What It Takes to Be a Leader in Warehousing

From the minute the great toilet-paper shortage that kicked off the COVID-19 pandemic in the US became known, warehousing has been in the spotlight (along with the entire supply chain). E-commerce channels at distribution centers have grown by 60 percent or more since the pandemic began, Roberto Michel reported in November 2020. The net effect has been to accelerate change, especially in the area of automation and its contribution to social distancing. “Just when it seemed that the pace of change for warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) couldn’t get any faster than it has been over the past few years,” Michel noted, “COVID-19 came along to show us just how fast that pace of change can be.” Change, of course, requires strong leadership.


Warehousing is a subset of logistics, which is, in turn a subset of supply chain. The three terms are sometimes used interchangeably, with “logistics” and “supply chain” especially referred to by some as the same field.


By far, the largest field employing warehousing leaders is supply chain and logistics (including the warehousing field), but retail firms also hire them, as do companies in IT, construction, automotive, food and beverage, consumer goods, oil and energy, and transportation. Top companies employing warehouse leaders include DHL, PepsiCo, Amazon, Tesco PLC, Kuehne + Nagel, Coca-Cola, CEVA Logistics, IBM, and Procter & Gamble. With US businesses adding an average of 1,000 warehouses and distribution centers yearly since 2008 (reports blogger Christine Hanks), the field continues to expand.


In 2016, less than a third of warehouse workers were women, suggesting that the proportion of warehousing leadership that comprises women is also small. Under the larger supply-chain category, 17 percent of top executives were women in 2020.


Preferred Background

Several years of experience are required for a warehousing professional to get into leadership. “Most warehouse managers with a high school diploma have worked their way up through the ranks,” notes Nicole Pontius in a comprehensive article on the background needed for warehouse leadership, “starting their careers in lower warehouse positions and gradually earning promotions to supervisor roles, eventually to the role of warehouse manager.”


Those whose leadership journey in the warehousing field begins in the warehouse-manager role typically hold at least a high-school diploma, and more than half have bachelor’s degrees, majoring in such areas as supply-chain management, logistics, business, or administration. About 4 percent of these high-school grads those also hold a certificate beyond the undergraduate degree, such as Certified Professional in Distribution and Warehousing (CPDW) or Certified Warehouse Logistics Professional (CWLP).


Other suggestions for those aspiring to warehouse leadership are to join industry organizations and monitor trends in the field.


A typical career path from entry-level warehouse worker to the executive level starts with individual contributor roles (such as warehouse associate, logistics coordinator, or material handler), and progresses through Warehouse Manager, Warehouse Lead, VP of Warehouse Operations, and finally a C-Suite position such as Chief Supply Chain Officer, Chief Logistics Officer, Chief Operations Officer, or Head of Warehouse Operations.


Desirable Characteristics

“The process of being organized in a [warehouse] leadership position requires a special skill set,” writes Lance Brandow, “combined with detailed knowledge.” Included in this skill set, Brandow of Brandow Consulting states, are the ability to set priorities for employees and ensure a safe warehouse environment. Ken Ackerman summarizes the special skillset required of warehouse leaders as the ability “to identify and remove barriers to productivity.” Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring warehousing leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Warehousing Field

In the overarching category of supply chain, which encompasses warehousing, one study of leadership style asserts that “no standard supply chain leadership model exists.” In the research study, Supply Chain Leadership Report: Many Styles Generate Success, the Supply Chain Council (APICS) identified and examined three leadership styles – Directing/Executing, Conducting (likened in the study to conducting an orchestra), and Counseling. While proclaiming “no single supply chain leadership style is optimal in every situation,” the report favors the Counseling style.


An argument for Servant Leadership emerges from supply-chain company LEGACY, which views this leadership approach as key to improving company culture, particularly because of the values-driven nature of Servant Leadership.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in warehousing:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in General Science

While life sciences have taken center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dr. Anthony Fauci taking on almost mythic leadership status, general-science leadership has shared the spotlight and has called attention to what Lund University associate professor Sverre Spoelstra calls “the dichotomy between leaders and bureaucrats that underpins popular leadership notions, such as visionary leadership, transformational leadership and authentic leadership.”


Steven Dewhurst points out that science leadership is less individually focused than it was in the days of “brilliant iconoclasts,” like Copernicus and Marie Curie, and instead, much more team-driven, as well as more interdisciplinary. “Major opportunities for discovery increasingly lie at the intersection of different fields,” Dewhurst says. Team leadership affords the opportunity for science leaders to coax the best out of team members. “A less effective scientific leader,” notes Jason Erk, “may unknowingly squander [team member] potential that might have flourished under different circumstances.”


The people-leadership skills that enable scientists to guide effective teams, however, are often deficient in science leaders. “When comparing skills in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) employees and STEM employees, those from a STEM background are perceived to lack interpersonal skills and time management,” write Rowan Brookes and co-authors write in Scientific American. Experts note that soft skills, such as people management, are typically not included in scientific training.


Women are underrepresented in science leadership. The higher the notch in the hierarchy, the less likely we are to find female science leaders, asserts GenderInSITE’s report, Pathways to Success:  Bringing a Gender Lens to the Scientific Leadership of Global Challenges. Causal factors include lack of challenging assignments for women; overvaluation of male opinions and ideas, accompanied by undervaluation of women’s intellectual contributions; an expectation that women must worker harder for less money; work environments that are “dismissive” at best and hostile at worst. Women, note Marla Parker and Eric Welch in an academic paper, “are more likely to be in discipline leadership positions and less likely to be a leader of a research center or have an administrative university leadership position.”


Preferred Background

Scientists typically hold doctoral degrees and serve in postdoctoral positions as researchers for two to three years. Those who’ve been trained as a scientist, writes David G. Jensen, usually begin at the research scientist level. Jensen discusses the “dual ladder” concept in which a scientist can reach a high-level role in the hierarchy, such as principal scientist (roughly equivalent to the vice-president level) without having to take on administrative and management functions. Of course, some scientists may prefer a path with those functions, such as those Jensen lays out – business development, regulatory affairs, sales and marketing, operations, or project management.


Desirable Characteristics

Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring general science leaders include the following:

See also a nice list of skills at various levels detailing resources about those skills.


Leadership Styles in the General Science Field

As in many fields, scientists are often encouraged to adapt their leadership style to what is needed at any given time, thus a flexible or situational leadership style. Writing for Forbes, George Bradt characterizes “scientific leadership” as a style unto itself. “Scientific leaders guide and inspire by influencing knowledge with their thinking and ideas,” Bradt writes.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in general science:


What It Takes to Be a Leader in Engineering

Engineering leadership has a bit of an identity crisis. Much of this crisis stems from the fact that engineers have a highly technical focus that may not include traditional leadership skills, such as interpersonal communication and people-management.


“For individuals whose love of engineering comes from their technical problem solving,” Cindy Rottmann and co-authors write in the academic journal Leadership, “the sudden shift to resolving ‘people problems’ can feel both uncomfortable and un-engineer-like.” The article quotes one study participant who suggests that the word “leadership” is “antithetical to the engineering mind-set.” The authors point to a mismatch between the identities of engineers and traditional notions of leadership. Engineers’ identities, the authors note, tend toward applied scientist, service professional, team player, technical problem solver, task-oriented doer, and process optimizer, while traditional leadership identities tend to be charismatic visionaries, influential dwellers at the top of the hierarchy, change agents, delegators, and solvers of people problems.


Another mismatch occurs between engineering leadership and business expectations. Siva Kumar cites a study that showed that 33 percent of engineering-project failures are the result of insufficient direct oversight by executive leadership, noting that a well-defined engineering strategy is the only way to overcome this mismatch.


Perhaps reflecting engineering leadership’s quest for identity, researchers in the field are eager to define engineering leadership. One of several such proposed definitions comes from Robyn Paul, Arindom Sen, and Emily Wyatt, writing in 2018 for American Society for Engineering Education:

“Engineering leadership is an approach that influences others to effectively collaborate and solve problems. Engineering leadership requires technical expertise, authenticity, personal effectiveness, and the ability to synthesize diverse expertise and skillsets. Through engineering leadership, individuals and groups implement transformative change and innovation to positively influence technologies, organizations, communities, society, and the world at large.”


Statistics on women in engineering are elusive, but given that just 13 percent of engineers were women as of 2019, the female share of leadership roles is even smaller. Barriers to women’s leadership in engineering include a lack of role models. Incremental change is on the horizon, thanks to the major push in recent years to encourage women to pursue STEM careers.


Preferred Background

Engineering leadership in project- or process-management roles is typically preceded by 5-10 years of technical work, note Rottmann and co-authors. The disconnect between engineering and leadership would seem to be the motivation for the emergence of engineering-leadership education in which “the focus is placed on interpersonal communication (vs. organizational communication) and understanding of motivation and behaviors of self and with respect to interactions with others,” says mechanical engineering professor David Bayliss.


One educational option for aspiring engineering leaders is the Master of Engineering Management degree. Another is an MBA, which leadership expert Tanveer Nasseer says enables engineers to “easily move into management.”


A typical career path to engineering leadership starts with engineer and progresses through engineer II, senior engineer, staff engineer, to principal engineer. Among roles at the executive level are director of engineering, vice president of engineering, chief engineer, and senior vice president of engineering. A blog called The Magnet offers a helpful list of types of engineering and engineering roles at all levels.


Desirable Characteristics

Rottman and co-authors note three possible orientations to engineering leadership: technical mastery, collaborative optimization, or organizational innovation. Those oriented toward innovation need leadership skills, but Ohio University notes that traditional engineering education has emphasized management over leadership. The university also suggests development of such soft skills as communication and people skills. Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring engineering leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Engineering Field

Little is written about leadership styles in engineering. Brendon Davis of Davis Companies proposes engineers fall into four leadership styles – Envisioners, Analyzers, Feelers, and Doers. Kettering University identifies the coaching, transformational, and servant leadership styles as most appropriate for engineers. A study of 70 lead engineers across a variety of industries and project types by research and consulting firm Independent Project Analysis found that “engineers exhibiting a supportive leadership style tend to place importance on people management skills and spend more time communicating.”


Jack Kora, VP of engineering at dscout, shares an interesting first-person case study about changing his leadership style, describing how, when he started a new position, he failed to first build trust with his team and started making changes his team didn’t always understand. When an employee-satisfaction survey showed negative attitudes toward Kora, he began to research leadership styles and determined his was the wrong approach at this new company. While he never identifies his former or subsequent leadership styles, he cites a Fast Company article on six leadership styles – pacesetting, authoritative, affiliative, coaching, coercive, and democratic – as his inspiration for developing a more appropriate style.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in engineering:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Consulting

In April 2020, London-based Source Global Research predicted that the U.S. consulting market would shrink 20 percent by the end of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Procurement-intelligence firm Beroe, Inc., monetized this reduction in business as a $30 billion hit to the consulting sector. Client postponement or cancellation of consultant-led projects is responsible for much of the loss.


However, “even before COVID-19, the consulting industry was in the middle of a period of profound change,” observe the authors of “Leaders of Tomorrow” from the firm SheffieldHaworth. “Effective leadership has, therefore, never been more important for consulting firms than it is today,” the authors note.


Typically, the top leadership role in the consulting sector is partner. Partners oversee strategy and goal-setting for the business and its revenue. At one time, consulting partners shared in the company’s profits, but this is not necessarily the case today. A blogger at CaseCoach points out, “only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to partner.” In fact, the blogger estimates that less than 5 percent of consultants become partners.


What does the partner role consist of? In an article titled How to become a partner at McKinsey & Co, Sarah Butcher offers this description:

Partners oversee multiple engagements for multiple clients at a time. They maintain long-term relationships with more senior-tenured clients and entire organizations. They advise clients in terms of the types of work that might be most relevant and useful, outline the scope of our work with their clients and teams and manage requests for proposals. Partners are accountable for the work we do and impact we deliver; they remain involved in daily problem-solving and help their teams solve the toughest parts of each challenge. They mentor junior-tenured … colleagues, take leadership roles in the firm and contribute more heavily to recruiting, office/practice leadership, etc.


Experts offer advice for those seeking to make partner. Nitin Kumar, whose Getting to The Partner Level is richly detailed, notes that good performance is not enough; the aspiring partner must be growth oriented and demonstrate that he or she can help grow the firm. Kumar also recommends a strong personal brand, the ability to network effectively, commitment to clients, and thought leadership – or what he calls “presence.” Others advise getting published, having a full grasp on industry trends, possessing strong business acumen, developing new business, and honing outstanding skills in consulting and engagement management.


Preferred Background

One of the common paths for entering the consulting industry is after attaining a bachelor’s degree. Many consultants, however, don’t join the sector until after gaining a master’s degree, typically an MBA or a master’s in management. “Typically, candidates who do not hold an advanced degree,” Butcher notes, “such as a PhD, JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence), MD (Doctor of Medicine) or MBA join as business analysts.” The third common path for entering the consulting sector is from industry by leveraging functional expertise, for example, in supply chain and operations, or industry expertise.


Not all consulting leaders have business backgrounds. Butcher quotes Caitlin Storhaug, McKinsey’s global director of recruitment marketing and communications: “We have significantly increased our experienced hire recruiting and our experienced hires include former doctors, lawyers, soldiers and even a theatre company director. We are looking for people who love to work in teams to solve the world’s toughest problems.”


A common progression of roles from bottom to top (which takes about 10 years) starts with business analyst, then associate, consultant, senior consultant, managing consultant, associate partner, and finally partner. Because the progression can vary from firm to firm, Vijay Vijayasankar created The path to partnership in big consulting firms. The predictable path has been a selling point for the sector, although Richard Longstreet points out on LinkedIn, “consulting careers today are much messier; consultants are no longer hikers progressing along a trail from A to Z, but must instead see themselves as explorers and navigators, charting a course for themselves through unmapped territory.”


Desirable Characteristics

“To succeed in the future,” write the authors of “Leaders of Tomorrow,” partners will need to be capable generalists with a rich understanding of their firm’s capabilities – and, crucially, the ability to create bespoke solutions for clients that cut across them.” Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Leadership Styles in the Consulting Field

Not surprisingly, a consultative leadership style is recommended for consulting leaders. “Consultative leadership,” says Gerald Ainomugisha, a blogger at 6Q, “entails asking key people for their thoughts and allowing them time to process the problem and solve for what they feel was the best possible solution.” Given that consulting leaders may interact with diverse organizations, advice by a blogger at Cerius Executives also makes sense – that consultants should adapt their leadership style to the organization they’re currently working with.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in consulting:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Consumer Packaged Goods

CPG - Consumer Packaged Goods acronym concept

Recurrent themes among experts in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry point to a discipline that would benefit from a boost in innovation, disruption, and digital transformation. “Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies are classic examples of organizations that have to move from a static-control to a dynamic-innovative focus,” write Penn State’s Samuel Hunter and his co-authors in “Shifting to a Strategy of Innovation: The Key Role of Leadership in Consumer Packaged Goods.” “Innovation is critical to the success of CPGs,” he notes.


Despite lagging in these areas, the industry has more than held its own during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to consumers stocking up on essentials and more, though not without significant supply-chain woes. Writing about how the early months of the pandemic changed the mindset of CPG CEOs, Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, characterizes the CPG response as “companies ensuring the delivery of products needed to help fight COVID-19 and doing the right things for essential employees.”


Whether building on COVID-driven momentum or tackling the mandates of innovation, disruption, and digitization, CPG companies need strong leadership. A 2020 study from TCS Business 4.0 Institute, Opportunities for Leadership and Disruption in Consumer Packaged Goods,” distinguishes digital-leader companies – those with strong leaders promoting digital initiatives that contribute to increased revenue – from digital-follower firms that have little digitization going on and minimal success in increasing revenue. The study found that CPG companies tend to be followers. The risk of the follower position is falling behind in the world of online sales. In a brief account of the recent history of the industry, Richard Stark and co-authors note that between 2013 and 2020, “more than $17 billion in sales shifted from CPG giants to startups and 90 percent of all CPG e-commerce growth came from new, smaller companies.”


Consumer Packaged Goods executive teams, reports a 2019 study by consulting firm Spencer Stuart, have an average of 12.8 members. Four-fifths of CPG company leaders have devoted their whole careers to consumer packaged goods. Of the 50 leaderships teams Spencer Stuart researched, 17.5 percent of studied executive-team members were women;16 percent included no women, and 36 percent boasted three or more women. Among CPG industry CEOs, only 5-6 percent are women.


Like many leaders in CPG, CEOs also tend to have long tenures at their companies – an average of 22.6 years – and have been CEO for an average of 5.3 years, reports Spencer Stuart. Very few are hired from outside their companies. Laura Gurski, senior managing director and global industry lead for consumer goods and services at Accenture, paints a picture of a typical CPG CEO: “male … aged in his mid-fifties, and overwhelmingly from an industry background in management, sales or marketing.”


Preferred Background

In addition to the most common functional backgrounds, CPG leaders come from finance operations/supply chain sales/commercial consulting, strategy, technology, quality, R&D, and innovation. Common industry backgrounds, Spencer Stuart’s CPG Leadership Index reports, include beverages, food, household products, tobacco, personal products, healthcare, and private equity. Frank Birkel and his co-authors of a 2019 Spencer-Stuart report on the “CPG CEO of the future” observe that experience in regional general management and global category management is advantageous.


Desirable Characteristics

An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in CPG leadership. “Changes sweeping through the CPG sector require new capabilities within the top team,” proclaims a 2018 McKinsey report. Pointing to the need to level-up in digital, big data, and analytics skills, Patrick Guggenburger, writing for McKinsey, warns, “for the consumer-packaged-goods, the skill crunch is just around the corner, driven in part by the shift toward digital channels.” The Spencer-Stuart CPG CEO of the future report notes that “the next generation of CPG leadership must anticipate how to better connect with consumers, invest in the right technologies and business models, and use culture to spark innovation and growth.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:


Leadership Styles in the CPG Field

Research on leadership styles in the CPG industry tends to focus on effects of various leadership styles rather than predominance of any one style in the field. A study by Anthonia Adeniji and co-authors found that transformational and transactional styles had a positive effect on employee engagement and performance. Similar results were reported from a South African study in which Solomon Omonona and co-authors found the transactional leadership style to have a greater influence on employee performance than other styles of leadership.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in Consumer Packaged Goods:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Life Sciences

As the industry under pressure to produce vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutic medications to address the COVID-19 pandemic, life sciences faces disruption, along with significant leadership challenges and diversion of attention away from normal business. EY reports in How life sciences CEOs can rewire strategic planning and execution on research in which 76 percent of surveyed life-sciences industry CEOs and other senior executives said COVID-19 will impact or even pivot their organization’s medium- to long-term strategy.” A study by McKinsey indicates that up to 80 percent of the time spent by surveyed top-level executives (CMOs and other medical leaders) is currently on crisis management. The EY report suggests the addition of roles such as chief digital officer and chief innovation officer “to help bring necessary viewpoints to the table in order to develop a sustainable long-term strategy.”

Even before COVID, however, the industry, according to a 2018 McKinsey report on developing tomorrow’s life-science leaders, faced “demographic shifts, mounting cost pressures, advancing digitization, emerging scientific breakthroughs, and powerful new competitors.”

Top leadership roles in life sciences include CEO, Chief Scientific Officer, Chief Medical Officer Regulatory Affairs Director, Chief Operations Officer, Business Development Officer, Chief Finance Officer, Senior Director, Executive Director, Assistant/Associate Vice President, Vice President, Therapeutic Head. A list of 166 life-science roles at all levels can be found on the Biospace site, which also offers a life-science job board.

A disproportionately small number of women and people of color populate top leadership roles in life science’s most dominant sector, biotech. Ned Pagliarulo reported on a 2020 study by BioPharmaDive showing that only 30 percent of executive positions and just 18 percent of board seats are held by women, despite their making up half the companies’ workforces. The study found that about 80 percent of CEOs were men and almost 90 percent were white.

Preferred Background: Education and Experience

Unlike in many industries, where education takes a back seat to experience, a strong academic background, particularly in the sciences, is required in many top life-science leadership roles. The ability to translate that academic science background into a business setting is seen as a highly desirable trait in life-science leaders. “A transition from a science-oriented to a business-oriented culture seems to be essential to survive ‘the valley of death,’ and must begin within the company’s leadership,” writes biological scientist Isabela Oliva. At the highest level – Chief Medical Officer – a medical degree and state licensure as a physician are required, sometimes enhanced by specialty-practice certifications and a degree in business, as well as management experience and 5-10 years of clinical experience beyond residency.

McKinsey’s Developing tomorrow’s leaders in life sciences report suggests leadership development, given that only about 30 percent of current leaders surveyed had participated in such training. Leadership coaching may also be desirable, especially for those transitioning from academia to business.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in life-science leadership. The field “requires people who are willing to take risks, conquer new science, and have endurance for the many years it takes to develop a new medicine,” asserts Deanna Petersen, CBO of AVROBIO.

The COVID pandemic adds new dimensions to what is needed in a life-science leader. The EY report notes “life sciences industry CEOs and other senior executives need to address a few critical areas as they develop strategy for the post-pandemic era: building resiliency into their supply chain, addressing fast-evolving customer needs, supporting effective innovation to develop new treatments and staving off threats from unexpected competitors.

Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Life-Science Field

Research on leadership styles in the life-science industry is limited. Jolyn Taylor and Diane Bodurka acknowledge that “all leadership types may be used at some point by effective leaders,” while pointing to democratic and transformational styles as especially effective in the life sciences. A chapter in the textbook Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science recognizes the dominance of the transformational style in recent years, but also points to use of behavioral, relational, transformational, transactional, contingency, and contextual styles.


These resources offer additional insight on leadership in life sciences:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in the Telecommunications Industry

As vast numbers of employees became remote workers when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, telecommunications-industry leaders were called upon to provide “ultra-reliable connectivity for at-home, work, school, and social interaction,” as a KPMG report noted. The pandemic disruption has challenged the strategic vision of top telecom leaders and turned their attention to what the report describes as “organizational resilience to capture emerging opportunities and new revenue streams.


Though they could not have anticipated the specific disruption wrought by the pandemic, Patrick Viguerie, Keith Cowan, and Brian Hindo knew when they wrote The Future of the Telecommunications Industry: A Dual Transformation in 2017 that, while disruption is inevitable, “opportunities are greater today than ever before for industry players that embrace disruption, reimagine their network services capabilities, and drive growth.” The authors recommended a customer-centric approach to these tasks.


Most diversity initiatives in the telecom industry appear to focus on the underrepresentation of women in the field. The Global Leaders Forum, for example, has launched an initiative to “drive improvements in gender diversity, both within the organizations of members, and more broadly across the industry.” Eric Cevis, who spearheads the initiative, notes that “in 95% of surveyed GLF organizations, women represent fewer than 50% of direct reports to the CEO.


Preferred Background: Education and Experience

A report from Spencer Stuart on telecom CEOs indicates that backgrounds in technology, media, or telecommunications dominate among top leaders, more than a third of them having spent their entire careers in telecom. Functional areas from which CEOs have emerged include operations and general management, finance, and to a lesser extent, strategy and business development, IT and engineering, and sales and marketing. A healthy portion of the studied CEOs had also been CEOs in their last job, while others had been senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents or regional presidents, COOs, or CFOs.


Educational backgrounds solely dedicated to telecommunications are uncommon, according to the study. Most followed an academic program focused on business administration, finance, accounting, economics, IT, or engineering. Bachelor’s degrees were universal among the studied CEOs, with about a quarter also earning an MBA or PhD, and another quarter gaining other advanced degrees.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in telecommunications leadership. Customer-centrism is currently seen as highly valuable for telecom leaders, especially given that customers are using telecom services in greater numbers for working and learning at home, as well as consuming online entertainment. The ability to stay on top of trends and the competitive scenario are also seen as critical. Some experts suggest that hiring leaders from outside the telecom industry will result in fresh perspectives. Blogger Syed Ali cites creativity as one of the most crucial soft skills today. The telecom section of KPMG’s web site notes that amid the disruption, those who are “agile, strategic, cost conscious, and driven by data and analytics will be best positioned to benefit.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Telecommunications Industry

A number of researchers, primarily outside the U.S. and focused on specific telecom companies, have explored leadership styles in the telecommunications industry. Transformational, transactional and laissez faire leadership styles have been mentioned as common in the telecom industry, along with lesser known styles – contingent, inspirational, and intellectual, with the intellectual style shown by research to promote employee engagement.



  • Global Leaders’ Forum: Offers GLF Community, an “ecosystem for leaders across telecoms infrastructure, platform and applications providers, as well as the technology providers that serve them.”


What It Takes to Be a Leader in a Pharmaceutical Firm

Pharma Medicine Pill Capsule Pharmaceutical Industry 3d Illustration“Change fatigue” is a phrase that a report from the McKinsey Company uses to refer to leadership in the pharma industry. Indeed, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, pharma wrestled with globalization, the quest to reduce costs, regulatory issues, and efforts to add value while remaining customer-focused, among other challenges.

An overview of pharma-leader responsibilities includes aligning services with institutional goals, generating maximum revenue, collaborating with the leadership team to reduce costs, and managing technology investments. Senior pharma leadership teams may include such roles as Chief Medical Officer, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, Chief Quality Officer, Senior Director, Executive Director, Assistant/Associate Vice President, Vice President, and Therapeutic Head. Some emerging executive positions observed by Adam Millinger and his co-authors include Transformation Leaders, Ecosystem Leaders, and Enabling Leaders.

A comprehensive study of the career paths of 50 pharma CEOs by Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz reveals that the average age of pharm leaders is 58. Only three companies in his study are led by women, Horwitz points out.

The pharmaceutical industry, of course, has been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The COVID-19 lockdown has exposed deep dependence of the global economy on various aspects of pharma and healthcare companies,” writes Sonny Iqbal and Niveditha Viswanathan of consulting firm Ego Zehnder. The authors cite an emerging need for leaders to make rapid decisions, as well as to trust decisions that come from decentralized sources. Leaders need to be agile, responsive, and resourceful at this time, Iqbal and Viswanathan note. For Dana M. Krueger and Saule Serikova, the concept of “purpose” is key to pharma leadership in the pandemic. “Across all the activities of pharma companies,” the authors write, “from their investments in product development to directly impact patients in need, to the research and supply alliances they are building, to the charitable donations they make – the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the need for pharma leaders to commit to, communicate, and exemplify the purpose that is at the center of their strategies and organizations.”


Preferred Background: Education and Experience

Horwitz’s study provides valuable insight into the kind of backgrounds that propel pharma leaders to the top. Horwitz made the surprising discovery that 35 of the 50 CEOs he studied have no advanced scientific or medical degree. MBAs, he notes, are by far the most common advanced degrees. He describes the typical career path of the leaders he studied: “a college STEM degree, an MBA or entry-level job in sales or operations, followed by a couple decades of conventional upward mobility through management roles of increasing geographic and financial responsibility.”

The management roles typically included in the “upward mobility” Horwitz describes may be country manager or a director of a minor franchise, followed by head of sales for a region or head of development for a small division, VP of sales or operations or R&D, and then a promotion into a role as SVP, EVP or president of a continent or franchise, and finally the C-suite as either COO or CFO. “A few leap directly to CEO,” Horwitz says.


Desirable Characteristics

An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in pharma leadership. In the white paper, The Leadership Challenge in the Pharmaceutical Sector: What Critical Capabilities are Missing in Leadership Talent and How Can They be Developed?, Jean Brittain Leslie and Kim Palmisano report that the ability to build collaborative relationships was identified as the most important skill. Additional characteristics from this and other studies include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Pharma Industry

Globally, leadership styles in the pharma industry have been extensively studied, with many scholars and experts arguing for a mix of leadership styles. In 2016, Partha S. Mukherjee, director of analytical development at Bristol-Myers Squibb, promoted the situational-leadership style, while also giving a nod to the transformational style, noting that “transformational leaders have integrity; they are excellent communicators, self-aware, empathic, lead with humility, take accountability, and they inspire by emotional intelligence.”

Experts also point to a trend in leadership styles oriented toward building relationships and leveraging teams. In a chapter in Value Creation in the Pharmaceutical Industry: The Critical Path to Innovation, Aubyn Howard observes that “the rapid rise of the Pluralistic–Social paradigm over the last 20 years has brought more collaborative styles of leadership which enabled the emergence of conventional forms of open innovation.”

Leadership style can be especially significant for women making their mark in the pharma industry. Barbara Morgan, an executive at Lubrizol Life Science Health, advises women to embrace various styles, noting that “highly extroverted and assertive leadership styles” manifest themselves differently in women than in men. “We have to be inclusive and open,” Morgan writes, “to allow female leaders to be authentic to themselves and not feel pressured to personify the accepted leadership style.”



Several excellent guides to leadership paths in the pharma industry are available:


What It Takes to Be a Leader in Healthcare

Because labor costs typically consume 50 to 60 percent of a hospital’s operating revenue, less-than-stellar leadership can have a significant impact. “Healthcare organizations represent a system of processes, people, and other resources that must be led effectively to achieve the desired outcome of high-quality, safe patient care,” writes Carol J. Huston, a nursing leader and nurse educator.

While healthcare leadership encompasses a number of diverse roles, the functions of healthcare leaders usually include planning and overseeing healthcare services in compliance with laws and regulations while striving to improve quality and efficiency, often with the assistance of new technologies. “Effective leadership,” notes the blog of Advent Health University, “has been positively associated with increased patient satisfaction and lower rates of adverse health results.”

Leadership roles in healthcare include population-health leader, patient-safety leader, patient-experience leader, change-management leader, staffing/scheduling leader, in addition to C-Suite positions like Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO), Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), Clinical Department Manager, and Chief Quality Officer (CQO).

Arguably, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected healthcare more than any other industry and has required an adaptive leadership style. Writing for the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst site, physician Kevin Lobdell and his co-authors assert that the healthcare system is not well structured to address a pandemic in an interconnected and interdependent world. “Prioritizing engaged leadership, and emphasizing a more team-oriented approach to care delivery and collaboration across institutions,” Lobdell et al write, “will improve systems in the short-term, and ultimately, set conditions for long-term change.”

The pandemic is not the only leadership challenge healthcare leaders face. Tim Flanagan of HealthCare Recruiters International also cites revenue outpaced by spending, increasing regulations, demand for new levels of quality and cost transparency, a surge in non-traditional competitors, expansion of population health, and rapidly changing technology.

Preferred Background: Education and Experience

Because leadership roles in healthcare are diverse, no typical path of education and experience exists, but for the top leadership role of hospital CEO, a Master of Health Administration or Hospital Administration degree is common, along with at least eight years’ experience in administrative, healthcare, and management positions, notes the University of Scranton’s page on executive-leadership strategies in the medical field.

Desirable Characteristics

An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in healthcare leadership. Comprehensive resources on competencies in healthcare leadership include the Healthcare Leadership Alliance Competency Directory, downloadable as an Excel spreadsheet, Leadership Competencies for Health Services Managers from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), and the Health Leadership Competency Model from the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL). Additional leadership characteristics include the following:

healthcare leadership skills table

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Healthcare Industry

Researchers have found that simply deploying a leadership of any kind has a positive effect in healthcare. Danae Sfantou and co-authors write of their research, “Leadership styles were found to be strongly correlated with quality care and associated measures,” going on to document associations between individual styles and positive outcomes: “Transformational and resonant leadership styles are associated with lower patient mortality, while relational and task-oriented leadership are significantly related to higher patient satisfaction.” The researchers found increased patient satisfaction closely related to transformational, transactional, and collaborative leadership.

Bhagyashree Sudhakar Joshi studied 41 healthcare leaders, learning that they used 10 leadership styles (autocratic, democratic, bureaucratic, laissez faire, paternalistic, transactional, charismatic, transformational, visionary, and coaching) to some extent, with the majority adopting a democratic style. Joshi concluded that hospital leaders should adopt a mixed leadership style.

While many healthcare experts like Joshi argue for a mix of leadership styles, others promote one specific style as most appropriate for the healthcare field. Victor Trastek, Neil Hamilton, and Emily Niles make a case for Servant Leadership in an article for the Mayo Clinic. “Servant leadership [is] the best model for health care organizations because it focuses on the strength of the team, developing trust and serving the needs of patients,” the authors assert. Tony P. Ospina touts transformational leadership, noting that “transformational leadership is not a ‘cure all’ remedy for the current issues in healthcare, but it addresses many common challenges that are faced.” Similarly, scholars Alenka Žibert and Andrej Starc point out that “transformational leadership is often associated with greater efficiency and positive organizational results, and consequently achieves a higher success rate of change.”


These excellent guides to leadership paths in the healthcare industry are available:

What It Takes to Be a Private Equity-Backed Company Leader

When businesspeople refer to private equity-backed company leaders, they are typically referring to CEOs hired by private-equity (PE) firms to run new acquisitions in their portfolios (these portfolio companies are sometimes abbreviated as “portcos”). PE firms may hire other leaders, such as CFOs and other C-suite executives, but CEOs are the main focus.

Much of the literature about private-equity backed CEOs emphasizes differences between the environment in which portco CEOs operate and that of CEOs of other companies. “Effective leadership in this space is very different from other types of ownership platforms,” writes John Myers, managing partner, Kensington International, noting “the acquisition of a company by a private equity firm is a seismic change for its leaders and employees.” Executive-search expert Chris Reinsvold points to a tight timeline with an anticipated ending since the PE firm’s goal is typically to eventually offload the portco at a profit. As private-equity search specialist Joe Hunt writes, “private equity is looking for CEOs who can drive and deliver performance in a defined timescale, optimizing the crystallization of value on exit.” Board interaction is different because often, “the majority of the board directors are principals in the private-equity firm,” Reinsvold says. CEOs in portcos invest their own funds in the portfolio company, with, Reinsvold says, “greater emphasis on the CEOs having enough ‘skin in the game.’” But, while the portco environment may be different from the environment at other companies, CEO skills and characteristics are not so different. Successful portfolio company CEOs are very similar to non–private equity CEO profiles, asserts What makes a great PE portfolio company CEO?, a report from Russell Reynolds Associates.

The same report shows portco CEOs offer a stronger skillset over other CEOs in certain areas, indicating superior skills among portco CEOs in juggling priorities, empowering others, exhibiting an even-keeled demeanor, and maintaining humility about their own achievements.

Private-equity-backed companies evince an emphasis on organizational culture, both in terms of performance and in terms of a CEO’s fit with the portfolio company’s culture. “The right corporate culture at a portco is essential for generating the business results required by the company’s PE sponsor,” states Alix Partners’s 2020 Fifth Annual Private Equity Leadership Survey, “and a portco’s culture depends to a great degree on who’s at the helm.” This emphasis on cultural fit is sometimes blamed for weak representation of women in portco CEO roles. “Humans tend to connect socially with those who share similarities to themselves,” notes an article from private-equity talent platform Falcon. A 2019 analysis by BoardEx of privately held US and UK businesses owned by PE and venture-capital firms showed that in the 12,221 companies studied, only 7 percent had female CEOs.


Preferred Background: Education and Experience

The aspect of a prospective portco CEO’s background considered most important for success is having had total P&L responsibility, the majority having held that responsibility as a general manager or CEO, states the Russell Reynolds Associates report, which also cites sales leadership and operational experience as key to “high growth and returns.” Relevant industry experience is also prized as a success factor, asserts the report, which goes on to state that prior portfolio company CEO experience “is actually not necessary.” Other studies claim the opposite, with a Harvard Business Review article noting that experience as a CEO in a publicly traded firm fails to prepare people for success in the intense PE environment. The literature on private-equity-backed CEOs is silent on education requirements, but job postings suggest master’s-degree-level training.


Desirable Characteristics: The Need for Speed

The trait most frequently cited for success of portco CEOs is speed of execution. Words and phrases such as “sense of urgency,” “warp-speed,” “agility,” and “quickness” are often mentioned with regard to this role. While hard skills take a back seat for portco CEOs, an array of additional soft skills and personal traits are keys to success in private-equity-backed leadership of portfolio companies:

Another frequently mentioned condition for success for the portco CEO is alignment with private-equity sponsors.


Predominant Leadership Styles in Private Equity

Rick DeRose of search firm Acertitude notes that “PE leaders must embrace a range of leadership styles,” which is another way of saying the primary leadership style for portco CEOs should be a situational approach. DeRose discusses a transformational style deployed by leaders who “thrive amid rapid change” and possess “the ability to persevere, even when overwhelmed and overloaded,” as opposed to a “maintenance” style characterized by feeling “most comfortable with the status quo.” DeRose suggests that “extreme transformers” are the key to a portfolio company’s exponential growth. The Russell Reynolds Associates report points out that CEOs who are too independent and lacking “regard for rules and processes” often don’t succeed.

The importance of leadership in helming a PE firm’s portfolio companies is timely in the age of COVID-19. “In private equity,” writes Marcus Beale, managing director at Drax, “leadership is a vital aspect of value creation. Leaders and their leadership teams, along with the culture and the environments they create, have the potential to deliver exceptional returns. Whether wartime or peacetime in leadership style, the Covid crisis’ effect on portfolio businesses has only amplified this fact.”



These reports shed additional light on success factors for those interested in the private-equity-backed company-leader role:

·       What makes a great PE portfolio company CEO?

·       Alix Partners’s 2020 Fifth Annual Private Equity Leadership Survey  

·       The Missing Ingredients: Three Things PE Investors Should Look for in a CEO

·       What It Takes to Lead: Challenges for the New Private Equity CEO