What’s the Buzz?! Building Better Leaders and Teams

Chris Steer, Founder & CEO, Steer LLC, and Chris Frew, CEO, BioBuzz Networks, sat down to buzz about building better leaders and teams.

BioBuzz has been building life science communities for 14 years because we believe in the power of personal networks to unlock your career potential. For our next chapter, we’re building upon the success of our community to help solve today’s greatest challenges in hiring and career development. There is a better, more equitable way to connect talent with opportunity… and we’re building it.

Layering on top of our community of tens of thousands of life science professionals and employers, BioBuzz is looking to disrupt the $3.8 US life sciences staffing market with the Talent Lab.

Using the latest technologies, BioBuzz wants to solve today’s greatest challenges in hiring and career development and:

  • Search, match, and hire talent on demand (full-time, contract, project & gig, consulting, and fractional executives).
  • Close the skills/opportunity gap and diversify the talent pool.
  • Strike an equilibrium between hiring supply and demand.
  • Build community intelligence in and around biohubs, building a stronger regional ecosystem.

Chris Steer, Founder & CEO, Steer LLC, and Chris Frew, CEO, BioBuzz Networks, dig in more. Watch the video below to catch up on their conversation or keep scrolling for the full transcript.

Chris Frew [00:00:01]:
All right. And we are live. Hello, everybody. It’s Chris Frew with BioBuzz. Excited to come to you today with someone who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a long time as a friend, as a mentor, as a colleague, as an ecosystem builder, and as our inaugural guest on What’s the Buzz? So, Chris, dear, welcome.

Chris Steer [00:00:25]:
Thank you, Chris. Great to be here, my friend.

Chris Frew [00:00:28]:
Excited to have you. So, Chris Steer is the founder of Steer LLC, an experienced entrepreneur, experienced business operator, ecosystem builder, and division one lacrosse player. You are a father, so you wear a lot of different hats. And today we’re going to be talking about leadership and probably encompassing all of those.

Chris Steer [00:00:54]:

Chris Frew [00:00:55]:
So why don’t we start off? I’ve obviously known you a long time. Introduce yourself and what you do to our audience.

Chris Steer [00:01:01]:
Sure. Thanks. And first and foremost, thanks to you, Chris. Thanks to Biobuzz and your team. Cat, Laura, Rick, Adam. I mean, just the amazing group of people that you’ve collected and pulled together. I want to talk more about that later, but thank you. And then I’d say a secondary thank you to everybody who is joining the LinkedIn live session, because as Chris and I both aim to do in anything that we take on, it’s to create value, something that we talk about today that’s hopefully applicable, tangible, accessible for you to take back in your own leadership and management journey to your organization.

Chris Steer [00:01:46]:
So that’s number one. So that’s really where our focus is, Chris, almost 30 years. It’s crazy to say that, but for almost 30 years I’ve been studying and working with teams and running organizations and working with leaders, and that’s where our specialty and focus is, is leadership and manager development in strategic planning and organizational excellence, and also in family and board governance. But today, you’re right. Let’s get after it when we talk about leadership, because given where we are in the world with a lot of change, when we all crave certainty, we are in a bit of a crucible. Right. So the question always becomes in a crucible, a situation of severe trial that produces something new. So how are you going to emerge coming out of this crucible? And I think what we’ve seen in life sciences and biotech is we are very much in that crucible.

Chris Steer [00:02:40]:
So how are you leading so that you are emerging from this crucible as what you want to emerge as something better than you were going into it?

Chris Frew [00:02:51]:
Yeah, that’s a great point and way to really hit the bullseye and just ground everybody in that. In the life science industry, we’re coming off of 18 months, where the industry really kind of saw like 50% less investment. We’ve seen thousands of layoffs, which has really hit this industry. And we’ve seen a lot of organizations. And these leaders, they’re mission-oriented leaders. Again, they’re creating cures for cancer or diseases and medical devices. So the people that are pushing through this, as you say, crucible right now are doing so for something much bigger than themselves. And again, they’re operating teams with smaller budgets because they thought they were raising 10 million and they raised four.

Chris Frew [00:03:41]:
Or their budgets got cut because the public market got cut. I think, again, I’m very excited that you’re the one that’s kicking off this new impact-oriented series with us. So tell us a little bit about if you could continue to talk a little bit about how you look at leadership and the principles that you apply as you think about how people work through these highly challenging times.

Chris Steer [00:04:08]:
Yes, we’ll do. And I think that we’re going to keep it focused on that area so that we can create as much value as we can for everybody that’s tuning in. First and foremost, I want everybody to understand that. What’s the basis for this thinking, this approach, this process, these tools that we work with leaders and managers on? It’s grounded in four pillars, which I think is important to understand the foundation so that you can build off of logic. We can establish some trust with everybody that’s listening because it’s built on logic and research and experience. So the pillars are as follows. Chris, really quickly, just empirical data, right? 30 years of operating organizations working with thousands of leaders, hundreds of organizations. That’s the empirical data part.

Chris Steer [00:04:53]:
The second part that I think will also appeal to everybody in our realm today on this LinkedIn Live is the fact that it’s neuroscience and psychology-driven, because the more that we know about the brain, the better we are at connecting the dots with what we thought we knew about leadership development and organizational development. Number three is the social and behavioral sciences, the science of organizations, which is more novel over the last several decades, but still a considerable research data pool nonetheless. And then the last is just timeless wisdom traditions, the 3000 years or so of civilization, and seeing all the things that are done well and done poorly when it comes to leadership, those are the foundations for it. And when you pull out of that, when I think about change and the crucible, I think about two things that need to be present among leaders as you are guiding your organization in these kinds of times. Number one is that you have to show up as a learner right? And I think Chris Frew. Anybody who has worked with Chris or collaborated with Chris understands that he is a learner, not a knower. He believes in the idea of intellectual humility, and we have had to do a lot of that kind of positioning in this market over the last couple of years.

Chris Steer [00:06:21]:
We’ve had to rethink paradigms. We’ve had to rethink approaches, we’ve had to rethink talent. And so the ability to rethink, to learn, to hold on to intellectual humility has been the number one thing. And I would say the second thing, Chris is relentlessly prioritizing, because we’ve had to go through different cycles of priorities. Sometimes that’s happening quarter by quarter. So you have to go into this world of relentless priority on almost a daily basis to ensure that everybody is aligned and working towards the same goal. I’ll hit pause for a second there, but that’s what immediately comes rushing to mind from our perspective.

Chris Frew [00:07:08]:
Yeah, I love that. And as I’ve gotten to know you, one of the things I always appreciate is that, everything you do is built on these pillars, so it’s tied back. And it’s not just one way of thinking. Again, it’s ancient wisdom combined with modern science, and it’s data combined with social science. And I think that always resonated with me, especially then how you apply that to these challenges we go through. And again, you mentioned two very specific things. Now, one is that learning mentality, and the other one is relentless prioritization. And I know I can share.

Chris Frew [00:07:50]:
Just as far as a case study in life sciences, it was really weird. Unlike a lot of industries, life science was booming through COVID-19 because everyone needed vaccines and medicines. Our business as a recruiting company was just through the roof, and I think a lot of people in our industry, cash was flush. So in this new or kind of renewed way of working, that relentless prioritization is something that I see a lot of teams having to relearn. And it is kind of like, you forget how fast you lose kind of habits, right? But 510 years ago, we had the habits because that just was normal. And then COVID came, and everyone, it just changed everything. And so I think relearning this relentless prioritization, and it changes everything. Again, it changes as a vendor, what my role is with companies, and it changes how they look at talent.

Chris Frew [00:08:53]:
Like, do we need that headcount, or can we outsource it? Can we have a fractional executive come in? Can we have a consultant come in? That prioritization I think you’re seeing it from investors, executives, and line managers down as a key. So I think you hit the nail on the head.

Chris Steer [00:09:10]:
Well, I appreciate your examples, too, Chris, because they’re very real. They’re very relevant to the conversation, and that’s what you’ve had to do. And the good news about what we’ve learned about the brain is that we can build these new habits because we can change our neural pathways, and we can adopt different approaches. And that really speaks to, oftentimes, a new culture that you’ve had to create in the organization. Right. You’ve had to change the mindset of the organizations that you’re working with and the organizations that you’re building. And the good news is that we can, in fact, change our mindset to the point where we are establishing better habits. Because at the end of the day, what we’ve really learned coming out of COVID coming out of the last two years in life sciences and biotech, you learned that.

Chris Steer [00:10:02]:
What do teams need from their leaders? Care, one, clarity, two, connection, three. So a little alliteration there with the C’s and with the threes. But care, clarity, and connection are really foundational. We have seen coming out of COVID coming into this new world, this new market in life sciences and biotech. So what are you doing as a leader to provide that clarity? And that clarity, Chris, as you well know, comes in a role. Clarity, clarity of the vision of where we’re going, clarity in our budgets, clarity on my professional development. That clarity is the rock.

Chris Frew [00:10:45]:

Chris Steer [00:10:45]:
The second part of that is the care piece. Do I feel cared for? Am I valued and valuable, as my old friend used to say? And then from a connection perspective, do I feel connected to the work that we’re doing, especially in the midst of the challenging times? Do I feel connected to what our leader or our leadership teams are doing? And can I communicate that back to the rest of our department? But care, clarity, and connection, the reason I bring it up is that many leaders are finding that to be a very accessible way to start the conversation with their teams and ask the question, are we clear? Right. Should we be looking at this role differently, as you suggested, Chris? So part of that is the awareness to be able to be reflective about the questions you should be asking.

Chris Frew [00:11:39]:
Yeah, I’m curious, Chris. Obviously, we’re a hiring organization. That’s a big part of what we, you know, I wonder if you could unpack some more. How do you see leaders using those? How does that roll into and evaluating who they bring on or hire? So maybe you could unpack that a little bit more.

Chris Steer [00:12:02]:
Right, sure. The first thing that comes to mind, and these are in no particular order, but the first thing that comes to mind is ensuring that we are rethinking any biases that we may have had previously. And so, for example, given the world of distributed work and hybrid work environments, are we looking at this role through the right lens? Meaning, should this role look different? Should the accountabilities of this role, are they different now than they were three years ago, four years ago? That is a key part of the rethinking, comes down to the accountabilities, but it also comes down to what the expectations are, because what we see a lot when there is this in a challenging market environment, what happens often is we bring somebody into the organization and we expect them to be immediately additive or to have a little bit of a cape and goggles, right. And the idea is we need to be incredibly clear about expectations and maybe rethink what those expectations are. So in that hiring perspective, the different mindset, asking different questions. So it’s trying to reduce the bias part of it, also ensuring that we have the diversity of perspective that we want to have, and even the confirmation bias part of this, which is I need someone to check me to ensure that I’m not bringing somebody into this organization that foundationally believes everything that I believe in terms of what our process and our priorities should be. Those are a few things that come to mind. I’m sure you and I could sit here and for hours on that.

Chris Frew [00:13:49]:
Yeah. It’s like you want to find people, especially as an early-stage company, you need to have a lens when you’re interviewing and recruiting people. But again, if you bring everyone out in that believes that you do, you’re not actually being additive to the organization. And sometimes understanding the right type of, I want to say professional conflict is good or not conflict, but pressure. Who’s going to put that positive pressure on you to be a better leader? And especially now when we’re coming through this crucible, it’s important. The other thing just around hiring that I think of, when I think of care and as a leader, I think it’s important to distinct care from, I don’t know what the right word is here, but a lot of times we don’t want to give employees the keys to the ship. Right. Care sometimes means setting the right boundaries and not just giving away the farm.

Chris Frew [00:14:48]:
Right. So we came out of this environment where there was a lot that employers were kind of bowing down to get whatever staff they needed. But that’s not the best for the organization. That’s not always the best for the employees themselves. So care actually isn’t just giving your employees what you want. Care is clarity. Right. Care is being connected, but care is also clear expectations and appropriate level expectations, no doubt.

Chris Steer [00:15:18]:
And care is accountability.

Chris Frew [00:15:19]:
And care is accountability. Right.

Chris Steer [00:15:21]:
If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t try to hold you accountable. And by the way, as a leader, I am a steward of the organization. That’s a stewardship responsibility. So mission first? Mission first. And so you want to be able to identify and bring on to those teams the people that can be team players. The best teams don’t have necessarily the smartest or the loudest. The best teams have the best team players. And that’s a very important point to think about the energy that that person’s bringing onto the team.

Chris Steer [00:15:57]:
To your point, Chris, that they are intrinsically motivated and accountable. Accountability is care. We say that often consistency is greatness. You and I have talked about that many times. And these are the things that we need to bring into the organization and the use. Going back to the data and the science, assessments are valuable to be able to understand someone’s emotional intelligence or understand more about how they like to communicate. These are important elements, especially now when each hire can potentially move the needle so much. We’ve got to be very mindful of that.

Chris Steer [00:16:35]:
But I love how you’ve stenciled that, Chris. That care, clarity and connection to hiring, it’s a critically important piece of this. We need to be able to get that right, especially when resources are potentially challenged. And we need to be as close to getting it right as we can, which is tough.

Chris Frew [00:16:56]:
I mean, you also ran an organization in recruiting and hiring, right? So you know firsthand how critical that process is. Just to continue to build on this conversation with another topic that I think you do a really good job of talking about. Also I think that what I’ve seen in the life science space is that leaders, I think, are realizing they need to be a little bit more embracing of what I look at is in biotech. Over ten years ago, it was okay for the CEO to be this behind-the-scenes scientist, work with the board and the investors, but the leaders today really need to lead from the front and lead with energy. I mean, you say, you always say your chief energy officer, right, for Steer LLC. So maybe you can talk a little bit about that. How important is energy? Like relational energy? And as a leader, showing up to really, again, be the giver of that in that kind of steward role. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Chris Steer [00:18:03]:
For sure, Chris. And there are a few things that I would want to say about that. And the data supports all of this from a performance perspective. Look, this is not just because we want to feel good about ourselves or feel good about people feeling valued and valuable. It’s not just about that. It’s about the performance of the organization. Make no mistake, whether you’re for-profit, nonprofit, in the life sciences, or biotech space, you want to win, you want to perform. And so that’s the lens that I want everybody to understand this through.

Chris Steer [00:18:34]:
But from an energy perspective, as a leader, there is a positive relational energy that drives performance. It’s the kind of energy that affirms people.

Chris Frew [00:18:44]:

Chris Steer [00:18:45]:
It’s, oh, good, Chris Frew just walked into the room. Now I feel like, now we’ve got this, or now I feel empowered, or I know he’s going to ask me a really good question that’s going to help me break through this challenge I’m having on this project. And that’s the question I want you to ask yourself, which is, am I bringing the right kind of positive relational energy to the meetings, to my one-on-ones, to my investor meetings? I mean, I need to be able to create that kind of energy. And I don’t mean make no mistake, I don’t mean rah, rah, because that might not be what your personality is. It can be the energy that is supportive, encouraging, inspiring, motivating, and modeling, which is a big part of that. So that energy piece is critical. And, Chris, I think you are 100% right. You and I have said this to each other over the years, which is, people drive performance.

Chris Steer [00:19:37]:
You need a great plan, clear vision, great tools and technology, and you need that for sure. At the end of the day, though, are you obsessing about the right people? Right. Are you obsessing about people driving performance? And I think 20 years ago, we were very reluctant within the organizational environment, to have these deeper people conversations. We weren’t talking about emotional intelligence or culture that much 20 years ago. Fortunately, the data, both social and behavioral science data, as well as the psychology and neuroscience data, has caught up. And that’s good news for us as leaders because now we can be better equipped to not only hire but retain and develop and succeed across generations within organizations and teams. So I think you nailed it with your framing of that, though, Chris.

Chris Frew [00:20:39]:
Yeah, no, I appreciate it. Again, it’s. I want to think about where a lot of people are coming from and why that energy is important. Right. So I go back to especially.

Chris Steer [00:20:53]:

Chris Frew [00:20:53]:
Can bring the right team on board. Right. And now we have leaders that have clarity of focus and are prioritizing decisions. The right hires come on board when they come on board, that’s when you need them to hit their peak or the current staff. So we also have current staff that has been with us through this roller coaster. Right. We’ve got a team now who are dealing with their own level of fatigue and mental health and challenges. Because a lot of the organizations that we’re operating, especially in biotech, are small businesses.

Chris Frew [00:21:30]:
People are doing multiple jobs, they’re working hard, and they survive. Those of us that have made it through this past year, we’re doing more with less. Right.

Chris Steer [00:21:38]:

Chris Frew [00:21:39]:
Even with technology adoption. I would even argue that these people’s conversations are even more important with the adoption of technology. Absolutely. When I think about what a lot of leaders and teams are going through right now, what advice would you have for leaders or for the teams listening to this? That how do you show up with that energy?

Chris Steer [00:22:01]:
It’s not easy.

Chris Frew [00:22:05]:
It’s not easy to be able to show up and be on with that energy. So could you talk about some tips or advice that you have on how you see leaders preparing to bring that to their Chris.

Chris Steer [00:22:18]:
And it’s a. I think that’s a very appropriate and timely question for many leaders that we’re working with that you see in the marketplace. Chris. And I’m going to use you as an example here, because I’ve seen you model this behavior, and I’m saying this for everybody that’s watching, because I literally have so much respect and admiration for Chris and for Biobuzz and for Workforce Genetics and what they’ve meant to the community and building community and serving community. So I would say this, two sides of that. One side of it is, how is the leader taking care of themselves? Is that leader taking care of their own mental, emotional, and physical well-being? Because you can’t serve well if you are depleted. And so what are those things that you are taking control of in your own world, in your own life and in your own well being that will position you to serve better? And this is high-performer syndrome, I call it. Oh, I’m just going to wear myself down.

Chris Steer [00:23:24]:
I’m just going to do everything for everybody. I’m going to work 24 hours a day, eight days a week. Well, you can’t scale that, and you’re actually not doing anybody any favors by taking on that approach. Sometimes that may happen in short bursts, but it’s not sustainable. Right. And so, Chris, what I’ve seen you do is try to maintain your level of equanimity, right. The calm and composed mind in the midst of chaos. And there has been things that you have modeled, Chris, in the midst of very challenging meetings where I have seen you maintain your level of equanimity and that allows you to be the calmest person in the room and therefore the better thinker.

Chris Steer [00:24:04]:
Right. There’s an ancient phrase, the best fighter is never angry. Right. That can be said for the best fighter is never emotional. We are all emotional beings, but emotion is a poor advisor. And so that’s one half of the equation. The other half of the equation is habit building. You’ve got to build the right habits around how you are showing up for your team, especially in the crucible.

Chris Steer [00:24:29]:
You’re going to have better days than others in how you live into that standard. But the idea being that each day is this separate unit for you to show up with that right energy, especially if you are a leader in the organization, because, oh, by the way, you are not just a master of yourself. You have a great deal of influence on those in your organizations who are watching how you respond or watching if you react. Are you still able to ask good questions, to still critically think? And those are the things that you need to model for your organization. And for some of us, it requires effort. It requires the rhythms building into your team’s schedules to ensure that we are refocusing. This goes back to care, clarity and connection, Chris. Right.

Chris Steer [00:25:27]:
If you want to show up in that way with the right energy, keep those questions in mind so that you are, I’m going to sort of channel some stoic philosophy here, right? Response is where you grow. Response is where your success is. It’s not in the stimulus, it’s in the response. And so it’s the modeling of the mindset that will help your teams get through it.

Chris Frew [00:25:53]:
That’s great. Yeah. And that’s something that I’ve really learned to work on through you as well, is, again, just living in the moment and you can’t control a lot, but you can control your response, no question.

Chris Steer [00:26:08]:
And I wish I had learned so much of this when I was first starting as an attorney and an entrepreneur. Boy, I wish I knew some of these lessons, but thus that’s wisdom, right? That’s life. And the key is, are you learning and aggregating and synthesizing that learning so that you can put it into practice? And I think how you and your team. And I want to, again, call out Cat and Laura and Rick and Adam and others that are just doing a remarkable job in how you are serving this community and how you’re building community and some of the tools that you are building. I’m proud to say I’m an investor in BioBuzz, in the crowdfunding effort, and I just excited about how you are serving us. So thank you, Chris, and thank you, team.

Chris Frew [00:26:53]:
Yeah, well, I appreciate that, Chris, and I’m fortunate. I got a great team, and I second that to everybody I get to work with every day. And I, again, accredit a lot of what we’re able to do and what I’m able to do to the people around me. It’s easier to show up with this positive relational energy, and it’s easier to, when I start my day and I do my prep, knowing that I have a team around me again, it’s like sports, right? It’s like when you know your team is together and you’ve got that continuity and, you know, your clarity on the goal in mind, and we’re all focused on the same thing. And I know my team has my back because I’m going to fall like leaders fall the time, and I know my team has the back. It’s a lot easier for me as a leader to show up. It’s a lot easier for me to, again, show up with that energy, to know that I’m here serving them and what can I do for them? But it starts with them because that’s really where. And, again, I’ve heard a lot of people say entrepreneurship or business is the ultimate team sport.

Chris Frew [00:28:04]:
And, again, team is that key word that I think that gets us there.

Chris Steer [00:28:09]:
No question about it, my friend. You got to compete every day. And wouldn’t you rather compete with a bunch of people that have your back and are excited to be there, mission-focused, and it gives life purpose more purpose, I should say. Right? When you are able to compete, we get to compete every day. Yeah, that’s great. That’s fun. Let’s compete every day. And I know it’s hard, but I’d rather compete and compete with people that are willing to link arm in arm, and let’s get after it.

Chris Steer [00:28:40]:
And that’s a choice, man. That’s a choice, right. So much of this is within our reasoned choice in terms of how we show up. And so that’s the question. It’s like, put each day up for review as a leader, right? Did I show up? Did I compete? Did I bring the energy? Did I model the way? Did I create an environment where people can find this psychological safety, this place to thrive and to grow?

Chris Frew [00:29:11]:
Yeah. And it’s an evolving working process where those are questions that we’re asking ourselves every single day and figuring out along the way and picking each other up to do so. It is an evolving process. And I know, again, I come back to the fact that one of the reasons why we started off with you is because I know this year there’s energy in this market, but there’s a lot of people really trying to pick themselves up and hit this last sprint or a couple of sprints to bring their organizations back to where we need to be. So, again, I can’t thank you enough for being on today. I’m sure you and I could take this conversation for another hour or more. I’d love to have you back. If you’re open to it, come back.

Chris Frew [00:30:03]:
What’s the buzz? Is really our opportunity to talk to people in the community who are making an impact and who can impact others. As you mentioned, and as a lot of people know, Biobuzz is and always will be a community-focused organization. It’s in our mission, it’s in our vision, it’s in our culture. So what’s the buzz? Is our opportunity, again, to hopefully share some of your positive relational energy, Chris, with our community, make an impact, and help know with whatever challenges or whatever their crucible is that day or today. We’re hoping, they can come back and watch this when they hit that, and they need a little more of that energy and inspiration. So, again, from the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate it. Thank you for everything you do.

Chris Steer [00:30:46]:
Thank you, Chris. Grateful for you. Grateful for BioBuzz. Thank you, team.

Chris Frew [00:30:49]:
All right, our pleasure. Well, that concludes today’s program. Again, Chris is very accessible online. You’ll see him at BioBuzz events as well. So if you want to reach out or learn more about what Steer LLC does, I really encourage it. Again, he’s been someone that I’ve known for probably close to two decades now, which is crazy to say. We’re getting old, man.

Chris Steer [00:31:13]:
Yeah, man, I got you beat.

Chris Frew [00:31:14]:
Yeah. Well, hey, enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you to all who tuned in, and we’ll be back again soon.

Chris Steer [00:31:20]:
All right, thanks, Chris.

Chris Frew [00:31:22]:
Thank you, Chris.