May / June 2022

Emerging Leaders Editorial: Resilience in the Pharma Industry

Heather L. Bennett-Kelley
Emerging Leaders Editorial: Heather L. Bennett-Kelley

What do innovating new therapies, surviving the start-up phase of a company, and entering an industry workforce have in common? All three of these, if successful, demonstrate resilience.

Reaching the point of “success” can take a long time: years, a lifetime, or even multiple generations. Of course, success also comes in many forms, and holds a different definition depending on the context. Regardless of the meaning of success, getting there takes perseverance to overcome challenges especially in the face of adversity.

According to National Business Capital, 90% of startups fail.1 Thousands of pharmaceutical products fail in the process of getting to market, a process that can take more than 10 years. All students had to adapt their learning styles during the pandemic to the virtual classroom format. The difference in a student moving towards graduating or not was the student’s ability to adapt and move forward when they were hit with unforeseen difficulty. How much resilience did the student have? This is not generally a skill that is taught, but picked up by practice and from your environment. Resilience is gained just like in weight training, tearing the muscle fibers to get stronger, or going through difficulty to increase the ability to deal with stress.

Resilience is the ability to recover from stress.2

Building Resilience

How do we actively build resilience? How can we provide the tools or opportunities for our employees (especially our young people) to build resilience? The Cornell Health Center gives the following suggestions to build resilience:3

  • Social engagement: Positive relationships provide connection and life strings to pull on to spring back.
  • Self-awareness and self-care: Paying attention to these will provide the space to respond to stressors, and realize when we are being impacted by stress.
  • Attention and focus: These allow you to focus on the task at hand and not allow distractions that are not relevant at the time.
  • Meaning: Having a purpose can improve our mental health.
  • “Growth mindset:” Being open to other ways of thinking.

These points can be practiced on a daily basis, or when we remember, to help build these muscles. Mentors and managers can help their teams practice these by leading by example, changing the structure of meetings, and encouraging people to consider an alternate view.

“Grit” or Passion

Something that often is confused with resilience, but actually goes hand in hand with it, is grit. Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, wrote, “We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.”4 So, basically the difference between grit and resilience is the ability to push through versus the ability to bounce back. Some of the COVID-19 vaccines were originally developed for something else that didn’t end up working. Those scientists and organizations had resilience to come back from failure, but they also had grit to keep pushing forward for the larger goal of improving patient’s lives with this product or the 500th iteration of it.

We have all been faced with adversity, especially over the last couple of years. Let’s help each other come back from it and push through to the next sunrise.

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