Her Perspectives

Bonafide Blended Leadership and the Rule of the 3Ds 

November 19, 2020
Ester Banque, senior vice president, Intercontinental

About the author: Ester Banque, senior vice president, Intercontinental, was recently honored with the Women of Excellence Award in the Healthcare Champion category, a recognition presented by NAFE/Working Mother Magazine. During NAFE’s November 13 panel discussion and award ceremony, Banque shared her insights on bonafide leadership and her advice to younger women.

Banque has a broad range of accomplishments spanning multiple healthcare disciplines and geographies and currently oversees a diverse range of markets located on five continents. She is a recognized role model, mentor and leader at Bristol Myers Squibb and throughout the biopharmaceutical industry.

I am the proud mother of twin girls, or rather, “pre-teen daughters” as they prefer to be called. As toddlers, their personalities started to bloom, and these two magnificent beings, whom I for so long regarded as very much alike, began to show more of their individual personalities. One of them seems to have fully absorbed our experience of living in Switzerland for several years and handles life, homework and play like clockwork. The other is artistic and an absolute dreamer, living each hour, day and week with fluidity and ease.

Though strikingly different, my daughters’ personalities each contribute to the creation of a wondrous duality that I have learned is a crucial trait for successful leaders. Meanwhile, my reliance on my wife has taught me the importance of building the right team for effective support. All three of them are a source of inspiration in my professional life. As the working parent, I rely tremendously on my wife to maintain our daughters’ virtual schooling as well as the steady pace of our family life, especially now as we are again significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The lessons I have learned about leadership didn’t happen overnight. I began my management journey by making decisions mostly with my brain. I thought it was what people wanted, and I tried to mimic a leadership style that I perceived was the way to be successful. I struggled and began to neglect an important part of myself. As my career evolved and I experienced different roles, lived in different countries, learned from diverse cultures and came out as a gay woman, I began to realize that I had a bigger and wiser heart. I felt more connected to the mission and to the purpose when I led with my heart and executed with my brain. Now, after having worked in pharma for almost 30 years, I don’t know how to do it differently. 

While the duality or the balance between heart/mind, being kind/firm, caring/driven are not new, they couldn’t be more current. Somehow, I experienced that women are more comfortable embracing this duality, but I am happy to see male leaders progressively show a more blended style. 

I felt more connected to the mission and to the purpose when I led with my heart and executed with my brain. 

Blended leaders harness a different type of strength that moves them from individual power to social power, where humanity and kindness do not mean weakness but strength. We can be excited by the feeling of individual power - earlier in our careers it can be quite formative. As we grow, or outgrow our younger selves, we recognize the value of social power, of creating and developing our “A Teams” to support and amplify our efforts, of impacting our communities, of listening to our stakeholders and, most of all, to the patients we serve. 

I am often asked what advice I would give to women who are entering or navigating the business world.  Here is what I wish I had known about leadership qualities earlier in my career: 

  • Embrace the duality of leading with humanity and determination and find the sweet spot that connects the two. When you silo yourself, you silence yourself.
  • Build your social power, beginning with your closer teams, and then widen the circle as needed, especially now, when virtual communication is dominating our interactions. 
  • Do this early on in your career and your life - it’s where and when you can make a difference.
  • Be a driver of change.
  • Don’t emulate someone else’s leadership style – be yourself.

Finally, when managing your career journey, focus on what I call the 3Ds: 

  1. Declaration – Declare, understand and establish clear boundaries of what you can and can’t control and accomplish. It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life integration, driving choices that get the job done at a high level while taking care of home, family (in tandem with a spouse or partner – if you have one) and your personal needs. Self-care is not selfish – if you don’t take care of yourself, it’s difficult to perform your work responsibilities and lead effectively.
  2. Delegation – Delegate to your “A Team”, which is a key component of your circle and your success. Cultivating and relying on an A Team is imperative. No one person can do it all and a supportive team that trusts your leadership and is aligned with your vision will breed efficiency and effectiveness.  
  3. Decision-making – At the end of the day, numbers speak volumes. Keep your eye on the prize and make decisions based on your strategic plans while being prepared to flex your agility muscles when things don’t roll out as anticipated. Your desired outcome should always guide your actions.