As president and CEO of Avanir Pharmaceuticals, the arrival of COVID-19 required me to rally research teams and other essential Avanir functions to new heights of cooperation. The good news is that I didn’t have to look far for role models in these pivotal times.
The patients with central nervous system (CNS) conditions, and caregivers, whom Avanir serves are adapting their lives in ways that few of us could have envisioned. They inspire me. Here’s what they have taught me.
Connect with people — deeply and often
To maintain business continuity, I must help our employees and managers stay connected to the Avanir mission and to each other. We considered many ways to help support and motivate that connectivity. Throughout task force meetings and consultations with colleagues worldwide, I kept reflecting on how CNS patients and caregivers were organizing their lives.
What impressed me most was that whether they were focused on Alzheimer’s dementia, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia or another CNS condition, they were diving into virtual connectivity — through video conferencing, phone calls, social media, written messages of love and more. CNS patients and caregivers were being empathetic and caring, and they were making themselves available. They constantly were seeking new ways to stay connected and to make their connections as meaningful as possible.
The same should be true for all of us. Now more than ever, we as business leaders must communicate our humanity as strongly as our numbers and business strategies. We must be empathetic, caring and alert, and we must communicate with employees openly and honestly. That’s what I’m striving to do every day. I’m grateful to work in a role and that allows me to learn from the CNS patients and caregivers, who are the core of what we do at Avanir. From them, I am learning how to be a better leader and, ultimately, a better person.
Patients with CNS conditions and their caregivers come from diverse backgrounds and may start treatments at different stages. As a result, patients and caregivers learn to become experts in the fine art of adaptation and acceptance.
Similarly, our employees are experiencing upheaval during the era of COVID-19, in their own diverse contexts, and it isn’t only their work lives that are disrupted.
It’s vital for us as leaders to accept the situations that our employees are experiencing in their new work and home life realities. We need to give people permission to come as they are, to click the “share video” button even while there are piles of laundry in the background or when the baby is crying or the dog is barking. We also must accept that more employees will need access to mental health support, and that some employees will want opportunities to continue their professional growth – often through virtual channels. As leaders, we must first accept and then adapt to changing circumstances.
Become custodians of hope
For CNS patients and caregivers, hope is a vital tool, one to keep in premium working condition and deploy at a moment’s notice. COVID-19 has added to patients’ and caregivers’ difficulties by disrupting routines and presenting new challenges to already vulnerable populations.
Despite these challenges, I see them finding hope. Caregivers and patients celebrate the small moments — a successful physical therapy session, a positive response to a new medicine, or a happy birthday.
Similarly, as leaders, we must be trusted custodians of hope for our employees. We must keep hope in our minds and on our lips, ready to respond with solutions to whatever uncertainty COVID-19 places in front of us.
At Avanir, our mission is to alleviate the burdens of those affected by CNS conditions, and COVID-19 has heightened our determination to help patients and caregivers. At the same time, I’m deeply grateful to be able to look to CNS patients and caregivers for inspiration and practical guidance as I lead the company.
Wa’el Hashad joined Avanir Pharmaceuticals as president and CEO in July 2017. He is a pharmacist and a passionate leader with more than 25 years of experience in biopharmaceutical management, sales and marketing within the United States and internationally.