The Secret Weapon of Pharma Sales Managers – Harnessing Emotional Intelligence for Leadership Success
Everyone in pharma sales and brand management should care about Emotional Intelligence (EI) – whether you are a medical representative (MR), a management trainee (MT), a first-line manager (FLMs), a brand manager (BM), a Vice-President (Sales and Marketing), a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), or even the CEO, the Managing Director (MD), the chairman or the owner of a pharma firm.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a complex blend of abilities and traits that determine how you make sense of your relationships with people, but also how you get along with yourself, your own self.
Recognizing the emotions of your down-line, up-line and peers, understanding your own emotions, and empathy, are all different manifestations of EI.
An emotionally intelligent FLM for instance, will generally make accurate predictions about how his MR would react to certain topics, situations and events. If you are able to make this prediction correctly, you can avoid certain topics.
For example, Sudarshan the FLM knows that his MR Vikrant hates cricket, especially IPL. “IPL is the biggest gambling den in the world,” opines Vikrant. So, Sudarshan skilfully avoids this topic in any forum where Vikrant is present. As you keep on gaining experience and maturity, you may even predict another person’s reaction upon seeing negative nonverbal cues. That’s a sign you have a good EI.
Why is EI important in the workplace?
In fact, EI is important in every work context that involves person-to-person communication- e.g., the FLM who is interacting with the MR, a doctor with the patient, a husband with his wife and more.
You can say that a FLM has high EI when he is able to mould his communication with a MR who is a few months old and then another MR who is seven years his senior in age. He has the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.
As a leader, a FLM also needs to know how to influence his MRs, which is an essential part of his work activities. To get the best performance, the FLM must work on relationship-oriented leadership behaviour without forgetting that the task is equally important. A FLM with a good EI will also know when to provide commanding leadership, and when to fall back to democratic leadership.
A FLM with solid EI will not only develop good interpersonal but also intrapersonal communication skills (a form of self-communication because it relates to what happens within your inner self. Intrapersonal skills will help you manage emotions and cope with challenges you may face at different times in your life).
The FLM will thus be able to establish a connection between self-awareness and social awareness – understanding others through understanding himself and understanding himself by understanding others. But there is so much more to EI – The FLM must develop specific abilities or skills like recognition of emotions, emotions-based decision making, and influencing other individuals.
The other day a Zonal Manager from a large MNC pharma firm, NP Shankar, called me. He said that his job is in danger because he is perceived as being disrespectful to all while communicating. “The HR has asked me change my ways or else perish,” he said. I listened to NP Shankar very carefully and asked him many more questions. Finally, I said: “Shankar, perception is the reality. Your colleagues feel that you do not respect them is the actuality and real fact. Your abrasive and flat communication style is putting the barriers between you and your team.”
“How should I change?” asked Shankar. “Let’s have a Zoom call for about 45 minutes and we shall discuss this next Sunday.”
When we met virtually, I listened to him very carefully for over 15 minutes and asked a few questions. Then I said, “Can I give you some tips Shankar?”
“Sure” he said, “that’s what I want from you”.
“Firstly, Shankar, more important than what you say is how you say. Have empathy for others, and this is an important component of EI. Feel the psychological pain your people get when you speak to them in an abrasive tone. How would you feel if I speak to you brusquely and without any feelings?”
“If you make an attempt to speak calmly and in a friendly tone, the chances that they respond in the same way are much higher. Shankar, learn to acknowledge others’ difficulties and challenges, and they’ll be much more willing to listen”.
“In contrast, if you communicate with sarcasm or with biting remarks, they will respond the same way. And if they can’t since you are the boss, they’ll gradually lose respect for you.”
“Second, Shankar, learn first and then preach. You may see a way to improve or want to contribute an idea for change. That’s great. All that I ask you is to learn the way you do things first and then teach them. Then give them a bit of time. Only after that, feel free to communicate your thoughts.”
“And third, ask for criticism and feedforward. No one likes to get negative feedback. But ask for criticism from your Regional Sales Managers, First-line Managers and even your medical representative’s. The sure thing is that we all need criticism. We all have blind spots; so, getting others’ perspective helps you to grow and improve.”
“So, ask them for specific suggestions on how to improve. You can even as you feel a conversation has gone wrong. Simply ask: <“I think I did not handle this the best way, am I right? What could I have said differently that would have helped you?”>”
“And feedforward, a term coined by Marshal Goldsmith, means focusing on solutions, rather than mistakes, on the future rather than the past. Feedforward will enhance your self-image of and propel you on the road to success.”
“I know Shankar at the moment both asking for criticism and feedforward is a very tough thing for you to do. But do it! And the more you practice it, the easier it gets. And you earn tons of respect from others, and you stop feeling your job is threatened. Now go tell your HR and your boss that you have learned a lesson and will change”.
To summarise, EI is very important for pharma sales manager to succeed in his career.
EI helps you build meaningful relationships with everyone. It is a skill that can be applied to both your private and professional lives. Since sales management is all about being able to connect and build trust with your down-line, peers and up-line, EI will play a major role in in your communication with anyone.
Sales managers with high EQ are increasingly valuable in the workplace. You will be viewed as a true professional and make you an excellent leader who can help carry your team through rough and tough times.