John Wilkinson is a seasoned medical device expert, and with 45 years of experience in the medical device sector, he’s been there and seen it all! With an impressive resume featuring roles such as Chair of Global Medical Devices Nomenclature Agency and Director of Devices at the MHRA, he knows a thing or two about challenging environments. Now he’s semi-retired and doing bits and pieces of consultancy and pro bono work for causes that are important to him and with people that he likes working with.
John sat down with Elena to discuss his enthralling career journey, leadership philosophy, how to build successful teams, and plenty of other great tidbits that we could all learn something from! Here is a teaser of the full conversation featuring some of John’s invaluable key learnings…
😊 An unconventional background can be an asset, not a hindrance
Coming from a career in sales and marketing roles, John shows that with the right mindset and transferable skills you can succeed in the competitive world of medical devices regardless of background.
Effectively communicating, formulating strategy, and interfacing with stakeholders in a productive way were the big things that John was able to bring to the table when he started working in regulatory affairs. These complemented the incredible attention to detail and ability to follow rules that traditional regulatory affairs professionals possess in a way that moved discussions to the bigger picture, policy, and how it all relates to the world. A different perspective and way of looking at issues can really spark lively debate!
🔎 What makes a good leader?
John mentions that leadership is transferable, and that part of being a good leader is fundamental management stuff – engaging people, communicating with them and trying to understand them, and listening to what is happening internally and also externally.
It’s also important to not be constrained by your own knowledge – something highly experienced professionals can be guilty of when they try and play out their own view of the world rather than seeing where the team actually needs to go and sub-optimising it.
🤗 John’s pyramid leadership - 1. Establish a vision
A key aspect in making a good leader is using your team and external stakeholders to build a vision of where you’re going, like a ‘blurred picture’ – clear enough to know your direction of travel without being finely honed – so you can reference it along the way. From that blurred picture, you can generate a ‘where do we want to get to in 3-5 years?’ plan with your team and get them to be part of that vision.
💪 2. Empower and enable
Improving your team is far more valuable than focusing on your individual performance. In John’s words, “If I can improve my performance by 50%, it counts for nothing compared to improving the performance of people who work under me”. The essence of leadership is about empowering and enabling others and creating an environment where your team can thrive, rather than focusing on what you can expertly do. This is like a pyramid: leadership starts from the top, but the results exponentially increase if you can empower those below you in the pyramid and create an environment for them in turn to empower others.
✨ 3. Bring in good people
It’s vital to not recruit conservatively – a business should invest considerable resources into recruiting key talent. After all, a company starts and ends with its people, and it is the people that can influence outcomes that drive the business forward. In addition to this, not simply hiring people, but giving them space and freedom to grow within the organisation will produce happy people and great results. It’s vital to remember that good and micromanagers don’t go together. Trying to micromanage good people is the fastest way to get them out of the door.
🤞 4. Give context to what the team is doing
Good leaders can provide meaning to what the whole team is doing. They can give context to key questions like; what are we doing; why are we doing it; who do we need to know externally; what sort of relationships do we need to have so that we can be successful as an organisation? Helping employees to understand the ‘why’ behind what they’re doing can do wonders for motivating them, and in aligning them with the organisation’s goals.
A key takeaway from the episode is John’s pyramid leadership idea: that improving your team’s performance counts far more than improving your own. As a leader, this is something to always be mindful of. Another key point is to invest in talent, AND invest in keeping them happy. Talented people don’t want to be micromanaged, allowing them to grow and bring their expertise to the table without being constrained will not only make them happier but will be beneficial for the business.
These are only some of the insights that were discussed in the podcast. Listen to the episode to hear about why making small improvements across a large scale is really important, why you don’t need to hire people that fit the bill perfectly, who inspires John, and much more!