The development of leadership skills can be addressed in many ways.  I like to observe how leaders deal with some of the most difficult situations we know, determine what they did right and wrong, and internalize the learnings.  On May 1, we saw two examples of leadership that are worth observing.

President Obama, on the first anniversary of the Bin Laden mission, personally went to Afghanistan to sign an agreement to map our path out of a decade long war.  Let me start by saying I hate war, hate the senseless killing, hate the wasted money and most importantly all the lost opportunities at home because we are focusing on things a trillion miles away.  That said, I love the leadership I saw this week.

Obama has a clear vision, crafted by much research, that is not politically popular on either the right or the left.  The vision is far reaching and has both short-term and long-term milestones.  He not only personally moved the plan forward but then also took great pains to explain it to both the troops and the American people.  As much as I disagree with what we are doing in the Middle East, I appreciate the skill and thoughtful plan we now have to systematically move forward.

On the same day, Pfizer held its much anticipated first quarter call with analysts after releasing its results earlier in the morning.  Reading through the transcript of the earnings call it is remarkable the way the leadership team has maneuvered its way through the loss of Lipitor exclusivity.  The first full quarter after the Lipitor loss was always a tremendous concern going back to the days before Pfizer acquired Warner Lambert.  How would the street react when the biggest drug the industry has ever known hits the patent cliff?  Since December 1, 2011 when generic products were introduced and the end of April, Pfizer’s stock was up 14% compared to the Dow which was up only 10% during that time.  Pfizer’s growth was 40% better than the Dow.  It is important to note the leadership.

The strategy behind Pfizer’s results showed what strong leaders can do when given the time to prepare.  The well publicized work to protect against Lipitor substitution in the US resulted in market share 2.5 times higher than what could have been expected if they did nothing.  The $383 million in US sales of Lipitor would suggest that over the course of the first year the company could, through it’s efforts, generate close to a billion dollars more in sales than they would have if they didn’t initiate the Lipitor plan.  The company also talked about stock buy backs, showing strong confidence in their future.  They discussed the spinoff of their nutritional products in order to focus on the rest of their business.  They rounded out the strategy by talking about their expected near term launches that directed everyones attention to the future rather than to the past.  As a shareholder, I was really struck by what the leadership team has accomplished.

What can we learn from Obama and Pfizer this week?  Leadership is about making bold moves.  Strategy often takes time to develop and years to play out.  The answer to massive challenges usually involves numerous interlocking moves and is not just a simple quick fix.  Leaders are out front delivering and defending their strategy.  Despite all the pressure, this is done in a cool assuring way that allows everyone to feel more comfortable that the situation is in good hands.

These lessons in leadership are not things we just need to remember when we become CEO’s or get elected to political office.  They are important right now in everything we do on a daily basis.  So often we rush to judgement on problems, come up with quick answers and hope the issues go away.  What we saw this week might cause us to think about deeper, more intense ways to go about problem solving.  Take the time to observe how those you respect do their job.  Don’t focus on just the results, but really look at the process.  If you always concentrate on learning, development will be inevitable.

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