversation that’s beyond your immediate domain.”  

Community-building: “Speaking at least for the pharmaceutical side of things, it’s been a dark time in the last 10 years; a place of high stress and a lot of human change,” Jenkins explains. “I think leaders need to go back to basics and rebuild that common sense of purpose, reengage that sense of community that makes people want to be part of this change. Leaders need to help people come out of the woods and see that this is a great industry and a great time to be part of shaping the future. Because optimism breeds innovation.”

Resiliency: “To make the kind of progress we need, new leaders are going to have to be willing to fail big and fail a lot, and then bounce back quickly,” Desphande says. “It’s going to take some strong, creative leaders to make that work because in healthcare, we don’t fail well. When a drug fails in clinical trials, it is a huge expense and it has more serious consequences than in other industries.”

Transparency: “As we take these risks, we’re going to need to make the world understand that there are a lot of individuals and companies putting a lot of money at risk, and a lot of people putting their careers at risk to develop these new therapeutics,” Desphande continues. “New leaders will need to educate people that we are here to help, but we are still a business—and invite the people who don’t like that in to help us find a better way. The more we share our challenges, the more opportunities there are for new ideas and collaborations.”

Flexibility: “Leaders must realize that the idea of people showing up Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, the world just does not work that way anymore,” Jenkins notes. “We have people traveling, leading global teams, weighing commute times, and if you can’t offer the flexibility they need, you are not going to be competitive. You need to recognize that you’re hiring for a skill set, a competence, and a work ethic—and people who are oriented to work hard, they’re going to get the work done in a way that fits with their life.”

Listening: “It’s more important than ever for leaders to really listen: to people with tons of experience who bring wisdom, to people with no experience who have fresh ideas, to people from other industries who are finding solutions that may work in healthcare too, to the public, to the government,” Desphande says. “And then, most importantly, listening to their own voice and intuition because we’re going to be facing situations we’ve never seen before and there’s not going to be a precedent to guide business decisions. New leaders will need to create a cabinet of people with the right mix of experiences so they have people to turn to when these situations arise.”

Collaboration: “Leaders will need to define what collaboration means and create an openness where individuals and partners and teams feel safe to share ideas and responsibilities,” Jenkin says. “Because we are not going to be able to lead this change from our traditional silos. Though creating cross-cultural and cross-sector task forces to find the common good is difficult, we need to find a way. This is the US healthcare industry’s best chance to continuing to be the leader in driving innovation and excellence in healthcare.”


Abbie JenkinsGEN Xers

—thoughts from Abigail Jenkins

What they bring: A purpose. “Call it ambition, call it a drive for results, call it a purpose, but we want to make a difference, show the world we’re here, and leave it better than it was before.”

What they need: Historical reference. “We’re willing to learn from history, so the degree to which our predecessors can be honest in their reflections on past decisions—both good and bad—will put us in a better position to lead.”


—thoughts from Ankita Deshpande

What they bring: A drive to change. “When see something that doesn’t work, we’re not just willing to change it; we feel compelled to change it, to make it better.”

What they need: Patience. “In the instalives we’ve created for ourselves, we’ve forgotten the art of being patient. And innovation in healthcare takes a lot of time.”