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  • Jackie Neilson

Notable Leader: Vas Narasimhan of Novartis

As a leadership coach, I am interested in all things leadership related, including the real lives of notable leaders. Our social media-driven world allows views into the minds of many leaders; one that I am particularly intrigued with right now is Vas Narasimhan MD, CEO of the pharmaceutical company Novartis. According to the Novartis company website, Dr Narasimhan has been CEO since February 2018, and has led a strategic and cultural transformation within the company.


He is a self-declared CEO “reinventing leadership.” I believe he may have coined a new term, “unbossed”, which is at the heart of his corporate culture aspiration. I first noticed his approach to leadership in a McKinsey Alumni article covering Dr Narasimhan’s early tenure in his CEO role. The stand out comment in my view was his reference to humility and kindness as essential leadership traits. Other leadership characteristics he called out include a strong sense of purpose and being intellectually curious, both of which resonate with me and my experiences coaching leaders. His comments reminded me of The New Leadership Paradigm proposed by Steve Piersanti, President of Berrett -Koehler Publishers. (See the New Leadership Paradigm infographic below).


In a recent LinkedIn article, Narasimhan addressed his most frequently asked question, paraphrased by me as: how do you manage the intense demands of your role? I found his answers reflective of his characteristic humility, and his medical background, while clear and compelling. Discipline was the most important characteristic, and discipline across four life dimensions: 1) Mindset, 2) Movement, 3) Nutrition, and 4) Recovery. Within Mindset he emphasized the importance of monitoring your self-talk, a concept that recurs frequently in my coaching practice. Under the dimension of Recovery, he called out actions like taking all your vacation and doing your best to take weekends off, basically undoing the “working 24/7” badge of honor.


Dr. Narasimhan’s stated top priority at Novartis is cultural transformation: from hierarchical, high performance oriented to inspired, unbossed, empowered and curious culture. I will be cheering from the stands.



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