Who’s the Boss with Emma Charles

PM360 asked Emma Charles, Senior Vice President – Intercontinental Markets at Bristol Myers Squibb, to share what she has learned about leadership throughout her career, which includes helping BMS be named one of Italy’s Best Employers for Women and supporting the BMS Network of Women (B-NOW).

PM360: What is your secret to making your employees/team perform better?

Emma Charles: Fostering team chemistry and encouraging diversity of thought are extremely important. I’ve often implemented the “six hats” technique from the best-selling book “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono into my team’s scenario building. This has helped our team pressure test ideas when we want to see situations from all angles. Each of six colored hats is associated with a different personality and, based on the color hat you’re wearing, you must evaluate an issue according to what personality you are—emotional, factual, and so on. It’s an exercise that has yielded some incredible results.

What was the best piece of advice or inspiration you got from another leader?

One of my mentors advised me not to only focus on “moving vertically, like taking the elevator to the top,” but rather be adventurous and open to growth and learning opportunities. What may seem like a lateral move could hold huge opportunities to learn and absorb new experiences. Another mentor pointed out that in certain cases, women can be reluctant to apply for promotions because they think they aren’t “perfect” for the role. You don’t have to be perfect—take chances and go for it.

What skill do you think is the most important for a leader to have that not enough people talk about?

Be vulnerable and open to sharing your own challenges. Being open to exposing your own insecurities is often the best way to connect with and inspire people. You can still lead your team and drive to a certain objective, but you don’t have to know (or act like you know) every detail or situation. Be open to learning from the smart people around you.

What factor, event, moment, etc. had the biggest impact on the formation of your leadership style?

When I applied to be the GM of BMS Italy, I realized that I was the first female non-Italian and I also didn’t speak the language. I doubted myself, but I started flipping the self-doubt into a different outlook and positive mindset, asking: “What if I can learn the skills?” “What if I can speak the language?” “What if I do have the competencies for this position?” I have found that simply asking “What if?” is a powerful tool that leads to positive and innovative thinking. I have used it throughout my career, and it is now truly a part of my DNA and leadership style.

Finally, who is the boss?

I prefer leader to boss. The leader is the ultimate unifier. Someone who can delegate, collect diverse thoughts and opinions, and deliver the best solution possible. The leader never leaves any voice left unheard. Guiding the leader is a north star: the patients who drive us to consistently develop and deliver life-changing medicines to meet their unique challenges. They are the why behind what we do.


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