Kathy Fernando On the Microsteps That Help Her Show Up As the Best Leader For Her Team

The Senior Vice President and Head of Pfizer Ignite and Pfizer CentreOne says these small habits improve her well-being and her leadership.

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I started my dream job last fall leading Pfizer Ignite, an end-to-end developmental and clinical service offering for biotech innovators to help advance novel therapies to market. While I was thrilled to have earned this position, I noticed that my well-being became negatively affected as I wasn’t getting enough sleep. The role opened doors for me to work on exciting projects and have incredible conversations with colleagues across the organization and even leaders like leaders like our Chief Scientific Officer. However, I found it difficult to shut my brain off when it was time for bed. I found myself waking up at 2:00 am thinking about all the exciting projects and opportunities that we had at our disposal. The lack of sleep quickly became a vicious cycle as I became increasingly tired and unable to deliver to the best of my abilities. I knew I had to make a change.

In looking for ways to restore balance, I read books, talked to peers and experts, and even got myself a sleep coach. I truly went all out to try and understand the source of the issue so I could address it at its core. Once I diagnosed the problem, I created structures to help me implement changes and reverse the vicious cycle I was on. I am a routine-oriented person and I knew that I would only be able to address these issues if I embedded healthier habits into my routine. 

Over time, I’ve taken on Microsteps to help me prioritize my well-being. I’ve been able to create a habit of working out five times each week and drinking vegetable smoothies every morning to ensure I’m getting a good dose of healthy nutrients. I schedule my workouts in the morning, as that is the most optimal time to do them given my work and family schedule. In addition, I cut down on my meetings, scheduled breaks during my workday, and even put meditation blocks on my calendar. 

While I’ve been able to add new habits into my routine, I’ve also taken some away. For instance, I no longer watch sports on TV but as a result, I am able to play sports with my family: tennis with my husband and basketball with my kids. This is one of the most important changes I’ve made as I recognize that my role is not one that naturally lends itself to spending large amounts of time with my loved ones. And yet, spending quality time with my husband and kids is critical to my well-being. I’ve now made a commitment to attend every event at my kids’ school. I will put these events on my calendar and protect that time –– and I encourage my team to do the same. 

As a leader, I recognize that I play a critical role in supporting my teams’ well-being, which is why I make sure to speak openly about my personal life at work. Telling people how you find joy and balance outside of work is important. Everyone hears me when I beat my husband at tennis or win a poker game that I hosted. I also encourage my team to take vacations and recharge. I make sure they find a person to run point in their absence so they can truly unplug and rest. I do this myself, which is why I’ve been able to take vacations during the last six months and visit places like Japan and the Galapagos with my loved ones. Time off allows me to come back to work feeling completely recharged and able to be a better leader.

Lastly, I’ve been very intentional about creating the right environment for returning to the office for my team. Despite my original apprehension, I have seen great outcomes as a result. Returning to the office scared me at first, as I had personally designed my home office like an ashram: a haven of personal wellness and productivity. Nonetheless, working from home also resulted in moving less and not enough sunlight. My Apple Watch is way happier with me when I go to the office! But most importantly, the time I get with my team is invaluable. We play ping pong together at the office and make sure to maximize our time together. In hindsight, there is something unnatural about staring at a screen for so many hours and something truly unique and magical about being in the physical presence of others.

Published on
June 14, 2023
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