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: Sallie Cassel
Title: Executive Vice President of Marketing
Organisation: Miltenyi Biotec, Inc
I love science. I've always loved science and knew from the time I was very young that I was going into science. However, I had no idea what opprotunities that science could provide to me outside of R&D Then, during one fateful moment, it was determined that funding would be pulled on an instrument that I had spent 5 years working on and my future suddenly became unclear. I had never thought about leaving the bench and had no idea what Project Management was. Oh wait, that was Product Management? Shows you how little I knew.
Thus was the beginning of a new journey for me and one that has been filled with exciting, challenging, frustrating, fun, aggravating, amazing and so many other adjectives that come to mind. With this new journey I have learned so much and had the privilege of working with large billion dollar corporations and small start ups. with such incredible people who have given me an tremendous wealth of opportunities to market everything from commoditized reagents, to innovative solutions, capital equipment, regulated products, software as well as services. Through all of this, many have shared much of themselves to enable me to be a better marketer, manager and leader. Now it's my turn to give back.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
To pause and listen. As part of the Commercial Operations team there is always a sense of urgency with everything that we do. Markets change, technology can change and funding can change. All of this change drives one to respond. However, learning to pause, to really consider the situation, to provide others with a chance to learn and respond is something that I continuously challenge myself with. As time moves forward there is a tendency for us to see patterns that repeat themselves and thus, for ourselves, to anticipate and react without thinking. We think to ourselves, "I've seen this before and I know how it plays out." However, this 'reaction' doesn't enable us to always fully understand the situation nor does it provide our team members with the chance to learn. To encounter new situations with an open perspective and willingness to learn takes both effort and thought as the reality is, we really don't know it all.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I started out as a technician at the bench and was fortunate enough to impress one of the managers that I worked with such that when he moved on to another company he thought to bring me across. This company happened to be start-up that was focused on the development of a DNA sequencer and they hired me to lead the wet lab development. Initially, I was the only person at the bench but over time we needed more people and my team grew. As a new manager I learned that the hardest part of managing people isn't about managing the job it's about taking care of the individual.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My days are pretty full and typically start with a workout first thing in the morning. If I don't make taking care of myself a priority it will never happen in the madness of a day. So, I take care of myself first and then I can take on the world. Once my workout is done I'm off to the office and actually enjoy seeing the team and thrive on the great hallway/lunch room conversations that keep me up to speed on everything. Coming out of COVID I appreciate these conversations more than ever as it is so effective at breaking down silos and really cementing a team together. In my experience, a team is much more than the sum of their parts.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
As with any situation, when people are involved there is always the possibility of conflict. In one situation I had an issue with a colleague and then someone I trusted provide me with feedback about this other colleague being 'a step ahead of me'. I interpreted this to mean that they had already considered the consequences of the situation and had politically worked the situation to their benefit.
At first, I was disturbed by this as the competitive side of me didn't want to be outdone. However, after further reflection, I came to terms with this. Logically, I realized that I wouldn't win every situation. However, emotionally, I needed to remind myself of I stood for and I needed to be comfortable with that. I work hard and the quality of my work means a lot to me, if I make a commitment it matters to me that it gets delivered upon. There are many things that I am not, but this I am and I need to stay focused on what I do well and not worry about what others do.
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?
Crucial Conversations. This book provided me with a framework that enabled me to effectively give feedback that could be heard by others while still feeling authentic. As leaders we're often taught how important it is to recognize our team members. That providing praise is critical to retention as well as employee growth. However, in that same breath, we will talk about feedback being a gift. But how often are we actually provided with a framework within which to provide that feedback effectively? Many of us may have had managers that weren't terribly talented so we didn't have much to model our own behaviors on so when I had team members that needed feedback it had felt mean and I had felt uncomfortable so tended to focus more on providing the positive feedback. Unfortunately, it's not positive feedback that helps us growth but more the constructive feedback. Once I was able to find an authentic way to do this I found that people generally embraced the feedback and would sometimes even remark that they recognized it as well and this then led to a healthy discussion around next steps.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Don't be so rigid in your career expectations that you miss learning opportunities. There is something to be learned in every experience and it's our job to find it. I've had the opportunity to market both cutting edge technology as well as commoditized products. When you have cutting edge technology everyone wants to talk to you, everyone wants to learn about your product and driving awareness is not difficult. However, marketing a commoditized product will challenge every skill you have as a marketer. It will force you to finely hone your value proposition and really consider who you are targeting and why. It will make you take those tough decisions about who really is your customer and why they select you and why they don't. I have to admit that when this commoditized portfolio was presented to me I wasn't terribly excited about it nor did I really even want it. However, it was something that I needed to do and, in hindsight, the lessons that I have learned from it have served me exceptionally well over the years.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
As much as we all dread that 'Crucial Conversation' we need to realize that they are gifts to our teams. As leaders it is our responsibility to help grow our people and providing them with this guidance is not just our job but our responsibility. However, delivering can be difficult. A number of years ago I had a very smart young woman that was part of my team. Unfortunately, she has some specific behaviors that made it difficult for others to hear her and to see beyond her physical presentation. We had a very honest conversation regarding perceptions and the part of that perception that each of us 'owned', that we shouldn't complain about something if we never made an effort to change it. While this was a tough and awkward conversation it was a gratifying lesson when this young woman came back a few years later and shared with me her success and how grateful she was that we had had this frank discussion.