“Mandala’s Resilient Leadership program has been one of the most powerful interventions I’ve been exposed to in the workplace, changing how I work with my team and the people around me. One of the challenges I’ve had in my career is learning how to have difficult conversations. I find that now, I’ve been able to understand how to communicate in a way that’s both direct, and empathetic of people’s experiences. Every manager or leader in the workplace would benefit from what Mandala has to offer.” – Irene Nunes, VP of Global Regulatory Affairs
Tell us a little bit about you.
I contribute to Flatiron Health as the Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs, and I’ve been at the company for a few years. I’m a New Yorker, born and raised here. A lot of my personality is shaped by the culture here – a direct, action-oriented place. It’s not exactly the kind of environment that encourages people to pause. I tend to adopt a scientific, learning mindset and be methodological in my approach .
What’s your role like?
As Flatiron’s first head of regulatory, I was brought in to develop and lead a group of professionals in regulatory science. My team consists of professionals who have to understand the pharmaceutical industry, its evolving regulations and the nuts and bolts of drug development as well as the healthcare delivery environment. At Flatiron we work with colleagues from very different sectors of the industry, such as software engineers. So we have a highly broad and cross-functional role.
What kind of management and leadership support have you gotten over the years?
Most management and leadership support that I’ve gotten is formulaic. It’s things you can learn from a textbook. What I haven’t gotten is how to incorporate individualism, how to have difficult conversations, and how to help others work through a changing organization.
In past years, managers were taught to distance themselves from the people they managed. It’s a very hierarchical approach to management. Things are different now.
How has the workplace changed?
Ten years ago, what I would say to an individual is very different from how I’d approach an individual today. Here’s the context. I’ve professionally grown up in traditional corporate America, which was very much structured and hierarchical. But coming to Flatiron is very different. It’s not hierarchical. And for what it’s worth, I’m middle aged. I’m an older generation compared to the majority of the people I work with.
Ten years ago, things were very structured. No one is “asking” you to do anything. It’s not optional. It’s a given. Today, it’s more of a discussion about understanding what’s being asked and why? Do you have the skill-set and support?
So bring us to today. What were you struggling with?
As I reflect on the changing nature of roles and responsibilities and the work environment, and what this means for how people interact, inward reflection has been required. And that’s where the struggle starts.
But that’s what was good about Mandala. It helps leaders reflect and calibrate within. This is where most of the change comes from. The tools that were provided were really helpful as well because they were anchors to a process.
It involves acknowledging why what I’m observing is uncomfortable and having that inner dialogue first. Because no matter what, even if not articulated, the pitch of your voice, however you’re squinting your eyes, it all gets communicated. It hampers the way you listen.
How would you describe Mandala?
I would say three things: self-awareness – our backgrounds and feelings; and then as a phased approach, awareness of others – their backgrounds and their feelings; and the third is tools and a process..
For example, applying the feeling wheel to “how are you today?” Just simply answering with the next layer of detail and putting a structure to how to approach the simple question can be so helpful. And then the toolkit around moving from observations to feelings to needs and requests is a phenomenal way of capturing our experiences and their communication.
How has it helped you?
Mandala’s program has been one of the most powerful interventions I’ve been exposed to in the workplace. It’s changed how I work with others.
Before, when faced with difficult moments, my natural inclination was to recoil. If something felt uncomfortable, I’d say a couple of things and withdraw. It never led to a resolution.
Now, it’s a bit different. I’m freer to create a dialogue in a way that’s constructive without anxiety. If the anxiety and uncertainty surfaces, I can better check-in with myself.
And in doing this, it’s helped me pause. It’s helped give me space, and then the people I work with some space. By pausing, I can ask myself if I’m in the right frame of mind. It allows you to consider choices and timing– what will this mean for others?
Would you recommend it to others?
Yes. I think any manager or leader in the workplace would benefit from this program. And here’s why – it’s so that YOU can be yourself and be freer. And in doing so, you can create space for others to do the same. The change always begins inwards and then it flows outwards.
What makes it different from other programs?
I think the big difference is that most traditional programs are formulaic. Meaning they give you lists of behaviors to prescribe to; do X, Y and Z, and that’s how you create a target culture archetype.
Mandala’s approach is more about understanding and seeing what’s happening inwards first. And in doing that, it encourages and fosters a generation of space and pausing to understand options before you act. This approach fosters individuals to be themselves.
Any final words?
If we brought Mandala into the workplace and in the world, I think we’d be better listeners. Imagine a world where people listened and heard each other. And for companies, on a broader scale, a program like this targeted to leaders can really help shape the extent to which individuals would feel “all in”.