Leadership Lessons with Jeannette Bankes: Authentic, Vulnerable and Self-Reflective – Being A Unicorn
Jeannette Bankes is President and GM Global Surgical Franchise of Alcon. She joins us to share her leadership lessons. Thanks to Bindu Manne, OWL Board member, for conducting the interview.
Bindu Manne: After hearing several accolades, I was pleased to meet you for the first time in Hawaii. I walked away thinking, she’s a unicorn – she managed to find that elusive balance between being intelligent, accomplished, assertive, charismatic, graceful, unyielding and approachable!
Jeannette Bankes: You described me as a unicorn, I will say at the outset that I affiliate with the unicorn. And I try to find unicorn employees, because whether it’s in corporate America or as eye doctors, we’re now expected to not only check the box of intellectual intelligence we are expected equally to navigating emotional intelligence. A unicorn really has strength in both IQ/EQ. It’s what allows people to rise in organizations. Unicorn employees are individuals that possess this unique ability to exceed expectations, influence and collaborate across teams or projects, raise the bar for everyone and exemplify the balance of IQ/EQ.
I have the pleasure of working with highly technical teams across several functions who clearly demonstrate high levels of intellectual intelligence. They are the brightest people in the boardrooms, but do they have the EQ and influence to lead an organization? On the commercial side, we have individuals with extremely high EQ but are you intellectually smart enough to realize when you’re going to get into trouble technically with a device, a product design etc.?
So being strong in both IQ and EQ is what defines a unicorn employee.
Bindu Manne: Everyone is familiar with Alcon, but let’s talk about Jeannette and your entry into ophthalmology. The ophthalmic industry was hit hardest by COVID-19. I, personally, had a moment where I thought I would have to exit the eye care space. But I realized I love this space too much! So, without asking you to pick a favorite child, how does eye care differ from other fields?
Jeannette Bankes: I have supported in various leadership positions cardiology, radiology, peripheral, urology, and now ophthalmology. I’ve been across five different specialties and I will say that eye care is special. I’ve found three areas that are very special in my career: peripheral interventions, which is predominantly radiologist and peripheral interventionists, urology and eye care. There is this tangible family spirit in the eye care space. People care about one another. You get close to your partners, both industry peers and physician peers, and you develop the science collaboratively and artistically. And there’s no ego – they check it at the door.
Although we were all worried about what we were experiencing personally and professionally coming into/through COVID, I was not worried about the ophthalmic industry. Our sight is one of our most important senses. Most individuals would list sight as one of the last things they would ever give up. We don’t want to stop seeing.
We are noticing people are making vision a priority. People are being self-reflective during the pandemic and evaluating what is most important to them. Younger patients are seeking refractive surgery. Retina complications, the cataracts where we can’t see, people are choosing to spend money on their eye care. We remain optimistic for the ophthalmology space.
Manne: Let’s switch to OWL. Michael Onuscheck said it best at a board meeting – he said going to an OWL event is like going to Costco. You don’t realize you need that big jar of X, but you put it in your basket. Similarly, you go to an OWL event and you never realize someone you meet can be so impactful in our profession. Why do you Champion OWL?
Bankes: OWL was introduced to me by Michael and he’s probably one of the biggest advocates for the organization. Michael has this vision, he’s a unicorn — he is a huge champion of females, and that isn’t natural for everyone. You’ve seen Harvard Business Reviews encouraging females not to shy away from inviting males to the discussions. We need males as advocates and sponsors. They’re the dominant representation in corporate boardrooms, and you need an advocate there!
Michael was my advocate first trying to seek me out to come to Alcon. Then when I arrived, he said, “You’re a female that can help the rest of the females in this industry. You need to get exposed to OWL.” He said to me, “There’s incredibly talented females there, you’ll come across people or ideas where you don’t even realize will become partnerships, and you can help them as much as they help you.”
His guidance, “You’re the icon of humble beginnings and you’re now a head of corporate America. You’re a female, you’ve got all these attributes and areas you’ve covered. Go help OWL.”
There are very few female CEOs in the healthcare space. I am not sure where my professional career will take me, but I am cheering on all the women around me that aspire to sit in the C-suite and or aspire to be leaders in their respective spaces. I want to see increased diversity in the boardroom. I want to support females along that journey. And OWL has the potential to help me do that in eye care. We all want to see each other succeed.
Manne: One of the things I want to explore is this concept of ‘being invited to the Table’. You were fortunate to have this male unicorn but some of us may not have that opportunity to find our Michael or our male unicorn mentor.
Many females find themselves in these situations where they are involved in the work but never the decisions that surround the work. Then, we go down the rabbit hole criticizing our performance.
Bankes: You have to be authentic. I struggled a little bit through my mid-30s, trying to understand how to effectively work in medical devices and demonstrate my authentic self in a male dominated industry. I am 50 this year and I believe that through experiences, self-reflection, mentors, a bit of vulnerability and understanding how to be authentic, I am leading more effectively. Authentic, Vulnerable, Self-Reflective — they all come together.
I am extremely optimistic so when you ask “Oh, why didn’t they invite me to the table?” it comes across to me as pessimistic. Fundamentally I believe men and women think differently. And the Venus and Mars book is accurate. This difference in thinking can be an asset to a discussion or can be derailing.
The notion that we even need to be invited to the table — If I feel I can contribute to a discussion and bring meaningful input then I am at the table. I lean in, like Sheryl Sandberg reflects in her book.
In my experience, I have noticed that females, in general, are waiting to be invited, yet our male partners have no hesitation. It is a confidence thing. Again in my experience, my male peers tend to lean in and be more confident than my female counterparts. And if you read the literature, research depicts that a majority of females want to be 80 percent ready to take their next job. Whereas, a male will lean in at 40 percent readiness and say, “I got this, I’ll learn any gaps or skills required to succeed in the role.”
I truly believe that we have and need male advocates and you will experience some that are not supportive, but I also think we’re waiting for a different signal than they are. As you say – we’re waiting to be invited.
My husband made the statement to me in my career “You have worked harder than some of your male counterparts and many times traveled more often”. There were multiple factors that contributed to my work ethic and aspiration for my career. I came from humble beginnings and attribute my hard work ethic to this foundation. I also have a passion to truly understanding the global market landscape, disease states and technologies that can address un-met clinical needs. This knowledge gained by my global travel and market exposure allowed me to lead more effectively. A question you might ask is was it the need to differentiate myself and bring value in a male dominated industry? I believe my passion for technology development and not wanting to fail personally for my team, myself or for other females aspiring for career advancement contributed to my commitment. As we navigate our careers there may be sacrifices we make personally and professionally. I have broken several ceilings at companies, first female General Manager, first female Surgical President at Alcon. Like many of my male and female counterparts leading companies, my family has supported 4 moves in my career.
From a lean-in perspective, we have to lean in, stay truly authentic and not be asked to be invited to the table, should you find someone who doesn’t support you, you have to have tough skin and realize I’m not going to give up, I’m going to try again.
Manne: We’re all adjusting to the new reality and this new world of work-from-home for the foreseeable future. How are you adjusting and how are you leading in this virtual workspace? As a follow-up, how can anyone professionally advance or develop in this new reality? Without seeing each other in person, how do we advance? How does leadership and personal development, professional development, advance in this new reality?
Bankes: You could also say – it’s during times like this where associates are looking for strong leaders. It’s a great time to lean in and lead. With COVID-19 and virtual sessions, this venue might actually support females in a new way and possibly level our playing field a little bit. Travel-wise many females do not want to historically commit to the travel requirements of a position or project. The efficiency to do things remotely will help support more females taking on roles or projects.
Consider if you are trying to do management courses or educational offerings that will support your development or advancement, we’re all doing them online. If you’re trying to meet with customers globally, they are currently being done remotely. So there might be some subtle changes that support career development in a new way for females.
Manne: For the readers who look up to you, how do we become a unicorn like you, Jeannette?
Bankes: I want to reflect that this isn’t about me, if I can support or advocate for other females to achieve their personal goals and career aspirations, then I have accomplished my objective. My career advice is to ask you to figure out your fingerprint and determine what your brand says about you to others. My formula for success whenever I give lectures is, “My formula is not your formula. We’re two different fingerprints.” But if you can take subtle things from me and the things that I’ve experienced and put it into your formula it may benefit you. Define what you want to be, set goals. Throughout my career, each year I have set 3 professional goals that I wanted to accomplish.
Whatever your goals are – whether it is being appointed Vice-President or Head of your Practice – you’re going to need to have certain skills or knowledge. I fundamentally believe that one of the catalysts to my success is, when I was a young professional – age 25 – I had a male leader of a business that to this day provided me the best career advice. He said to me, “Jeannette, get the tools in the toolbox.” I’ll never forget his advice. He said, “The more skills and knowledge you have, no matter where or what you place your fingerprints on, you are going to be a more effective leader because you can understand multiple dimensions of a business or a function. You will be able to navigate faster and solve problems more efficiently”.
We talk about the need for diversity and this is a different dimension of diversity…. Diversity of skillsets!
I encourage people to build your own toolkit of skills and knowledge and while being true to yourself (authentic) build your unique fingerprint, personally and professionally.