Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with
helps you in your leadership.
Name: Michael Spiegel
Title: Executive General Manager The Florey and CEO of Neuroscience Trials Australia
Organisation: The Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health
Michael Spiegel is an accomplished entrepreneurial leader with an executive career and NED experience spanning more than two decades and eight countries His unique experience ranges from establishing a world first automated antibody facility in Australia, a mobile app start-up, a German DNA engineering biotech company and multiple management positions in tech start-ups, finance and banking.
He has a successful track record creating, productising, scaling and commercialising complex projects and innovative life sciences platforms to address changing market and community needs. Prior to arriving in Australia in 2007, Michael spent 15 years in Europe, working at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Germany and Italy as well as a founding executive of Gene Bridges GmbH, a biotechnology company focused on genetic engineering using novel DNA technology where he successful led technology licensing deals with major international Pharma and Biotech companies.
With over 20+ years international experience in the sector, he was on the Tecan AG Scientific Advisory Panel on Biotherapeutics from 2008-2010 and a Committee Member for the Victorian Biotechnology Action Plan 2011, and as Executive Secretary of the Leadership Advisory Board for the $153 million Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI). His expertise includes strategy, growth, leadership, cultural realignments and transformations, and stakeholder relations. Michael is a sought - after speaker and commentator on topics relating to biotech, complexity, innovation, start-ups and scale-ups, leadership, culture, and courage. Michael holds an MSc, MBA and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD)
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
In my early leadership roles, I thought the leader had to remain removed from their team in order to objectively direct the team. As I gained more experience I realised that bringing my whole self to work, sharing who I was as a person and being vulnerable is what truly delivers trust. This generates a high-performing environment where people feel safe to challenge themselves, take opportunities and make mistakes and build a thriving community. During and after Covid, an unavoidable challenge is navigating all the different personal needs and physical and mental health of our people whilst maintaining an eye on productivity and results.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I have a wide breadth of experience and have always taken unconventional steps in my career and was never afraid to put my hand up for something that may not have seemed obvious. As such, I gained experience in a number of fields and have been able to garner lessons from the aggregate of those experiences and apply them across industries. I think this set the foundation for my leadership pathway. When I started in the medical research and biotech space in Europe, I helped develop novel technologies and platforms that were unique and attracted global attention. As one of the developers of that, we established and managed biotech companies and large robotic facilities and from there I kept my focus on leadership roles. Throughout my journey, I have consistently worked on my leadership capabilities and continue to do so now. You can never stop learning as a leader.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake early, do a bit of work in the quiet time before the day really starts. I then make a couple coffees, get myself and family ready, and go into work for meetings, which take up most of my day. I try to check in with as many of the team as possible, in an ad hoc way as well as in structured meetings, and fit in time in the diary for my own tasks. I sneak in mindfulness moments between meetings, even if they are only 5 minutes to focus myself and I try to go to the gym multiple days for high intensity training, and take walks outside as much as possible. Exercise is an important part of taking care of my own mental and physical health. I spend my travel time back home making phone calls and spend the rest of the evening with family, cooking or going out to dinner, hanging out with the kids. I will often do a little work, but quarantine time for my girlfriend and I to share business war stories before bed. I try to sleep 7 hours, but generally achieve 5-7 hours.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
'Help me to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong.' It is amazing but it is often the truth. If we avoid tough conversations, feelings fester. If we hesitate, situations proliferate. If we hide, people treat us with ambivalence or disdain. If we fail to decide, we still make a choice. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” - Joseph Campbell
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown was influential for me. It confirmed to me that bringing one's whole self to work and being willing to demonstrate vulnerability builds trust and creates a safe environment that leads to high performance. Brown writes: “Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerabilities over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, to betray one is to destroy both". It confirmed that courage, curiosity and community are my core values and innovation is generated when smart people have the freedom and support to shine, so as a leader, get out of their way. If you clear the path for your leaders to lead they will make you look great.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Play the long game. Where you are now and where you think you're going is not where you will end up. What you think is critical now, will become banal and insignificant as your leadership and experience grows. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said no one “ever steps in the same river twice,” for neither the river nor the person remains unchanged by the passage of time. Build relationships with a long term viewpoint and maintain them. Only focusing on high performance means you will miss the humanity and people that surround you and are the true pillar for building sustainable success. The best years are ahead of you and wisdom, hand in hand with humility, is a privilege to experience.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
A few years ago my marriage of 23 years broke down. This was the start of Covid, and I had to lead a division of 115 and a company of 500 through the pandemic as well as go through the change in my family situation. I had two teenage boys and on top of Covid, I was going through a personal life-changing event. I made the decision to share what I was experiencing with my direct reports, and learned to depend on them for support. There were days when I needed to take care of myself and my family and I was hurting.
I chose to be vulnerable with my team, partly consciously but also out of personal need. They were an amazing support for me and for one another and we built an extremely strong bond and environment of trust. You could see the leadership evolve. They told me on many occasions that showing them my vulnerable side gave them permission to be vulnerable, but also demonstrated that I trusted them and knew I could rely on them, and they took on responsibility fully, consistently, as a team and as individuals, demonstrating that to their teams as well.
It took on an addictive quality and we saw people at all levels stepping up and taking responsibility and accountability. For me that cemented my current belief that as leaders, we have to demonstrate our humanity and strengths and weaknesses through difficult times. People want community and friendship, and real relationships even in the workplace. Those people are still very dear to me and we catch up regularly, they are friends now.