Up close and personal: Reacting in a crisis - The Naji Gehchan story

This pharma leader worked in a war zone. Now he’s using the same tactics to navigate the pandemic

Naji Gehchan is no stranger to crises. Growing up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, conflict and uncertainty were ongoing realities. And in his early career as a volunteer Red Cross first responder, he became an expert at reacting in emergency situations.
In his current role as Senior Director of Sales at Lilly, that experience is proving to be invaluable. As he leads 150 employees through the pandemic, he continues to rely on the lessons he learned as a first responder.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, back in March, with all that was going on at work and personally—I have two little kids in school—I started reflecting on my past life experiences,” he says. 
Specifically, Naji thought about a terrorist attack that he responded to while with The Red Cross in Lebanon. He and his team were first on the scene, and they made the courageous decision to go into the bomb site to rescue survivors. 
The chaos at the bombing site made it challenging to stay focused among the flaming rubble, and shouts echoed from every direction. Naji and his team scrambled to care for the victims on the scene, while coordinating with police and firefighters. Journalists and witnesses crowded the scene as well, adding further noise and confusion.
And always in the back of Naji’s mind was one other nagging concern—the attack might not be over. There was always a chance that another bomb waited in the rubble. 
The rescue lasted for six hours. During the grueling and dangerous operation, it was crucial that Naji and his team remained focused.
But how? With so many distractions and fears, how did he concentrate on his role in the rescue?
Naji says there are two keys to staying focused during a time of crisis.
First, he says that it is crucial to remind yourself of your ‘why.’ Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why does it matter? Who will be positively impacted if you do your job effectively? 
During the rescue in Lebanon, Naji and his team knew their purpose. “We were there to save people,” he says simply.
But if you’re not a first responder, it might take more reflection to understand your “why.” Take some time to consider what drives you to do what you do. For many pharma professionals, the purpose that propels them is the desire to create better outcomes for patients. When they connect to why that matters to them—that’s when the magic starts. 
What drives your passion to serve patients—your ‘why’—is as unique as your DNA. For many, their desire to help others can be traced back to moments in their childhood, key influencers in their life, challenging life experiences, or personal passions. 
Whatever it might be, that purpose will help you push through the toughest moments of any crisis, whether it’s a personal challenge or a global pandemic.
Naji’s second key for facing crises? Concentrate only on the variables you can control. “We really only control the things we know how to do—our job,” says Naji.
That point of view can fundamentally change your response to a crisis. In the case of the pandemic, we know that none of us alone can influence the virus itself, but we can control how we respond to it in our small sphere.
We can do everything in our power to make a difference in the lives of the people we touch in our work—colleagues, physicians, patients, and their families. In our industry, we have the power to make real impacts on health outcomes in a time when healthcare has never been more vital. 
Focusing on what matters also requires tuning out that which you can’t control. Resist the urge to get caught up the never-ending news cycle or the chaos of social media. Instead, keep your efforts trained on your purpose, concentrating on how you can make a meaningful impact.
Naji is the first to admit that it’s not as easy to do as it may sound. It’s taken him a lifetime of navigating crises to hone his response. Even then, the unique challenges of the pandemic have affected him, too.
Still, it is possible to stay resilient in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Take it from someone who’s been there.

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