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Intentionality and Authenticity in Leadership

Kristen brotherson talks about authentic leadership at alcon
Kristen Brotherson

Coming from a different time and a different organization, Kristen Brotherson was surprised to be given a seat at the table when she arrived at Alcon as a sales representative. “Leadership wanted to hear from us what we were learning from the doctors on a new product being introduced. In my previous role, we weren’t seen as the experts, but Alcon makes the relationship with the eye care provider a foundation,” she says.

In that environment and in her most recent role as Vice President and General Manager of US Vision Care at Alcon, she has allowed her own authentic leadership style to evolve. She remembers an early incident where she discovered it was OK to show up not wearing the dark tailored suit and heels that was the expected uniform for women in business. “I had packed for a business trip and vacation. One of my friends had breast cancer at the time, so I had a pink streak added to my hair. And at the last minute before I went on stage, I chose to wear the more casual stretchy dress. I was surprised by the number of women who came up to me afterward saying that they felt they could relate to a speaker who looked like them.” It made her realize that people are watching, and her style of presentation had engaged people.

Kristen Brotherson in red dress sits on panel with 2 men during an Alcon presentation
Photos courtesy of Kristen Brotherson

Some of it is timing, of course. There are more women in leadership throughout the industry, and there are signs of a little less conformity at some levels and events. “These trends toward intentionality and authenticity have worked in my favor.”

BEYOND MODELING

Modeling leadership is important, but there must be some outreach element to it. In other words, it can’t all be on those who see a leader to emulate them. Brotherson says she seeks out those she can encourage and pull forward. “I’m fortunate to have the platform and have been given these opportunities. But I also sit in many meetings with people from all levels of the organization, and I make it a point to recognize someone with talents. If I see something special in someone, I’ll try to make sure that person has an opportunity to shine.”

Brotherson, her husband, their two children and a dog
Brotherson and her family

Leadership is cultivated and learned, she says. “I’m not sure anyone innately is the whole package. We’re all very different. I think of my siblings and my friend group. Everybody brings something different to the table.” What she does well, however, is build and drive high-performing teams. By identifying the different talents and skills, the team becomes stronger because of the diversity of perspectives and skills. “Some of the greatest gifts I’ve had are when a person who used to work on my team says that I had an impact on their life.”

STRATEGIES THAT WORK

Brotherson shares some of the strategies that she has integrated into her leadership style.

  • Emphasize accountability. “I try to model that. We magnify the wins and hold people accountable for the results. It’s not that we want to catch someone doing something wrong, but we can share these stumbles openly and without shame.”
  • Prioritize. “I’ve learned how to say no. My work gives me tremendous satisfaction, but I also have a family with two children. When those two demands on my time conflict, the answer for me is easy.”
  • Work hard at work. “When I get to work, I don’t dilly dally. In order to make the most of my time at home, I have to make the most of my time at work. I come in with a plan, and we drive hard. Organizational focus is critical. That’s what keeps us successful and the team feeling secure.
  • Chose what you can let go. Brotherson has a clothing subscription. It’s so much easier than shopping to refresh a wardrobe. She has groceries delivered. “On Fridays, we take our 90-year-old neighbor out to dinner and then Friday to Monday morning is family time.”
  • Build your network. Your tribe will understand that you cannot make a birthday party one state over or need to skip out on some gatherings. They’ll support and encourage you, she says. When your co-workers become part of that network, they’ll support you as well. “If I tell someone we had a particularly challenging night with the kids, the team quietly pitches in.”
  • It takes time and effort. Don’t be put off when a project or implementation doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like. “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

INNOVATIONS

Brotherson is taking that attitude into the role she was promoted to in January of this year. Her goals include keeping Alcon’s high standing with brands such as SYSTANE and PATADAY. “In the contact lens space, we have outstanding innovation in the reusable lens space. We feel that wearers of monthly replacement lenses deserve to have a great wearing experience as well, so our TOTAL30® lenses show the investment in this space,” she says.

“You’ll hear more about what we’re calling our “water innovation lenses” which include all of the lenses that have this permanent water surface technology. And at SECO, we launched the Marlo app as a digital eyecare ally with the independent eye care professional.”

Getting all members of a team and the different facets of a company working collaboratively and efficiently requires leaders at multiple levels. Yet that kind of leadership can look different now than it did a decade or two ago.

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