I am very fortunate to be able to work with many talented and highly energized people in the pharmaceutical industry.  Most have already exhibited an incredible level of success as sales representatives, managers and marketers.  The people I work with give everything they have to making their products and companies world-class and care a lot if they fall short.  If there is a common fault, it is in their lack of work-life balance, but that was the subject of some previous blogs.  The question I often ask myself when working with these executives is which of these will actually be running companies in the next 10 years of so?

There was a wonderful Harvard Business Review blog out last week written by Justin Menkes that discusses the difference between leaders and high achievers.  His theory is that the key differentiator between the two is the level of narcissism.  Successful leaders are high achievers who have a lower level of narcissism.  They care about the development and success of others rather than being totally focussed on their own careers.  This is an incredible insight that should be thought about long and hard by those trying to get ahead.

Perhaps the best real life model for me of this is a well known industry person who has been successful as a leader at several different companies.  He really cared about those that worked for him and their development.  I don’t want to mention him by name as many of those leading pharmaceutical companies today have also worked for him.  There might be a connection here, huh.  One of his peers gave an offhanded remark one night at a dinner saying something like, “He just cares so darn much about people and it shows in everything he does.”  I can’t even think of a greater compliment someone could give or get.  A second reason I won’t mention any names here is that I bet there are a number of leaders in our industry who might come to your mind when I tell this story, and that may be one of the special things about the pharmaceutical world.

A key point to consider is that just because somebody is narcissistic doesn’t mean they won’t be named the head of a company or be given big responsibility, it just means they may be less likely to succeed.  It is very difficult to fake caring for others and those that try, come off a little phony and find it difficult to motivate.  I do think that caring for others is something that can be developed over time.  In some ways it takes a degree of maturity or self realization that allows you to focus on somebody other than yourself.  This may happen naturally or may require some work with a mentor who can help guide the process.

The transition from being totally concerned with your own development to worrying about others is very interesting to observe.  As Menkes notes, this might require a transition as those who are narcissistic might get promoted faster earlier in their careers and may view some of the traits of narcissism as their core strengths.  Think of the high flying sales representative who has tons of self confidence and because he or she doesn’t manage others the negatives are not quite so obvious.  It is only when they start moving up the organization that these issues start to become more visible.

I think those who transition best become totally comfortable with who they are, their own skills and the inevitability that they will get what they want without a tremendous amount of self-promotion.  They learn to really love the journey and take pride in what they do every day.  They focus on the present rather than always obsessing about the next job.  They truly get a kick out of watching others get ahead and get better at what they do.  In many ways, they have the same feelings a parent has when one of their children does well.  They begin to recognize that many can do well as individuals, but true talent is needed to get others to live up to their fullest potential.

Take a few minutes to consider whether you are a high achiever or a high achiever capable of leading.  Then determine how much time and effort you put into your own career versus the careers of others.  Think about how all of this is interconnected and begin to redirect your energies towards making others better.  You will be amazed how much fun you will have and how much you will grow.  Oh and by the way, others will notice.

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