Podcast

Next Level Leadership with Ellen Lawrence, Senior Director Analytical Development, Emergent BioSolutions

April 20, 2022

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On this episode of the podcast, Melissa welcomes back Ellen Lawrence, her wife, and Senior Director of Analytical Development for Emergent BioSolutions.

In the last year and a half since Ellen was on the podcast, she has been promoted to Senior Director, led her team through the pandemic and has started reporting to a new boss in another country.  She has also had some personal obstacles to overcome that have strengthened her leadership skills and helped her persevere to the next level.

This episode is for leaders of any level who are looking to advance their career and strengthen their leadership skills, even during a pandemic.



What You’ll Learn

Ellen’s advice for getting to the next level in leadership

How to strengthen the relationship with a new boss

What to do when you get surprising performance feedback

How to lead a team through high attrition and a pandemic without punishing your high performers with more work

One piece of advice Ellen wished she had earlier in her career

Featured in This Episode

Connect with Ellen on LinkedIn
The perfect 1-1 framework
Entry Level to Senior Leader in Pharma/Biotech

Learn more about working with Melissa at www.melissamlawrence.com

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Transcript

Transcript

Melissa

Welcome to Navigating Your Career. The only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills, and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want. If you want to stop feeling stuck and starts feeling better, this is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa Lawrence. Let’s get started.

Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. This week, I have a guest with me, my wife, Ellen Lawrence. And for those of you that are long time listeners, you may have heard her when she was first on the podcast in acting. And she talked about moving from entry level to a leadership role within the industry and her career path and the obstacles that she had to overcome to get there. So if you haven’t listened to that episode, I highly recommend it. I will put a link in the show notes so you can catch up. But today we’re going to talk about something totally different. We’re going to talk about next level leadership. So we’re not going to talk so much about early career, but really the changes that Ellen has had in her career since she was on the show. She is now a senior director of analytical development with Emergent BioSolutions. And she has had to overcome a lot of obstacles in the last year and a half or so since she was on the show. From new managers to leading through a pandemic and return to work and all of the things that so many of you have had to go through yourself.

So without further Ado, I want to welcome Ellen to the show. Hi, Ellen. Good to have you back. So can you fill us in on what is new in your world since you were last time?

Ellen

Sure. So much. We’ve gone through a very large reorg of the company. I’ve had to go through reorganizations of my individual Department to keep everyone flexible and adaptable and keep up with the work that we’ve had ongoing since that time. Additionally, I have a new boss, and my new boss is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, which in itself poses some complexities around communication and actually getting to see people face to face and getting to know each other.

Melissa

Okay. So you’ve definitely had a lot of change. And did you mention your promotion?

Ellen

Oh, right. No. Yeah. Thanks for reminding me about that. I was also promoted to senior director in February of this year, so very recently.

Melissa

And so now you have other leaders reporting to you as well.

Ellen

Okay.

Melissa

So you’ve definitely had a lot of change. Let’s start by talking about reporting to a new boss, especially a boss that is overseas and the challenges that you’ve alluded to that you’ve had to work through. What has your experience been like reporting to someone who is new and overseas?

Ellen

It’s actually been a really unique and fun experience. I had reported to a boss that I had known since I joined Emergent back in 2009. Previously, he left the organization, and for one week I reported to one of my peers within the development services group, and then we found out about the reorganization that put me reporting into my current boss. So it was a whirlwind of change in a very short period of time, like any other change was met with a bit of resistance in my brain. I was a little bit concerned about all of the change happening so quickly. Reporting to somebody that I knew nothing of had never met my current boss previously. So I had to get to know somebody, they had to get to know me. And then the dynamics around communication, especially when you’re half a world apart, makes a bit of a challenge. So it’s been interesting, though, and a bit refreshing, I must say. My current boss has given me the most candid and the most comprehensive feedback that I have received throughout the duration of my entire career. Previously, my annual reviews were kind of a summary of what I would write in my own review.

Ellen

And my current boss really went through his experience with me. And at the time he delivered my review, I had only been reporting to him for about three and a half or four months. So for him to have come to me with a very comprehensive and thoughtful review was really a breath of fresh air. That is the type of review that I tend to provide for the people reporting into me. I look at the body of work over the last year and try to talk to them about individual things that they have done and any areas that they might have for growth. So to have a boss that had that same approach and came to me with some good recommendations and opportunities for growth was really eye opening, but also just a really great experience.

Melissa

Okay, that’s great. Let’s talk about the part that wasn’t a great experience, because people listening are probably like, okay, that makes it sound like transitioning to a new boss is just perfect. And you’ve got exactly what you wanted, the exact type of boss that you wanted. And I know just from my own experience, but then also I know just the people that I work with. It can be hard to feel like you have to prove yourself again, right? Absolutely. And so in your situation, like you said, you had reported to really the same people for over a decade who loved everything you did, didn’t really give you feedback that was constructive outside of what you didn’t already know about yourself. And now you had someone coming in who was giving you the constructive feedback you wanted. But you weren’t used to getting constructive feedback like that, which could happen, right? And then people start thinking, oh, my gosh, I have to prove myself again. My career is going to go backwards. I’m not going to get the promotion. I thought I wanted all these other things. So can you give us some real talk on what it was like for you to get the feedback you wanted?

Melissa

But that was maybe hard to hear.

Ellen

I mean, it’s always challenging when you’re faced with that sort of situation. There were definitely moments along the way where I was kind of shaking my fist and frustration like, this person just doesn’t know me. This person just doesn’t know my team or what we do. So there have been growing pains associated with that. There has been a lot of education around my group and what we do my team, I’m extremely fortunate to have the team that I do because they are all incredible human beings and great scientists. So on top of being great scientists, I get to work with people that actually enjoy being around every day. So I had to relay my knowledge of their work to my boss because he doesn’t know the people on my team. He doesn’t know the contributions that they’ve made over the last few years. And so there were moments of frustration where it felt like we were a square peg being pounded into a round hole where we didn’t really necessarily seem to fit in the greater picture of the organizational restructuring. So there was some frustration around that around. Look, I know these people. They’re great.

Ellen

And having to educate somebody else on the greatness of the people that I get to lead and also the amount of work that they’re doing, they have produced an enormous amount of work over the last couple of years. And previously, the way the reporting structure was designed, a lot of that was highlighted. And now where we’re reporting in, we’re not seeing a lot of it reflected. So there’s a bit of frustration there that I’m having to manage not only in myself, but in my team. So that’s kind of one of the biggest pain points and one of the biggest growing pains that I have encountered. I am trying to keep an open mind about it, though, and just remind myself that my boss is somebody who his view is that if he’s growing up, it reflects well on him. So he wants me to do well. He wants my entire team to do well. And in order for all of us to do well, himself included, he needs a comprehensive understanding of everything that we’re doing. So the communication and constant education and reeducation about the activities we have ongoing is fruitful.

Melissa

Okay. I love the faces you’re making as you’re giving me these answers and as I’m throwing these questions at you, it sounds like maybe what people could take away really in addition, is that even when you’re reporting to someone new, when you get challenging feedback, when you’re maybe pushed outside your comfort zone and having to look in the mirror a little bit differently, it really can just be people that are helping you go from that good to great, right? Because you are I’m biased, obviously, but your track record speaks for itself. You’re a very high performer. You’re very successful. So that feedback that you get, which wasn’t super negative, it just was opportunities for you to grow as a leader helped you grow as a leader and helped you get the promotion that you deserved and that you earned for quite a long time. And so I think it’s an important lesson on the stakeholders that we have and the relationships that we have and that it’s not just about being the best performer, but it really does matter how your stakeholders see your performance and how you can articulate the value you bring to other people.

Melissa

And that’s what you did when it came to your performance and the performance of your team, right? Yeah.

Ellen

And also shining a light on the work that my team was doing for people that were unaware of the work that we did. So the part of the organization that we were restructured into didn’t have a high level of visibility into the projects that we work on and the work that we’re doing. So having conversations with people that I wouldn’t typically interact with was definitely something outside of my comfort zone. But my boss encouraged me to do it because I guess it makes his life a little bit easier when he goes to advocate for us as a team, because then people are more familiar with me and my team and the work that we’re doing because they’ve heard it, they’ve received communication around what we’re doing.

Melissa

Okay. So are there maybe two or three tangible tips that you would give people that are reporting to a new boss to help them have a positive relationship, to receive the feedback constructive or positive to navigate these new relationships? What are just a couple of things that you would tell people to do right off the bat to help that experience be positive?

Ellen

I would say first and foremost to stay open minded. Some of the feedback that I received initially was, it seemed counterintuitive to me my thought pattern would be going in one direction and I would be challenged to think about it differently. And had I been closed minded and just dug my heels in the sand, that what I was thinking was what needed to happen or was the right way, I might have missed out on opportunities that really benefited my team. So I think approaching things with an open mind is extremely important. I think also just being aware of the rationale behind the decisions that are being made can be helpful to really understand why certain decisions are made, I think can help ground you a little bit and help you feel more receptive to the change that’s happening. People tend to resist change. There’s always a fair amount of resistance to change. And then once people get into the flow of things, they’re like okay, now this makes sense. So I think just having an understanding of why the change is happening is important, especially at the higher levels of the organization. And when you pair that with keeping an open mind around the feedback you’re receiving and what you’re hearing, I think it’ll set you up for more success than if you remained closed minded and closed off or just relied on the experience you had so far or your high performance.

Melissa

Kind of keeping your head down and doing the work. I think those are really great tips. So there’s another podcast episode I have on reporting to a new boss, so I’ll link to that in the show notes as well, if people want some additional guidance on that. So let’s pivot a little bit. I mentioned earlier that you have other managers, other leaders reporting to you now. So what has that transition been like for you to move into this next level of leadership where you have tiers of teams reporting to you?

Ellen

It has significantly helped me. It has freed up my time because I have leaders now that can shoulder some of the workload that I was carrying where I can delegate a little bit more. And as they’ve moved from being individual contributors to being kind of managers of people or managers of managers, they are not burdened with as much hands on work in the lab. So their time is freed up to take on more of the managerial responsibilities. So it has helped me to expand my skills and delegation, as well as just building trust between myself and the other managers because I have to entrust these responsibilities to them that maybe I’ve been doing for two or four or five years, however long it might have been. So it’s really been, I think, a positive experience because it’s taking some work off my plate while also just fostering the positive relationships that I already had with the managers that are reporting into me.

Melissa

And is there a challenge that you’ve had as you’ve kind of taken on this new level of leadership that you can share and then also how you overcame that challenge? It’s like you’re being interviewed for a job interview question. It’s a very behavioral question. Yeah.

Ellen

I mean, there are challenges with just growth. My Department grew relatively quickly, and then we contracted a little bit because of the Great Recession. But in the growth we had, people kind of move in to different roles, coming in from different departments. And some of the dynamics, the personality dynamics and just personnel interactions were not always the most positive. So having to deal with that conflict and the resolution of conflict is something that I would avoid at every possible cost that I could because it’s one of my least favorite things to do. But I had to face the reality that there were people coming in and they were unhappy about certain things, and I, as their leader, had to work with them and make sure that we were getting to the root cause of various issues and that we were putting in place resolutions that were pragmatic but also impactful. So that’s one of the bigger challenges. It’s just as you become more of like a manager of managers, not only dealing with the conflict resolution, but then also the communication around that to the other leaders within the team.

Melissa

And I would think too, like having added trust, which you talked about a little bit, because you were used to being the direct manager of a really high performing team. And then when you go up a level, you have to have that trust with the people reporting to you that they’re managing their team in a way that is congruent to your values and standards for how managers should lead. So how do you hold managers accountable to that?

Ellen

Well, skip levels come in extremely handy for those situations because then I can meet one on one with the people that are reporting into the various managers and just get a feel for how they’re feeling, how things are going, what feedback they have for me about how the Department can be run better, what feedback do they have regarding their manager, whether it’s positive or whether there are opportunities for growth. So those come in extremely handy. And I’ve gotten some of the more useful information from some of those skip level meetings because you’re actually talking to the people that are doing the day in, day out work that’s driving everything forward and making sure that they’re okay, that their work life balance is okay, that the communication with them and their managers is okay. It’s a very important thing. So that’s a very useful tool. And then being able to take that feedback and have a constructive conversation with managers is ultimately what I’ve had to do from some of these skip levels that I’ve had. But it’s a good way of holding them accountable because then I’m not only getting the information from the manager, I’m also getting the information from the folks that report into that individual.

Melissa

Are there some standard questions you use for your skip levels?

Ellen

Yeah, I’m trying to think I haven’t had one in a little bit. Typically, I will ask what the individual feels is going well and what they feel is not going well. So basically, what are we doing right? Where do we have room for improvement? What can I do differently as a manager and leader? What things they would like to see me do more of in terms of how I’m leading the Department? I’ll also ask some of those classic twelve Gallup questions around. Do you have everything you need to do your job every day? Do you feel that you’re being given the opportunity to do what you do best? Do you feel you’re being given an opportunity to do what you like? I’ll ask them about development opportunities that they might want and how we can possibly put a plan in place so that they can achieve those opportunities in the process of going about their other job responsibilities. So looking for things like stretch assignments or just even cross training opportunities within the Department, that’s great.

Melissa

Those are great questions. I feel like I have another episode I need to call out for that because I have a really popular podcast episode, The Perfect 101 Framework. And I don’t talk about skip levels, but I talk about having a quarterly check in that touches on some of those things that you mentioned, like quality and quantity of work and experience, future with the company, things like that that are going to really help you assess if the employee is engaged and help you get answers to things that you might not get by just asking what’s going right, what’s going wrong. And so it takes a deeper dive into employee engagement. So I will link to that as well so people can check that out.

Ellen

Yeah. Engagement is something we also talk about at my manager team meetings. So I meet with my management team each week, and our company does an engagement survey, I think, annually, and we typically see the results of that. So when we have those results, I’ll share them with my management team. But then Additionally, throughout the year, just asking them every week when I open the meeting, are there any issues that have come to your attention that we need to address as a team? And that’s an opportunity for them to bring forward any issues that they might see with employee engagement.

Melissa

Yeah, I love that. That’s like a lean practice, isn’t it? Not the belted, my baby yellow belt. But when we had tier meetings back in my corporate days, that was some of the questioning that happened in those meetings. I think that’s great. Okay, so let’s pivot a little bit to imposter syndrome. So imposter syndrome is kind of a hot topic. I have my own views on it, but today is about your views, mostly. So I’m curious, though, being a woman and being in kind of an underrepresented population, rising into these higher levels of leadership. What your thoughts on imposter syndrome like? Is it something that you think is real? How does it show up for you? Is it something you’ve struggled with or just what are your thoughts on that?

Ellen

Well, I can tell you. It’s definitely not something I’ve ever struggled with. I do think it’s real. I think some people do genuinely struggle with it, and I can’t speak to what those people might be thinking you’re feeling because it’s not something I’ve struggled greatly with. I don’t feel I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome. I think I’ve termed what I’m feeling as impostor syndrome, but it’s more just at times looking around and saying, wow, I’ve come so far, am I really worthy of this? And then the work speaks for itself. If you weren’t worthy, you wouldn’t necessarily be in the position you’re in. I do know there are probably exceptions to that rule that people might get advanced before they’re ready for it. And I think that’s a little bit of what I felt like when I became director questioning, wow, am I really ready for this? But then just doing the job every day kind of helped me overcome any fears. But I think what I have is it’s not really imposter syndrome, and I wouldn’t really necessarily term it as self doubt. It’s more having the awareness to question yourself and keep an open mind and rethink things.

Ellen

So how you’re doing things? Are there ways that you could do them better or just having something that’s always going to drive you to push you further, whether it’s a true development opportunity where you’re pushed out of your comfort zone or just on a daily basis saying, okay, how did I get to where I am and what can I do to continue to move forward and to continue to propel myself forward? I will admit my Department got kind of moved from one corner of the building to another one in the fall, and I got moved from an office into a bigger office. And when I walked into that office and was kind of like settling my stuff, I was looking around thinking, Geez, I didn’t think I’d ever have an office like this. I did tell some people that I didn’t necessarily feel worthy of the office I was in because there was a lot of space, and I didn’t feel I had this prestigious title to justify it.

Melissa

To take up that square footage.

Ellen

Right. But I have plenty of Legos that are helping.

Melissa

Yes, you do take care of some of that square footage.

Ellen

But that’s probably the closest thing that I’ve ever felt that was close to imposter syndrome of that questioning of, Jeez, do I really belong here?

Melissa

Yeah.

Ellen

But I mean, the answer that I’ve come to, the conclusion I’ve come to is, yeah, I do. And every day I’m in there and working away and proving myself.

Melissa

Yeah. It sounds like you’ve applied kind of like a scientific mindset, too, which I only know because I’m married to a scientist and I work with them. So I know a little bit about how the brains work here.

Ellen

I deal with my scientific mindset all the time.

Melissa

Right. I know I’m an expert, but it really is like you went when you were describing it, it sounded like when that doubt comes in, you kind of scan for evidence that it was the right decision and you belong where you are, as opposed to I think some people, they will be in situations that they’ve earned, and they will look around and find all of the evidence that they don’t belong where your brain was working to the opposite. It was like, okay, I’m questioning myself, and then you’re like, but look how hard I’ve worked and look at the things I’ve accomplished and look at my degrees and all of the things. So I think that’s really important because I think that’s a very valuable exercise people can go through is to look at the ways that they belong, how they’ve earned their success. And I think what happens sometimes is we don’t expect our identities to shift as we accomplish different things. So when we were younger, especially if you didn’t come from much, just like you didn’t expect a lot of success from your life or whatever the story is, as you’ve reached each milestone in your life and achieved more success, whether it’s buying a house or getting an office or becoming director, becoming a people manager, whatever it is, your identity has to catch up with the new version of you that has happened because of your growth and development.

Melissa

And sometimes our brains just lag a little bit. And so scanning for that. Oh, Yup. Need to catch up to this new identity and then you embrace it because it’s going to shift again. You’re probably going to grow and who knows where you’re going to end up. But with each step, you’re going to have to adjust your identity and have it all come together. Yeah.

Ellen

And I mean, it makes sense that there would be a lag there. I think that’s pretty common throughout all of life, like you mentioned. Yeah.

Melissa

Okay, so let’s talk about return to work, because especially now, I think everyone I’m talking to, they’re at least going to work hybrid. I don’t know many people unless their role was remote, that they are continuing to be remote. So people are coming back to work, things are getting a little bit more normal or sense of normal fee. So how has this been for you? Kind of managing remote teams and having to be flexible with hybrid work situations, with maybe how expectations have changed for working from home where before maybe it was frowned upon. Now it’s an expectation employees have. So how has that been for you?

Ellen

So I’ve always approached work with a flexible mindset. So even precovid, there’s like a theme here.

Melissa

Flexible, open mindset.

Ellen

I will say as an individual contributor, I did not like to be micromanaged, so I didn’t necessarily need to have someone Hawking over me watching my every move to make sure that I was doing my job. I am a trustworthy individual. I’m very reliable. I will show up and I will produce results that are consistent and high in quality. So as that type of person, I always wanted to treat people as they were me. Right. So if they’re coming into work, as they’re coming and going, I can rely upon them to deliver whatever results they need to deliver on whatever projects they are assigned. And I don’t believe in watching over people or looking at the clock when people come and go. That’s always been how I felt. And I’ve had different experiences throughout my career with different types of bosses. And the ones that I thrived under were the ones that kind of gave me the flexibility to just do what I needed to do to fulfill my work at work, and then anything that I have going on in my home life as well. So that’s how I treated my people precovid with COVID, it was a little bit more challenging.

Ellen

I lead a team of people that physically had to be on site from day one of the Pandemic through today. People have had to be on site every day. We had stuff happening in the labs. We worked on a handful of the projects that were funded by Operation Warp Speed, which were critical to getting the COVID vaccines developed and out into the marketplace. So what we were doing had high importance, paramount importance, and then that dictated that we had to have people there pretty much all the time. So we had to adopt an approach of people came in and they did the work in the lab that needed to be done, and then anything that could be done remotely, whether you’re writing a report or perhaps you can log in via VPN to analyze data. We gave people the flexibility to do that, and we basically told people, only come on site when you absolutely have to be here. So the majority of the people were working remotely more than they were on site. And we had a number of people that were in and out every day, making sure that the labs kept going.

Ellen

Everything was maintained. Things kept humming along on the projects we were working on. We had people that even flex their schedules, they would come in in the evening and work until midnight, or they would come in on Saturdays when there were less people around. And we just gave people the flexibility they needed to do whatever they needed to do, not only to get their work done, but to feel comfortable. People needed to feel comfortable. They needed to feel safe. They needed to feel that they had the space to do the things that they needed to do, and they weren’t putting themselves in danger at risk in some way or another. So that has obviously evolved as the Pandemic has evolved, and we have actually not done a, quote unquote, formal return to work. Our formal return to work is actually next Monday. So we had looked at the idea of having the formal return to work earlier in the year, but then the Omicron surge delayed it. So starting Monday, most of the staff will be back on site.

Melissa

Okay, so are there challenges that you’ve experienced with this, or is everyone just okay with this approach? Is the return to work like, everyone has to come back now or I’m trying to get at have there been any employee issues or benefits with having a modified work schedule because of the pandemic.

Ellen

I think the benefits were people worked from home more. So people might have felt that that was a greater benefit. But overall, because of the flexibility of scheduling that we had pre COVID, it wasn’t a huge change. I mean, people were working from home a larger percentage of the time than they normally would if they had appointments or stuff that they had to take care of outside of work. I think the biggest change is actually going to be the folks that were working remotely 100% of the time coming back to site, at least.

Melissa

So how are they being prepared?

Ellen

I mean, it’s been communicated very openly to them and they’re okay.

Melissa

There’s no resistance. Okay.

Ellen

No, I’ve not run into any resistance. And there are a couple of folks that will stay 100% remote because they’re supporting things that don’t buy them.

Melissa

So has there been like a big lesson learned or anything around managing employees through the pandemic?

Ellen

I mean, I think the biggest lesson, not necessarily for me, but for some of the other managers, was just adopting a flexible mindset and giving people the benefit of the doubt and respecting them and trusting them to take care of the things that they need to take care of.

Melissa

Yeah. Okay. So it sounds like leadership 101 is a flexible mindset for me, not just success in every challenge.

Ellen

Yeah. It’s being willing to adopt that scientific mindset of rethinking things. It’s like you run an experiment, you get results, they may not be what you expected. So you kind of have to go back and revisit things and rethink things. And people are people. We need to treat people the same way. They need flexibility to have a healthy work life balance, giving them the trust and just respect and flexibility to do what they need to do. And knowing that having them know that you feel that way about them, it actually builds very positive working relationships because they know you trust them. I know they trust me. I know they’re going to get the work done, whether they have to schedule it around something at home or something else in their life.

Melissa

Okay. And so as part of this pandemic and return to work, there’s also been what’s been coined to the great resignation. With over 60, 70% of people are looking for another job. There’s been a ton of people leaving. My LinkedIn is filled with people starting new positions, and that’s great for them. It’s great for my business. There’s a lot of people having what do I need my next career move to be? Because the pandemic, I think, woke people up a little bit. And if they’re not happy in their work, there is another way they can enjoy their work. It’s part of their life. You spend most of your waking hours at work, and so it’s caused a lot of people to rethink their careers. And so how has that been for you? With a higher level of turnover, a higher level of job change to keep your current staff engaged and not fall into what we talk about at home, the performance punishing behavior of putting all of the extra workload on the people that are left and counting on those high performers to carry the team through.

Ellen

It’s been challenging. We had a team of 23 people a year ago today, and seven of those people ultimately left the Department for one reason or another. And we got approval to backfill two of those roles. So there’s essentially a head count of five people that are no longer allocated to my group, and that’s a heavy hit to take. I mean, we lost basically 30% of our Department over the course of the last six months of 2021, and managing through that is difficult. And it also happened at the time that we went through a huge reorganization. So the resignation happened before the reorganization. I think only one happened after. But keeping people engaged and keeping them encouraged is difficult. I found that transparency was the best way to go. I also found that knowing what folks are doing, to be able to go to upper management and lobby for additional headcount is helpful. We did have kind of a drop in some of the project work that accompanied this, so things stayed somewhat manageable throughout the loss of employees and lack of additional headcount. So it was definitely challenging. It certainly stretched my managerial capabilities, just making sure that people were okay and that any of the work that was left behind by the people exiting that we were able to take the work and delegate it across other people.

Ellen

But to schedule it in a way that people still had a reasonable work week, they still had a healthy worklife balance, and the other aspects of their life weren’t being impacted by the fact that we lost headcount and the work doesn’t go away. So it had to go somewhere. And we did our best to delegate across as many people as we could and managing deadlines.

Melissa

Too, when you can, adjusting those deadlines, seeing what’s flexible. Right. Because if you could do all of that work with less people, you wouldn’t have had that had to count to begin with, right?

Ellen

Yeah. No, it was very serendipitous that some of the project work was wrapping up at the time that some of these folks were leaving. We also had some weird things happen where equipment broke or something got hung up in the supply chain. And so there were just inherent delays and timelines, and that opened up more time to take care of the tasks that needed to be addressed and that were higher priority. So there was a combination of actions that we took as a management team, but then there were some weird things that kind of fell our way that helped us out as well. But there were some instances where we went to a client and said, hey, we’re really resource constrained right now. Can we push this back a week? And thankfully, our deadlines were designed in a way that they were early, so a week didn’t really hurt the project.

Melissa

Okay. What do you think your biggest growth has been in the last year and a half since you were last on the show? What has been just the biggest growth in any area of your life? I don’t get that face. I wish I was recording on video with it. It can be anything. I mean, you’re presenting at a conference soon, so that’s amazing. A couple of weeks coming to the World Vaccine Congress near you, Washington, DC.

Ellen

Yeah. I think from a leadership perspective, I learned a lot from my experiences with conflict resolution. So I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. I think if I had things to do over again, I might have handled them a little bit differently and not necessarily outsourced some of the resolution to other people and just had more direct conversations and maybe served as like a mediator between some of the folks that might have been having issues or problems with each other. So there’s that. As far as the leadership piece goes, I think on the personal front, dealing with my emotions more constructively has been an area where I’ve grown, allowing myself the time that I need to process emotions so that they don’t get buried and then come out sideways in a number of different ways. So I think that’s been a significant source of growth for me over the last really probably six to eight months. Other than that, nothing that I can think of.

Melissa

No, because I didn’t tee any of this up for you. I love that you’re addressing, though, like that employees are whole. People just talk about managing emotions. Right. A lot of times people are really uncomfortable with their emotions and they don’t realize that as a human, whether you are aware of it in your conscious brain or not, you are responding emotionally to everything that’s happening to you at all times.

Ellen

Right.

Melissa

And some of it comes up constructively and some of it doesn’t. Some you don’t even notice, but it’s there. And so even talking about that and saying all of this great insight you’ve been giving around leadership, but then also the personal growth, too, because you are one person. Right. You can’t just leave part of your brain at home. It all comes with you no matter where you go.

Ellen

Yes. I mean, you bring your whole person everywhere that you go. You don’t have little switches that you flip to turn on the work part of you and turn off the personal part of you. It’s very important. And I know myself if I’m not in a great headspace, I will have to do more to contain my reactions to things if I get frustrated. Whereas if I’m in a good kind of healthy headspace. If I get frustrated, it doesn’t affect me as much like I don’t act on it as much as if I’m not in a great headspace. And I’ve consistently told my employees that the work matters, but the people matter more. They always have and they always will. And I want folks to be able to get the support that they need at work, to do whatever is needed to be done at work, but then to be able to go home and focus on their home life and not to be distracted by things that might have happened at work. So people need to have a good work life balance, and they need to be seen as an entire person and not just the employee of some company or the employee of some Department.

Ellen

So it’s extremely important.

Melissa

Yeah. I love that you’re such a great leader. I love you so much. But of course you would, right? I mean, I couldn’t be married to someone that was an awful leader.

Ellen

I mean, you could you never know.

Melissa

It would have to be secret from me where I didn’t know that was their life because I feel like I’d have a hard time not intervening. I don’t know. I don’t think I could ethically deal with that.

Ellen

Yeah. That might be challenging. We don’t have super powers to intervene, though, so I don’t know how that works.

Melissa

Anyway, you had a hard time controlling your emotions during the Duke game, though.

Ellen

I will say that, yeah.

Melissa

But we came out on top.

Ellen

The team that we didn’t want to win. Yeah. No, I will say in addition to the professional growth, over the time that has happened, there’s been a lot of personal growth because there’s been a lot of grief that I’ve had to process between losing my dad and then most recently, losing our dog. That had been my dog for 13 years and you guy’s dog for nine years. It’s a lot to process and it’s a lot of emotions to process and to be able to work through that and work like with my dad’s passing the subsequent challenges around things that happened in my family, it’s a lot. And when you’re dealing with that at home and then you’re going to work and you’re a director and most recently a senior director, and you’re kind of responsible for an entire Department during a pandemic. When you’re working on vaccines that are supposed to be the solution to the pandemic, it’s a lot to carry. It’s an enormous amount of responsibility and certainly not something that I take lightly. So it’s been definitely a year and a half of challenges, but a good amount of growth, and I think positive experiences.

Melissa

Yeah, well, I think that just speaks also to the importance of giving yourself some Grace and some compassion and again, being that whole person, that when you get to a certain level of leadership, your emotions don’t go away. It’s not like you achieve this. And it’s like from outside looking in. I mean, you included. You have a really great reputation. People just see you being strong and consistent and not getting frustrated by things and being a really strong leader. And that’s what you’ve worked hard to portray and be able to do consistently. But then there’s inside, you still have those emotions. You still have those things that you balance and trying to meet everyone’s demands and try to take care of yourself. So I really appreciate your candor and sharing all of that, of course, with everyone. So what is next for you? So let’s say you’re on the show a year and a half from now. Where do you think you’re going to be?

Ellen

I don’t know.

Melissa

You’re presenting at this conference. Maybe you’ll be famous.

Ellen

There’s a very limited audience for what I’m speaking to. No, I really don’t know if I think about two years down the road or five years down the road, what life and my career have in store for me? Hopefully my trajectory continues on the path it’s been, and I continue to learn new things and grow and develop as a leader and as a scientist. Hopefully I still have the pleasure of working with a great team that I get to work with every day now. But I don’t know for sure. I mean, I’m always looking for opportunities for growth, opportunities to learn new things and take on more responsibilities, and I just am going to continue to do that, and hopefully it will continue to work positively for me.

Melissa

So what I’m hearing is open mind, flexible mindset.

Ellen

Don’t be so stuck in your ways.

Melissa

I don’t know where I’m going to be, but I’m going to have an open mind. You have a flexible mindset. Well, it’s worked for you very well so far to push things that way.

Ellen

Well, I mean, it takes a certain amount of maturity to get there. I wasn’t always thinking the way that I’m thinking now. Earlier in my career, I would get very frustrated about things. But now I think as a senior leader and somebody that leads other leaders, it really is important to listen to other people’s perspectives, to keep your mind open and to be flexible with the way that you think about things.

Melissa

Okay. So as we close out, what is one piece of advice that you wish you had known earlier in your career is an open mind, flexible budget.

Ellen

They would have helped if somebody had just told me to calm down, although that probably wouldn’t have gone well. The last thing you want to say to somebody that’s not calm.

Melissa

Yes.

Ellen

The person that I always tried to model myself after was my dad, because he was so calm and composed, and he was always the voice of reason. And I think if somebody had just told me that staying that course was going to pay dividends, that would have been enough motivation for me to not be as frustrated about some things early on in my career as what I experienced. But a good piece of advice for scientists would be to not take the failures that occur in the lab personally. It is very difficult when you walk into a lab and everything, it looks great on paper, it’s supposed to work, and then it doesn’t and things go wrong. And you are faced with questions about that. To not take that personally is something that is enormously difficult to do, especially when you’re fresh out of College and you’re early in your career and you’re like, wait a minute, you hired me. Why aren’t you listening to me? Why don’t you see things the way that I see them and you do kind of personalize it and take that feedback and that constructive criticism personally. So being able to build up your armor, so to speak, to not take that personally and to take it as it is, which is just scientific debate or scientific questioning, would have been a very valuable piece of advice early in my career because there were times that I took things personally and was more frustrated and upset about things that I really needed to be.

Melissa

Yeah, I love that advice that you gave. And just to piggyback on some of that, I think staying focused on what you want long term and not getting hung up on the stressors of the day to day, like when you were talking about your dad and what you always strive to be and the way that he was is having that forethought of looking forward and saying, okay, I’m working towards something long term. And so today I’m stressed, but, like, I have my eye on the prize kind of thing, because day to day, all sorts of things can happen that are going to mess with us in our mindset and our stress levels. And so focusing on that long term goal that you have or that identity you want to embrace.

Ellen

Yeah, it’s definitely beneficial and just trying to keep a cool, calm head when things seem to be exploding around you because things are going wrong, it can create an enormous amount of stress. But you just have to be able to stay calm, stay cool headed about it.

Melissa

Stay calm without saying stay calm, right?

Ellen

Yeah, don’t tell me stay calm. But to be able to have kind of that inner calmness in your mindset, to be able to focus on the issues that are occurring and finding resolutions for them instead of just getting stuck on, oh, my gosh, all these things are happening and letting your emotions get the better of you.

Melissa

And meditation can really help with that, too. Like, regular meditation can really help you embrace that state of calmness in those moments that you’re really stressed. So I highly recommend that as well. Okay. Is there anything else that you want to offer or say before we end today’s episode.

Ellen

Nothing that comes to mind.

Melissa

Well, as always, I love having you on the show. You have so much wisdom, so much value to provide. Also, I think it’s just fun for us to have this type of conversation in this type of formal way and other people get to learn from your experience. So good. So if people have questions or they want to reach out to you, I know last time you got some engagement on LinkedIn. Is it okay if people reach out to you on LinkedIn or connect with you on LinkedIn?

Ellen

Sure.

Melissa

Okay. So I will make sure to include the link to your LinkedIn in the show notes as well. People want to reach out and connect with you.

Ellen

All right, sounds good.

Melissa

Well, thank you again for coming on and being so open. Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. I truly hope you enjoyed it. If this episode resonated with you or helped you in any way. Please share it on your social media and tag me. I love seeing what you’re up to. Also please make sure to subscribe and leave a review and until next time have fun navigating your career knowing the life you want is totally possible.

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