'Do your duty and a little more': Lessons in leadership from Dr. Kanchan Relwani

Kanchan Relwani, MD, leads with empathy, collaboration and openness at the forefront of her mind, making her a transformational leader in the biotechnology industry. 

Dr. Relwani, the senior vice president of medical affairs at Alkermes, a biotechnology company, has received a 2022 Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Luminary award for her strong leadership at the company and her profession.

After her father died from an incurable disease when she was 5, she  knew that she wanted to be a physician to cure others to avoid the same fate. She soon realized though that if she got into the clinical and research field of medicine, she could make a larger mark on people's lives than may be possible through practicing medicine alone, leading her to her current role at biopharmaceutical company Alkermes. 

She spoke to Becker's about how important openness, empathy and collaboration are to any good leader.

"I always approach every situation, every environment knowing that everyone has something to teach me because everyone knows something that I don't know," she said. "So I'm constantly learning from everyone at every level of the organization."

That, she says, helps her gain trust and respect from her colleagues and employees, making them willing to talk to her about any issues. She also prioritizes collaboration across the organization. 

Dr. Relwani said  while being a woman in the industry can be difficult, the situation has much improved through the new era of diversity and inclusion.

"In the past, women leaders constantly had to work harder, constantly had to overcome more challenges and had to always do much more to prove their leadership and accomplishments compared to her male counterparts. But it is just so wonderful to see how that has changed. It's easier today to be a woman leader than it was five years ago. So I think from a timing perspective, I lucked out!"

In terms of her peers, Dr. Relwani has always tried to lift others up and help them achieve their potential through collaboration and listening. 

"My approach has always been that if I make others around me successful, success will come to me eventually, and this I think is important for leaders to recognize. A colleague of mine says, 'If you lift as you climb, you can reach greater heights.'"

She gave some nuggets of advice for other young leaders and women in the industry. 

"I think my advice to them is as my spiritual leader always told me, 'Do your duty and a little more.' I think always being open and flexible is really important in this current environment and a few things you need to have to be successful as a leader in general and especially for women leaders, I think is to be accommodating, be flexible, communicate regularly and clearly, collaborate and be humble."

She also touts empathy as a critical skill for all leaders of today and a trait that all employees should aspire for. 

"If there was one thing that leaders should focus on in today's environment, I would say it's empathy, and that's really important right now to show people that you care, to show your colleagues that you care for them and you're listening to them."

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