Leadership in Practice: Steve Hanley of Covidien Imaging Solutions

Leadership in Practice: A Conversation with Steve Hanley, President, Covidien Imaging Solutions

 Q:  Can you give me a two minute synopsis of how you got to where you are now?

A:  I started almost 17 years ago at Kendall Healthcare, which is another important part of Covidien, as a sales representative in Milwaukee. Over the next ten years, I went through the ranks of marketing and management.  My last position at Kendall was Vice President of Sales for the Eastern half of the U.S.  In January 2001, I came over to Mallinckrodt in the role of Vice President of Marketing.  Over the last seven years, I have had roles as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, General Manager in the U.S., and currently Global Business Unit President of Imaging Solutions. 

Q:  How has your leadership style changed over the years?

A:  As I have moved to different jobs at higher levels, I found I need to articulate a vision and communicate what I see as success.  If there is an approach that I hope has improved, it’s to give feedback more often and to embrace conflict so that it can be resolved early. 

Q:  What role does feedback play for you?

A:  It’s how we develop talent.  I understand it’s not a novel thought, but it is sometimes difficult to execute – to reaffirm what our employees are doing well and also give feedback in areas to improve. People want and deserve feedback. If you take for granted that you don’t have the responsibility to give feedback, you are making a mistake. We are able to coach our employees on smaller issues early and avoid some of the bigger problems in the long run.

Q:  Were there any critical experiences that shaped your approach to leadership?

A:  I have lived in four different areas of the country to take on new roles with the Covidien family of companies.  In each one, I had to reestablish my credibility with the group I was working.  Those times shape your ability to establish your leadership quickly, to give direction to the teams that you are working with, and to set the culture and tone that you want to operate in.  When you encounter challenging times, how you respond in those situations either fortifies you as a leader or goes in another direction. In our business, we have had manufacturing challenges and product availability problems. In all of these situations, I had to demonstrate leadership and confidence.  I had to learn how to manage in that kind of environment where being visible, upfront, and transparent is especially critical. 

Q:  Have you had any mentors to whom you can point that have helped you along?

A:  In 17 years, I have had several mentors.  Most would be considered informal mentors and many lead other functional areas.  I would look to them for advice and counsel.   I have been fortunate that my last two bosses played both the boss and mentor role.  In my case, one had more operational experience and the other has both a financial and strategic background.  It is an example of how having different mentors can speed development because of the diversity of perspectives.

Q:  What role does mentoring play in your leadership in how you approach your role as a leader?

A:   If developing talent is one of my critical tasks, mentoring is essential. There are two areas that mentoring helps development.  The first would be to accelerate growth, where the insight given by a mentor enables one to more quickly adapt and learn. Secondly, I think that mentors increase self-awareness. Good leaders need the ability to know how they are perceived. It is critical that mentors give candid feedback in a way that doesn’t have the attachment of a supervisor (“Am I going to keep my job?” “Am I going to get a promotion?”).

Q:  How you would describe the leadership culture of the Covidien Imaging Solutions?

A:  We have accountability and integrity as core to our culture.  It is a challenging environment where we are expecting more and more out of everyone in the organization. I hope it is seen as a respectful environment that regardless of your responsibility people know what they do is really integral to the success of the organization.  Where we want to go and where mentoring will help us is being more creative, taking more risk, and being innovative. If you have really trusted mentors they can help evaluate opportunities and encourage risk taking.  If we don’t punish people who fail, the mentoring environment allows you to take more risk and to be more creative. 

Q:  What sort of impact do you think that has on your business?

A:  I think it’s dramatic.  Our culture will help us recruit and retain top talent. 

Q:  Are there other things that the organization does to build and maintain its culture of leadership?

A:  We have Individual Development Plans, which isn’t really a novel approach. But, in Imaging Solutions, we have asked all of our salaried employees to hold quarterly individual development meetings with their supervisor.  Each quarter the employee is accountable to achieve these goals and to receive feedback from their supervisor how they are tracking against objectives. 

Q:  Earlier, you talked about the ability to fail. What does that play in both the leadership in the organization and the culture you are trying to create in the organization? 

A:  I believe that innovation and creativity will come only with risk taking. How the leadership team responds to individuals who took chances with understood risk is important. If they managed that program well and took the risk that was articulated, we need to not have negativity attached to it, but give another opportunity to succeed.  Encouraging risk taking without taking away accountability is challenging.

Q:  Is there anything else you want to add about leadership or the role developing leaders plays in your organization?

A:  Mentoring is about accelerating development.  We recognize that building a bench is critical. The benefits we get from developing leaders help improve the culture and creativity, and they increase our ability to improve performance in the long run.