Leadership Reimagined with Chris Toth: Key Takeaways
At Potential Project, we are always looking for ways to engage with clients on topics pertinent to the ever-changing world of work. We recently launched a new webinar series called Leadership Reimagined, which takes the format of a virtual ‘fireside chat’ between Potential Project CEO Rasmus Hougaard and a senior leader who exemplifies compassionate leadership and being more human at work.
The inaugural Leadership Reimagined forum featured Varian CEO, Chris Toth. It was an engaging conversation full of candor, poignant stories, and lessons learned. Chris has been with Varian for more than two decades, and together with his team is focused on creating a world free from the fear of cancer. To hear the full conversation (45 minutes), click here. Short on time? Check out some key insights and takeaways below.
The world of work has changed dramatically in the past 18+ months, and for Chris and his team at Varian, that reality has been clear and present throughout. From Rasmus’s perspective, there is a real need for more human leadership in the workplace today, and Chris agrees. "The pandemic has taught us that we need to invest in the whole human being, not just the human being that comes to execute the work actions. The most successful companies realize their greatest asset is the people of the organization, and they don't just say it, but they put forward actions to live it."
Chris discusses what the pandemic has been like for his company, which coincided with an integration into the Siemens Healthineers organization. His main piece of advice coming out of these past months? Have the conversations that matter. Ask, ‘what really matters most to your people and your organization? What will be your North Star? What will you center yourselves around?’ And then try to be human when you have these conversations. “If you approach each situation and everyday trying to center in and around what matters most, and things don’t go the way you want them to, it’s ok. Reset, reboot. It’s never what just happened that defines you, it’s actually what you do next,” said Chris.
Chris also touched on Varian’s partnership with Potential Project, and the One Second Ahead program, a leadership and people development program for individuals across the organization. The foundation of mind training taught in the program was a major asset for Chris and his team as they navigated through both the pandemic and their combination with Siemens Healthineers. "You have to think about the diversity of your organization and the diversity of perspectives, and meet people where they are, not where you want them to be,” said Chris. Taking that approach, Chris and his team took a step back, slowed down, listened to the inputs from across the organization, and charted a path forward through the trying and uncertain times of the past 18 months.
Varian’s work with Potential Project has had a major focus on resilience and agility, especially during the pandemic. “Think about what your calendar has looked like during COVID,” said Chris. “Constantly on video, you could move from a conversation with a shareholder, to a conversation with a customer, to a difficult conversation with an employee or even an incredible conversation with an employee, to an All Hands and then to an external interview. That requires incredible agility. But if one of those things goes wrong, that requires incredible resilience.” Chris believes that if leaders can take resilience and agility as key learnings from the pandemic, we’ll all be much stronger and more able going forward. “Don't ever forget, we're all just human beings going through each day, and the more we can bring our whole selves to work, the more effective the organization will be."
Rasmus asked Chris why purpose-driven leadership has been so important to his organization. For Chris, it’s simple. “Life’s short and we all have different perspectives of the impact that we want to make during our time here. When you connect with real purpose, you’re not going to get everything right, but you’re going to be very genuine.” People and teams who are connected to a greater purpose are more likely to move towards a shared destination that will create the greatest impact.
The conversation covered myriad topics, but here are some of the other key takeaways:
- Slowdown to speed up. It’s okay not to have all the answers. Slow it down, take a step back and assess: what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, and what are all of the resources available to us to solve that problem?
- Be human always. Whether you’re having a hard conversation, showing humility when you’ve gotten something wrong, stepping back to allow another perspective to shine, delivering difficult news, or answering a really tough question, humanity is paramount. Your relatability, capacity for compassion, and pure humanness can go such a long way.
- Adopt a beginner’s mind when looking at new and challenging situations. Chris went back to the basics and adopted the ‘beginner’s mind’ perspective when the pandemic hit, looking at the situation with a knowledge that he didn’t have all the answers, but together with his team and his people, they’d figure it out.
- Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. This is often the natural inclination of a leader, but Chris explains that a much better approach is to bring a group together and try to create the smartest room.
- Culture isn’t the soft stuff, it’s THE stuff. You can have the best PowerPoint slides, the best strategy, but you need the people to get there. The way you get the people there is by investing in them and creating a strong culture and environment for them to get behind and feel excited about.
Rasmus asked Chris for one piece of advice that he would give to his younger self. His answer? “Don't take yourself too seriously. And don't be a “me monster”. It’s not about you, it’s about the purpose, the goal, and how we’re going to get together as a team.” As the famous phrase goes, ‘a rising tide raises all ships,’ and the same happens when we all work together as a united team towards one common goal.