In our third episode, we were excited to have Erin McEachren as our first female guest. Erin has been a go-getter all her life, from being part of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, graduating from the University of Colorado on an NCAA Division 1 Athletic and Academic full scholarship, to where she is now; Commercial Vice President of NuVasive, Europe.
In this episode, Erin talks to Elena about how she became the Vice President of a major player in the MedTech industry and what it takes to be a successful female leader. They also discuss how giving (and receiving) constructive feedback can help you grow and the importance of work-life balance.
The insights Erin shared are all about how to build a career, without losing sight of what’s important in life.
Where it all began
At the age of nine, Erin developed a disease in her hip and had to have serious orthopedic surgery which put her out of school for a year. Fortunately for her, the surgery was a success and she was able to heal and go back to being active.
Having a successful surgery stuck with her and gave her an appreciation for medical devices, good surgeons and GPs without whom, she wouldn’t have been able to continue having an active life and later receive an athletic scholarship for the university of Colorado. This experience sparked her interest in joining the medical industry.
How to choose a career
Erin studied biochemistry with a minor in physiology. Going into university, she wasn’t one of those people that had it all figured out. It’s a challenge that a lot of students experience, especially with the pressures of today, but with the right strategy, it’s possible to navigate that uncertainty.
It’s important to go to school and focus on doing what you love – the right things will come out of that. Choose a subject that you’re passionate about and be open to other things along the way.
Erin is a big believer in variety – it’s important to diversify. Don’t go on a singular pathway too early. Try not to pigeon hole yourself into one specific role type, and try multiple careers. Great experience and learning comes when you step outside your comfort zone. Having multiple careers doesn’t necessarily mean job hopping – it could include working at different positions within the same company.
From Grad to Commercial VP
Right out of university, Erin got a job working at Stryker. She got to go to various ORs and geographies and be a product expert which gave her a lot of accountability at a young age.
Early in her career, she spent time with the best marketing and salespeople and that was one of the things that really shaped her. She was able to see how different people have their own authentic style of leadership which showed her that you don’t have to fit a certain mold to be a commercial leader or a marketer. As long as you’re accountable, strategic and build trusting relationships, you can be successful.
After her marketing job, Erin was in sales for 3 years, and then advanced to a leadership position which has seen her work all over the world – most recently in the Netherlands.
One key factor that she attributes to helping her get to where she is now was having a sponsor which shouldn’t be mistaken for mentorship. Unlike a mentor who tends to be more of a guide, a sponsor advocates for you.
How to choose a sponsor
A sponsor is a person who raises your profile and supports you, when you’re not in the room. There’s got to be an affinity. You may have a list of people that you want to be your sponsors but you have to have chemistry. They’ve got to believe in you.
You need to trust them and they need to see you being accountable for about a year or two before they’re ready to speak on your behalf. They need courage and conviction to fight for you.
What do you need to be a successful leader in a big organization?
- Strategic – a good problem solver and a good thinker.
- Accountable – can deliver the right results.
- Articulate – when you can’t deliver, you should be able to explain why and get a plan b and c in place.
- Be able to influence through metrics and work cross-functionally with your peers to help business with ROI.
- Be able to generate trust in your relationships.
How do you influence through metrics? It boils down to being able to be a respectful person and translate your opinion with facts and get to an endpoint and solution. At times this may mean having the courage to disagree but in a polite way or to encourage the right result.
Working in different geographies and cultures will help you acquire the mindset for being able to operate in a global role or in a regional role or in a country role because they require different perspectives and levels of interaction.
Other important skills are being able to influence and manage your stakeholders, your emotions and energy.
As a female leader, do you take a different approach to your male counterparts?
Yes, there’s a time to lean in, but it’s important to know when it’s time to lean out.
It can be a strength in leadership to be able to show emotions – it’s all about reflecting what your team and colleagues need in that moment.
How do you get feedback from your manager?
It requires building trust which over time will help you get to a comfort level. It also helps to mention a couple of things that you know that you’re doing well in and then mention where you’re struggling and ask for feedback in those areas.In the same way, it helps to come prepared to ones-to-ones and ask questions like,
- “What can I be doing better?”
- “What do you think is getting in my way of being even more effective?”
If you ask good questions, you’ll get good information.
How do you get feedback from people that you manage?
It’s important to get feedback from people that you’re managing; being approachable and having an open door policy is one way to do that..
The higher the leadership role that you have, the less open that people you manage will feel, so take the advantage of engagement surveys to temperature check how you’re doing.
When you’re hiring, pick people that you feel will challenge you and be honest with you, because it’s a risk to the business and eventually patients if your leadership team is not able to communicate honestly.
What about criticism?
What I have learned is to ask better questions and not make assumptions right away like, ‘Did you mean that?’ or, ‘What did you mean when you said this and that?’ Because as humans, usually, it’s very easy for us to jump to conclusions. It’s easy to think that someone is criticizing me when maybe they’re not.
For Erin, having a work-life balance has become increasingly important and she recognizes that balance is different for everyone. Erin is a big believer in her morning routine:
- 5:30: Wake up
- 6:00-6:45: Work out (jog/yoga)
- 6:45-7:30: Reflect/Meditation/Mindfulness
- 8:00 : Ready for work
Top tip: don’t look at your phone straight away in the morning, especially regarding work related matters until you have your mind in the right place.
Advice that you would give your younger self
- You don’t need to do everything at once. There’s lots of love for you. Let your passion drive you and good things will happen
- Don’t let yourself feel pressured by time, enjoy the moment.
- Don’t be ashamed to say you don’t know what you want to do, especially after high school.Take a gap year, travel and you’ll figure it out.
- Don’t rush things
- Don’t take yourself too seriously
Erin’s legacy for the world
I hope that I can leave the work with a lot of treasured & trusted relationships.
To be remembered for someone who treated people well and always did the right thing.