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64. Why bringing your whole self to work is the key to being a great leader with Blandine Lacroix

blandine lacroix, corporate vice president rare deseas at novo norodisk shares the 3 things that she believes make an inclusive leader

Blandine Lacroix, Corporate Vice President, Strategy & Rare Disease at Novo Nordisk, shares the 3 things that she believes make an inclusive leader, the power of bringing your whole self to work and the power of a human-centric approach to leadership.

See what else Blandine’s been up to here

If you require or prefer an audio transcript, see below:

Speaker 1:

You’re listening to Inclusion Works from Hive Learning. As a peer learning platform, we believe that learning from each other helps us make progress faster. If you want to learn directly from industry leaders about the latest trends shaping the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, this podcast is for you.

Fiona Young:

Welcome back to Inclusion Works. I’m your host Fiona Young, and I run the diversity, equity, and inclusion practice at Hive Learning, the peer learning app that scales culture change fast. Our guest today is Blandine Lacroix, corporate vice president of biopharm and strategy at Novo Nordisk. Blandine has worked for Novo Nordisk for 19 years around the globe, first in Australia, then Denmark, and now in the US. Her experience lies in marketing, particularly in healthcare, but what really interests us and what we’ll be diving into today is her human-centric approach to work, and how she fosters human connectedness and an inclusive culture at work. Blandine Lacroix, welcome to Inclusion Works.

Blandine Lacroix:

Thank you for having me, Fiona.

Fiona Young:

It’s great to connect again. So before we get into all of the questions I have for you today, I really want to ask you something that we ask all of our guests on Inclusion Works. Can you tell us what personal experiences first made you aware of inclusion and diversity issues?

Blandine Lacroix:

My entire childhood has been about inclusion. First, I have a very… a family that has an open house, and so we have had a lot of people coming and going into our lives in our house, and coming from very different background or experiences, different situations. And so having to learn about differences, and I’ve got an uncle from Benin in Africa, so someone who wears a different skin color and different culture. But also, we’d been moving a lot around the country with my dad’s job. He was not in the army like he was in the US, but he was in the steel industry, and every three years I was the new kid on the block. And so I had to learn to adapt to new schools and new friends. So from a very young age, a bit of a nomadic life that led to learning about different places, different frame of references and adapting, so very crucial to growing up as a person.

Fiona Young:

Thanks for sharing. I’m really excited to deep dive into really inside the mindset of a super inclusive leader today, and so I think just to start off with, can you give us a quick overview of your leadership ethos and how you developed this over the course of your career?

Blandine Lacroix:

Yeah, and it’s good to speak to you now after about 30 years of work experience, because what I’m sharing with you now is something that built over time. But I think the two fundamental elements of my core beliefs around leadership is, one is around the importance of showing up as your whole self, and how powerful that is to create very, very strong connections with people, either your team members or your stakeholders. And in turn, we create some very strong ways to solve complex issues, which has been part of my work [inaudible 00:03:22] achieve extraordinary outcomes.

Blandine Lacroix:

So the first core belief, that if you show up as the whole self, you are bound to create very powerful connections, and those connections are going to be critical to solving complex business issues and extraordinary outcomes, so that’s number one. And then number two, I’ve had the opportunity to grow as a professional person, and am now part of an executive team in a large affiliated country [inaudible 00:03:48] almost 50% of the global organization’s top line revenue. And so I’m their leader, right? And I’ve been their leader, I’ve grown into be a leader over time, and one of the core beliefs here has worked well for me is leadership or the role, the title you have is not about power, and it’s not about authority. It’s about responsibility, and it’s about you show care for responsibility for the outcome for the customers, responsibility for the team and the company outcomes, and responsibility in making sure that your team members are going to deliver the best outcome. And to do this, they need to feel right. They feel like they need to belong, and they need to be complementary with each other.

Blandine Lacroix:

So to me that’s two things. It’s showing up as your whole self, because it leads to powerful connection, it leads to the ability for a team to solve for very complex issues. And then as a leader, this is not about power. This is about responsibility.

Fiona Young:

I love that. And I mean that first part, I’ve seen so much data around the cost of covering, right? Of not being your whole self, and how that… I think some studies have shown that 61% of people cover at some point, and that’s troubling, right? If 61% of people aren’t able to really show up, that has a massive impact on performance.

Blandine Lacroix:

Agree. And I have to say for me, as a person, I’ve become way more powerful and way more successful because I’ve become even more myself. It has been [inaudible 00:05:18], and that is such… you talk about covering, but also there’s a lot of those… we all come from cultures and social societies and social groups, and there’s so much conditioning. There’s so much bias, and there’s so much that you grow with. It’s become your frame of reference.

Blandine Lacroix:

And through my work and personal journey of moving different countries and doing different things, I became stronger, and I became more impactful and more successful, because I became my whole self and kind of shedded some of those constraints or core beliefs that were embedded into my psyche because of my society, family, whatever right? I’m a woman, and guess what? I’m an executive too, and you can do that. I’m a single mom and I’m still an executive. And I’m a foreigner, I’m French working in the US, and I’m also Australian, which the accent can tell you that. But I’ve lived in many places, and every time I’ve been I’ve been successful and I’ve had a happy life, so I think showing your [inaudible 00:06:20] whole self is very powerful.

Fiona Young:

Absolutely, and certainly I mean being an inclusive leader, being a human-centric leader, there’s a lot of inner work in that I think you touched on. And I definitely want to get onto as well in a minute that experience of being a female exec, and a single mom and all those things. But before that, I want to talk to you a little bit about kind of your global perspective, because you’ve worked literally around the world from Australia, Denmark, US. How do work cultures differ in different regions, and has this kind of shaped your ethos?

Blandine Lacroix:

Oh, it has absolutely shaped my ethos. It’s amazing to be a global citizen, right? And it can be quite challenging. So has it impacted who I am and how I lead? Yes, absolutely. But let me tell you why it has worked for me, and how it’s really shaped a lot of what I do today. But I think I mentioned early on, I’ve been on the move since I was a kid, and I’ve had to be the new person and showing up in new tribes, in new communities, and trying to make a space for myself and then belong. And so very early on, I had to learn to adapt and to fit in. But also very early on, I’ve been exposed to different views and perspectives, so it really shaped how I show up and how I engage with people.

Blandine Lacroix:

But I’ve also had some interesting events in my life that really kind of created some, triggered some reflection, and that helped me to adapt better. One of those was during an undergrad with an anthropologist that was talking to us about cultures, different cultures. And I’m French, and I was raised in a European culture and I was going to French American business school, and he’s an anthropologist talking to us about New Guinea, and Papua and different tribes. And he was talking about incest, and adultery, and the fact that the way they… the forbidden relationships were different. So in those tribes, if you sleep with your friend’s wife, that’s incest, while in Europe incest is defined differently like family members and things.

Blandine Lacroix:

And I reacted very strongly to it, and I was like, “Oh my God.” I was judgmental in my reaction. And he got so mad at me, and he challenged me and he said, “How dare you, thinking that your way of looking is the right way? What does it make it right?” And the way he reacted and the way he challenged me just make me pause and said, “Hm. That’s interesting.” It didn’t change how I felt about those other rules, things, but it made me realize that I was coming at it with my own vantage point and frame of reference, and why is it more right than theirs right? So that was one triggered critical moment in my life.

Blandine Lacroix:

But the other thing is, is a [inaudible 00:09:09] thing is a reflection I had when I went to see Wicked on Broadway. And for the people who don’t know the story, it’s actually the story of that one of those witches of, I think the witches of the west or east, I can’t remember. But if you know The Wizard of Oz story, she was the bad guy right? She was the one that was not nice in the story. But in Wicked the musical, it’s actually the same story, but from her vantage point and her journey, and then you realize she was actually not the bad guy from the Wicked story, right? So it was exactly the same story, but two vantage points. And while it’s entertaining and it’s funny, it just made me realize different views and circumstances and frame of reference.

Blandine Lacroix:

So that gets to the conversation around cultures. So I’m French, but I [inaudible 00:09:53] was an Australian, and I moved to Australia and I became Australian. I studied in Anglo-Saxon environment, I’ve got a degree in French American business school, and I went to the US to get an MBA. I work for a company that allowed me to be in Denmark, but in a global role so I worked a lot with China, and Japan, and Europe, and the Middle East, and Africa, and South America, and then now I moved to the US for two years and now I’ve been there for 10. So it worked for me. So I worked in many, many different countries, but the biggest learning I’ve had, and it probably also come from my core values from my family, is that if you really, really want to fit in and to belong, it’s important for you to be curious and to be humble, and to not be judgemental to the culture you’re exposed to.

Blandine Lacroix:

Back to the point I was making is frame of references, and make sure that you remain open minded and curious. And so I very quickly learned too, there’s also the new kid on the block, you kind of have to understand their rules before you can fit in. So I developed some of those muscles of really learning about culture, and learning about languages, and learning about history, and understanding if they behave this way, where is it coming from? What is their why, what is their motivation, what is their frame of reference? It’s also something that was embedded into my childhood, right? In the way I was raised, is respecting others. And so if you add that up, and then you become more interested and invested in learning about others.

Blandine Lacroix:

And some of the most powerful stories I’ve had is I’ve worked in Asia a lot, and I’m a Caucasian woman with very little frame of reference [inaudible 00:11:31] to Asian cultures, but I have had very, very powerful working relationship with the Chinese team, with the Japanese team, to the point where even in Japan where, I don’t know if you are aware of it, but in Japan which is a very strong culture, the foreigner is tolerated but is not necessarily embedded into the Japanese culture. And so there’s this kind of narrative bias or story that the gaijin, the foreigner, would be welcome and respected, but they would remain very private to their own space and their own things. But I’ve learned about Japan, I learn about Shintoism, I learn about the religion in Japan, I learn about the culture. And I loved the zen culture and all those things, and I loved their food. So I did some work, and I really tried to learn more about themself.

Blandine Lacroix:

And you fast forward to working in Australia and Japan, and establishing a strong relationship to the point that I got invited to people’s homes to share special times with their families, which usually doesn’t happen. So I learned from Asian cultures the importance of building relationships that are invested, and that are long-term, and so where you make decisions, relationship is number one in the way to trust and respect decision making. So that’s something that therefore I brought into my way of working.

Blandine Lacroix:

You talk about Australia, and I learned about the convict story and who made up Australia originally from Australia [inaudible 00:12:58] aboriginal and the native, and then the Anglo-Saxon. And part of that is in the culture today, this idea of, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what school you went to, what degree, whatever. You’re as good as your actions, and it’s as good as your interaction with people. There’s a warmth in Australia around welcoming the new person straight away, and to try to bring them back into the tribe, and also judging people by their actions. So that’s something also that I embrace from the Australian culture, and really made it my own.

Blandine Lacroix:

And then I’m thinking for example in Denmark, another thing that strike me and I struggled with, apart from the fact that their body language is so different that I couldn’t even read their body language. I’m European, I’m very passionate, I speak with my hands, you can see if I’m happy, if I’m sad. In Denmark, it’s pretty viking like. Very stoic, so on the body language on the face, you don’t always know if they’re joking or if they’re serious. You don’t even know if they’re upset. That, I struggled with that, and I’m still struggling to this day even though I’ve been working with Danes for almost 20 years. But another thing I’ve learned from the Danish culture is critical thinking. Young, young Danes, even in the school and even in the home, there’s this culture of teaching you to be critical to what you’re exposed to, to the point that [inaudible 00:14:14] students would challenge teachers so that they can understand, appreciate, and decide if it’s in or out, which is very different from the French academic system or even the American schooling system.

Blandine Lacroix:

So I’ve embraced this, because it creates intensity in sharing of opinion, and it allows people to ask questions before they embrace something in, right? So this critical thinking is very much something that I believe is part of the Danish culture, and I therefore try to bring that into my way of raising my kids and thinking, and embracing in a very polite way and welcoming way, but just critical thinking.

Blandine Lacroix:

Then you fast forward to the US, one of the thing that always strike me, especially as a European, is that in that new [inaudible 00:14:58] America, there’s a very strong focus on customer [inaudible 00:15:02]. Think about the [inaudible 00:15:04], and the customer is always right, and extraordinary customer experiences. If you go to a restaurant in Europe, you can be there for a little while before even someone has interest in what you want to order. But in the US, they will be there and they will asking you. It’s sometimes hard to [inaudible 00:15:18], if you ask for water they say if you want it still or sparkle, and do you want lime and lemon or this, ice, no ice? So sometimes it would be the extreme, but it’s a strong focus on customer needs and customer experience, and that is also something that I embedded into the way I work and the way I live. Could not live without customer focus anymore as a customer personally.

Blandine Lacroix:

So my journey has took me to a lot of places. I was curious, I was open, I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn how you say thank you, I wanted to speak. And so through my journey, I’ve realized that many cultures have really positive things to offer, and if you are curious and you embed that into, if you’re open minded and you don’t bring your own judgment, then you’re going to become richer as a person. And this is really what I’ve done, and I try to impart that with my children, my step kids in Australia and my daughter here in the US, who’s also French now.

Blandine Lacroix:

So it is also very powerful at work, because when you work and you enter even the same company for 20 years but different countries, you realize there’s kind of a company culture that is very strong at Novo Nordisk, and that some of that, [inaudible 00:16:25] values and purpose of the company, are transcending cultures. So I found that I felt at home in Japan at Novo Nordisk, I felt at home in China at Novo Nordisk, in Denmark and the US. So there’s this company culture that can supersede if you do it right, with inclusion and belonging, that can supersede and neutralize some of the differences of the home cultures or the country cultures. But at the same time, the country cultures can add to the person and/or to the company’s culture, and that’s the beauty of it.

Fiona Young:

Really interesting. I mean, I was just reflecting listening to you, certainly your background is like a global citizen. Your upbringing has absolutely made you the perfect… has been the perfect sort of base for being an inclusive leader. And for what you just said right there, I want to pick up on that actually, about how sometimes the corporate culture can sort of supersede local cultures. And I’ve had some debates about this with D&I people before, because I remember talking to a lady from one of the big American tech businesses running diversity for their Asia Pacific region, and she herself was Singaporean, based in Singapore. And kind of said when I asked her about norms and how much of an American company it felt like there, she said, “It’s sort of different when you cross the threshold of our office. And we do kind of become a bit more American in the way that we act and think and work and so forth, and so the differences aren’t so great.” So I feel like that really chimes with what you’re saying, and I can see that that’s helpful in some ways, but then on the other hand-

Blandine Lacroix:

Yeah, so I think there’s something. I think one of the [inaudible 00:17:56] still working for [inaudible 00:17:57] companies like mine as well, but one of the biggest learning I’ve had by traveling around the world where there are differences in frame of reference or beliefs and stuff, there’s also some common ground that I would never [inaudible 00:18:09]. And I think as a company, as leaders and as a company, striking a chord around universal truth can supersede local cultures is important, and think it’s linked to a core belief I have also, which is when you have proper connection, and as a leader you lead a team like that, it’s important to have purpose and meaning. And that’s universal truth from my understanding of resilience in others, that everyone, those needs [inaudible 00:18:39] needs, right? Your basic needs of survival and stuff, but ultimate [inaudible 00:18:43] in tribes and communities, this idea of safety and belonging, but also there’s a purpose. There’s something superseding your group that is going to drive progress, that is going to drive momentum and cohesiveness and collaboration.

Blandine Lacroix:

That is to me those universal cultural truth that leaders and companies should create to attract the right people, to attract the most diverse people. And I think a company like Novo Nordisk has achieved something like this, we have a purpose which is to defeat diabetes, and has been there for 100 years. And it expand into other chronic disease, [inaudible 00:19:22] and others. There’s also a commitment to sustainability, and it’s not just a financial. Like we are a private business, we’re making money, so there’s a financial responsibility. But there’s also a very important element of social responsibility, and an important element of environmental responsibility. And that I think for many humans is relevant to a certain degree, right? If you read in the US, the environment and the conversation around climate change and environments are different from conversation in Scandinavia. But this connection to nature, and water, and a different level, a need for humans to feel good where they live right?

Blandine Lacroix:

And the society, the social commitment is you’re not just a business and you’re not just there to sell a product to someone, but making sure that that product is part of a greater solution versus a problem, that’s cool. That’s where company culture’s important. And what’s also interesting, and I’m working for a Danish company that has been very successful in Europe for a very long time, but I’m in the US and I’ve worked in Asia, there’s definitely a notable shift right? There’s definitely another culture of Denmark, right? There’s a lot of decisions made in Denmark by Danes, [inaudible 00:20:34], but there’s also progress in welcoming new ways of looking at things. So I think it’s natural that there’s going to be a dominant culture, but if a culture is open and curious and welcome other cultures, then you can make a stronger universal approach here within the company.

Blandine Lacroix:

I’m not sure if I’m answering. I think it’s an important reflection for D&I leaders, but also leaders to say, there’s 7.5 billion people in the world, there’s a lot of different views and perspective on things, but most of us, many of the businesses are even if they’re local, global customers right? And there’s opportunities to contribute. And so looking at universal truth, transcending, translatable element of culture that can generate collaboration and communities and connection. And we see that in the social age, right? With the social networks and many of us traveling around the world if we’re lucky to do that. And even in places where people don’t travel like in Africa, you have this fast developing industry around mobile phones, so they’re connected as well. And you hear about the negative aspect of fake news through social media, but it’s also evidence that the world is connected.

Blandine Lacroix:

So I think as we think about D&I and culture and be representative of the customers you serve, or to attract talent that can solve complex issues, there’s something there that is important.

Fiona Young:

I love that. I think that’s a really great way to look at it, and yeah I agree with you that the purpose piece, really aligning people behind that is super critical.

Blandine Lacroix:

And in many ways it’s easy to do, because it’s so inspirational. And the hardest part is to become concrete in actions.

Fiona Young:

Yeah, translating it.

Blandine Lacroix:

Yeah. Yeah, continuing really every day.

Fiona Young:

So I want to talk to you a bit about your experience being a female exec, because I imagine that’s not easy and you’ve probably had quite a lot of experiences of being the only woman in various situations. So what are some of the challenges that you’ve overcome to get where you are?

Blandine Lacroix:

Good question. It’s interesting, because I’ve been a woman all my life, since I was born. And I know that I’m a woman, I feel like a woman. And today as an executive leader, I feel so powerful and so successful, and able… like there’s no stopping me. Did I always feel that way? No. It took time, and very early on for a number of reasons, one linked to a childhood trauma, I never felt very safe in an environment surrounded by men. To the point that through my teenage years, at 19 years old I was super shy and super worried about not just men but people. And I could not go to the post office to buy stamps. I remember a time where my mom drove me to in front of the post office and almost kicked me out of the car to go and buy some stamps, because she wanted to help me get out of my shell.

Blandine Lacroix:

So that’s me. But you fast forward to today, I am a single mom, part of an executive team. I’ve had some amazing, extraordinary business outcomes with amazing teams, and I’m still this woman. I’m still a girl, right? What worked for me I think is that, on reflection on that question, and I reflected on it recently also, is that through my life, I had men on my side. My dad, my ex-husband, some of my managers and leaders, because I was, many of… a very old friend, I used to work in the steel industry for a while, and I worked in pharma where there are a lot of male leaders. But many of them… I’ll give you a story.

Blandine Lacroix:

The first time I looked to join Novo Nordisk almost 20 years ago, I was in Australia. I was reading a newspaper, and there was a job that was looking so good. The job I wanted. And I went through the interview process, and my hiring manager is a man and the general manager is a guy. And through the interview process, I could feel connection, and I could feel like, “Yeah, something is gelling here. It’s cool. It sounds like it will be a good fit.” And then they called me, both of them. Not just the hiring manager, but the general manager and the hiring manager. And they told me, “We have news for you. We want to make you an offer.”

Blandine Lacroix:

And they wanted to let me know that actually, the company had just entered a hiring freeze globally, therefore you could not hire new people. But they went to Denmark, or they called Denmark to get a dispensation to make an offer to me, because they knew that I was the person they wanted in their team. And that’s what I mean by those kind of allies and support. Those guys didn’t look at me as a woman, they looked at me as a talent that they wanted in. And that, them telling me this, I just felt so good, and I became so loyal. And through my working relationship with them, I always was very grateful for the trust and the belief they had in me.

Blandine Lacroix:

My ex-husband was a manager for me for many, many years, and even though he’s my ex-husband because of a personal story, it didn’t work out very nicely, what I’ve learned from him as a professional I will never look back. He’s really helped me out. My dad has always been there for me, and as I developed confidence, as I learned about my strengths, I became stronger as a partner, as a peer, as a team member. And I less of the time ever felt that they were looking at me as a woman. They may have, some countries like a sister or the mom, but always in a caring way, right? Or the girlfriend.

Blandine Lacroix:

But in the way they were reacting to me, because I quit… see, I’m different. The way I solve for things, the way I solve for business things, the way I connect with people is different because I’m a [inaudible 00:26:24], and it’s different because I’m a woman. And I know that many, many times in my working relationship in teams, especially in leadership teams where I was one of the peers, they would tell me, “We don’t quite get you. The way you solve for things, we don’t quite get it.” But they liked working with me, and it worked for them and it worked for me. And they would watch me play out things with teams like, “How did she do it?” Then we would talk about it, and it’s definitely the way I’m a carer, I’m a mother, I’m a survivor of trauma. I’ve worked in different countries even though I was a woman, right? Worked in Asia and I worked in the Middle East. I found ways to belong, and I found ways to show up, and I found ways to speak up in ways where they’d welcome me in.

Blandine Lacroix:

So over time I became more confident. Over time I became stronger, and not because I’m a woman but because I’m me, showing up as the whole self, so I think we’re back to one of the first things we talked about. So the biggest learning I’ve had as I also grew as a leader is that many women who look up to me, who will come to me and say, “The decision they made to make you the head of a business unit, that’s amazing because you’re the only woman.” And so I didn’t realize until I had that kind of feedback that the importance of who I was, the importance of me being there and therefore people reaching out and saying, “Can you mentor me? Can you tell me how you did it?”

Blandine Lacroix:

And this is also why I’m having this podcast with you today, is as I had diverse experience, I’m realizing that I have a duty of sharing. And I think that’s part of D&I and leaders is, part of our job is to share what we’ve learned. Part of our job is to create a forum for people to speak up. Part of our job is a commitment in embracing different perspective, and creating culture where people can do this. Because a woman is just one element of who I am. I’m also a foreigner working in the US. I’m also a next stepmom, who is now a single parent of an adopted foster child. All those things are element of who I am, but it’s amplifying what I can do.

Blandine Lacroix:

And so the other thing also is not limiting the constraints, not allowing people to treat you as a woman, but forcing them to treat you as a human. Not treating men as men, but treating them as partners. Treating other women the same way you would treat other men. So it’s also how you engage with others, right? I’ve heard a narrative and stories around a lot of women who had had to work so hard to be like the guys that they’re no longer women in the way they lead, right? And the culture, you talk about [inaudible 00:29:02] culture, and even Larry [inaudible 00:29:05] and others, where sometimes the narrative is, either the people are disparaging of their style and they don’t tolerate the way they lead because they’re a woman, versus if a man had done that, then they would be superheroes.

Blandine Lacroix:

So there’s a bit of that narrative. But then also this idea that many women have felt, and I’ve had this engagement with women, especially older generations, who said, “I had to become a man in my behaviors to be successful.” The good news today is you don’t have to do this anymore, and actually the more you show up as a woman, the more impactful you’re going to be with a new generation, with the global [inaudible 00:29:42] customers that we have, and even the men are not used to working with women.

Fiona Young:

Yeah, I’ve heard that phrase, men in skirts right? And I do think that that’s of a previous generation now, and I do have a sense, yeah that was the way things were perhaps in the city in London, or in Wall Street or whatever back in the ’80s and the ’90s, and I feel like the tide has turned. I know that obviously-

Blandine Lacroix:

Yeah, [inaudible 00:30:06].

Fiona Young:

We’re on a journey.

Blandine Lacroix:

We’re on a journey, but you and I are the kids of generations, so I know my both grandmothers had to give up school to work or to be part of a family, right? My family stopped her dreams of being an artist so she could raise four kids. She made that choice, too, but that’s… but then they made me, and I exist right? So over time something has progressed within the men and within the women. And so we’re lucky we live now.

Fiona Young:

Yeah, absolutely.

Blandine Lacroix:

And we can amplify that, that it’s possible and [inaudible 00:30:41].

Fiona Young:

Yeah. So I’m curious to know, I mean along the way for all of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome really to sort of rise in the ranks and become an executive, how have you built the resilience to overcome all the barriers you’ve faced?

Blandine Lacroix:

I think we go back to some of the things we talked about early on. A lot of it is about importance of who is around you in your support network, who is there in your life right? And there’s two element. There’s the personal journey and finding strength within, and to listen deeply to who you are and who you are not, and who you want to be and who you do not want to be, and it’s hard in many societies and cultures. But if you marry that with the right ecosystem of people in your life that are there for your support, that truly care for you, that value you as a person, so if you marry the two together, this personal commitment to self growth and personal journey of being true to self and surround yourself with the right relationships, that is to me the key of my resilience, and I would like to advance a universal key to resilience.

Blandine Lacroix:

And I think when you look at resilience psychology, they talk about it. This, what are the values you were raised into? What is the network, the support system around you? And they say it takes a village to raise a child. So very true. Nowadays it’s a virtual village because they do a lot of FaceTime when your grandparents are in France and you live in the US, but that’s true. It’s this idea of supporting [inaudible 00:32:14], and also being very deliberate, if there are relationship with people in your life who are toxic to remove them. And it’s true in a work environment with teams and leaders.

Blandine Lacroix:

And back to one of my core belief of leaders have a responsibility of people within the team, it’s creating a culture where it feels safe to be yourself. Creating where there’s a toxic set of relationship, you most certainly should not be the toxic person as a leader. But if there are toxic engagement, to find ways to force people to solve for these things and neutralize them, or remove the people, or do things. So I’ve had to, through my life I had to do some work to neutralize toxicity in my life, like the toxic people. Or to make choices that said, I’m out, so that those people were no longer toxic to me. So there’s a deliberate effort to surround yourself with the right people.

Blandine Lacroix:

Don’t get me wrong, not all the people will say you’re wonderful and everything. Positive feedback is great, but you also need people who are going to truly care for you, so they’ll challenge you and nudge you and force you to think things differently, but they’re supportive. And I’ve had that as managers, I’ve had that as men in my life, I’ve had with women in my life, so that’s very key to resilience I believe, and it’s translatable to leading a team. So I apply a lot of that in the way I engage in talent management, in mentoring. I’m trying to impart a lot of my experiences with others and pay it forward, right? That’s an important part of resilience, because as you do this, you create even a stronger network of people and share experiences.

Blandine Lacroix:

And then as you lead a team, if you are true to yourself, you understand your strengths, you understand your motivation, your aspirations, and you’re transparent, and then it offers the opportunity for others to do the same in a safe manner. And suddenly, there’s greater alignment. There’s greater trust. There’s greater empathy. And then you get to resilience as a team, and then no matter what curve ball you’re exposed to as a team.

Blandine Lacroix:

And I think my biggest story is around for the last seven years up until the recent reorganization, I was leading a team that had to think about the role of the company in changing obesity, in making obesity care happen. Obesity and weight, and weight loss and weight, is full of bias and stigma everywhere in the world; in healthcare, in society. There’s so much emotional baggage around weight, there’s a lot of bullying going on, there’s a lot of judgment around, you should exercise more and eat less. There’s a lot of very strong, polarizing views around obesity. But we know in our company with the science and understanding the biology of the disease and the life of living with the disease, that there’s a lot of work to be done.

Blandine Lacroix:

And so as a team, we had to connect to the true self and say, what is our motivation? What is our purpose? What is our strengths, collectively and individually? What [inaudible 00:35:08] to each other, because what we are facing is big. It’s meaningful, it’s purposeful. We have a lot of people, either ourself or our friends or family, who live with obesity, and what we’re dealing with is bias and stigma. What we’re dealing with is a lot of judgment. What we’re dealing with is very limited outcomes, but we know we can change that. So we had this long-term vision purpose, and then kind of had to dip into why am I here, why is it relevant? Making sure that you’re in the bus or you’re not. If you don’t feel like you want to be in, it’s okay to leave. But whoever stayed became very strong as a person committed to the purpose, and then strong as a team, and then become a resilient team.

Blandine Lacroix:

We’re in pharma, and we had drugs to sell in that space, [inaudible 00:35:55], where they were in the US, payers pay for reimbursed drugs. And this product to this day still have limited coverage. Needles in a haystack. Doctors have to want to fight the fight, patient wants to be part of that journey. Patients show up, and doctors don’t want to treat them because they think they’re lazy. So there’s so many curve balls, so many things. But that team, because of the purpose, because of the openness to be themself, and teaming up and learning about each other, we became a very resilient team.

Blandine Lacroix:

You had salespeople who had limited coverage, needles in a haystack. Every step forward, there was another curve ball like, and so you would not make incentives. A lot of the pharma sales would always, you have a base salary, but the more you sell the more you make. And well for four years, they didn’t make money. But they were so anchored into the purpose and the meaning, and the fact that we’re in it together; me as the leader of the business unit, every single element of the team. That created strong, strong resilience, and that’s true for individuals too.

Fiona Young:

Yeah. That’s brilliant. And I mean, I want to go back to I guess as a final piece of advice from you, what practical advice would you give to other leaders to really help teams have that psychological safety that you were talking about, which allows people to show up, allows people to feel a sense of belonging?

Blandine Lacroix:

I think one of the biggest liberating truth that I experienced that makes me the successful leader I am today is, you first need to be the authentic self. Who are you? Why are you here? Why are you leading? What’s your motivation, what’s your aspiration, what are your strengths, what are your fears? What do you need and what are you committed to do for the people, your customers and your team right? So that thing, this authentic leadership, finding your true self. The whole self, not just the professional self. So that is my biggest strengths and learning, is if I show up as who I am, Sophie’s mom, committed to a busy team, executive leader who is driven by sustainability, and challenge the status quo and speaking up, even though I might be the foreigner or I might be the unique voice. So that authentic self, showing up and being transparent with all the things I just mentioned is number one.

Blandine Lacroix:

When you do this, there’s another thing that happens; it’s setting the tone, because culture, we say it always start from the top. So if you do that and you’re truly the whole self and invested and transparent, and committed to your relationships, then people will do the same and they will feel like they will exchange with you who they are, and then you have a stronger understanding of motivation. Then you’ll have stronger trust, stronger alignment, and stronger commitment. So therefore number two is invest in your relationships all the way down to team members who don’t work directly with you. So as a leader build a very strong culture with your leadership team, which I call the first team. Make them peas in pods. You need to be super strong in a line. They are, and make them very diverse too. Make the teams at the top very diverse because you’re role modeling something right? You’re role modeling the stronger together, and you’re role modeling the more diverse the more impactful [inaudible 00:39:21], the more courageous we’ll be and the more bold the actions will be, and the impact will be greater.

Blandine Lacroix:

And then put it through, which also mean as a leader you need to be visible. You need to be in the trenches when you have to. You have to set visions when you have to. If the team is in the middle of a very good run, bring a little bit of challenge. In times of certainties, create uncertainties. Create nudging. In time of uncertainties, you are in the frontline. During COVID, during crisis in the business, you are there. You are listening to the customers, you are listening to your teams. You listen deeply. You are not judgmental, you don’t have solution, you listen. And then when you listen, you will find that light at the tunnel, and then you will set direction and then you will set vision. And from there, you have buy-in. So that’s probably the three things.

Fiona Young:

Thank you so much for sharing that. I think that’s so useful. And I want to finish off with just one more question that we always ask everyone who comes on our show, which is one simple thing that anyone could do this week? So anyone at any level to build inclusion in their workplace.

Blandine Lacroix:

This one thing is think about one or two people that are part of your ecosystem and work; the peer, the team member or customers, but someone that is someone you don’t know very well, and have lunch with them. And then when you have lunch with them say, “I want to have lunch with you just to know you better.” And try to do this systematically more and more over time. And as you do this, you’re going to establish a culture of listening, a culture of connection, a culture of significance. And what comes out of that is powerful connections. And when you do that, then you can ask them anything. They are resilient, and they’re going to solve with extraordinary outcome, so it’s very simple. Earmark one or two lunchtimes, or breakfasts, or evenings, whatever. But where you want to invest in listening and learning about the people in your ecosystem and work. Not your usual suspect, not the friends, not the people that look like you and think like you. The most different one. The one you don’t like, the one you don’t know about. Be curious.

Fiona Young:

Thank you so much for all these insights, Blandine. It’s been great, and I think any excuse, right? To have a lunch, to have a breakfast and to just connect I think.

Blandine Lacroix:

To connect, connection.

Fiona Young:

Brilliant advice. I’m sure that there’s going to be lots for listeners to take away from today’s session, so I’m just wondering one final question for you. If anyone listening in wants to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that? Is that LinkedIn?

Blandine Lacroix:

So yeah, so LinkedIn, you can find me as Blandine Lacroix, and there there’s a lot of podcasts and things, articles I’ve written. But they should feel free to engage. I look to expand my experiences and ideas, and the more… like especially in the time of COVID, and in the US social unrest, there’s a lot of things around disparities and social unrest and social inequalities that I’m very interested in. So if anyone is thinking about it, solving for it, have ideas, I’m more than happy to hear. I want to learn, and want to solve for it too.

Fiona Young:

Amazing. Well, we’ll put a direct link to your LinkedIn in the show notes too, so people can click right through. And thank you again, Blandine. It’s been so amazing chatting with you today.

Blandine Lacroix:

Yeah, maybe you can have me another time with a set of questions from listeners.

Fiona Young:

Exactly, I love it.

Blandine Lacroix:

[inaudible 00:42:45]. Happy to come back, so thank you again for the chance to speak with you today.

Speaker 1:

You’ve been listening to Inclusion Works. So that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 1:

Today’s episode was hosted by Fiona Young and produced by Grace Willard. If you found this episode useful and you want to help more people understand how to build an inclusive culture, please do rate our podcast. It helps more people find us.

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