Talking courage with a Director

(3 minute read)

Al B

 Alistair Barkhouse, Director of Vitae Consulting, has over 25 years’ experience in the global pharmaceutical environment with roles with local and regional responsibilities.  With extensive Commercial experience that began in vaccines sales in the UK market, and including national responsibilities in Australia through to Senior Commercial roles in Europe and Asia Pacific, he has a track record of producing and driving commercial results.  In particular, he has a high success rate of world leading product launches across a variety of therapeutic areas – most recently in the HIV market (4 world-leading launches in the last 3 years).  Recently, he has launched his own consulting business that sees him providing guidance in all areas of commercial excellence.

How would you describe courage?

For me, courage is a blend of doing the “right” thing regardless of the personal cost and a willingness to take risk to advance the business objectives.

The “right” thing relates to what’s ethically and morally correct.  This can be in relation to a person’s standards, moral code or values, and ensures that the action is true to these.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

On a daily basis, we’re all faced with decisions with what to do with our resources – all of which are finite.  Whether it be money, time, effort or thought – we get to allocate these resources in a particular manner – usually observable as a specific behaviour.  Experience tells us that some of this behaviour is likely to provide us with personal pain and at the same time provide the business with much better longer-term prospects.  Having the courage to take the short term “pain” for the long term “gain” epitomises courage in the workplace to me.  Sometimes this might manifest itself in NOT carrying out a particular task so that you can get on with something more important or trying something innovative that a competitor may not be willing to attempt.

Please describe 1or 2 examples of times in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?  

Bill Gates quoteRecently, whilst working for a multinational corporate organisation, the Australian leadership team (of which I was part) was in a meeting with the Regional Commercial Vice President and the Regional Human Resources lead.  The visitors were talking vaguely for some time (at least 30 minutes) about ‘culture’, ‘perception’ and ‘the team profile’ without specifically stating that there was a certain perception of the Australian team in the regional office.  They were clearly trying to tell us something – but didn’t seem to have the courage to tell us specifically what it was.  It became apparent to me that someone needed to ask them directly – otherwise the opportunity to receive some specific feedback was likely to be missed.  I took the lead and asked directly if there was something they wanted to tell us about the perception of the Australian team in the regional office.  This allowed the regional leaders (though I use this term from a hierarchy point of view rather than behaviour) to move from a vague, rambling, round-about discussion to a session that provided us with specific feedback upon which we could work to improve.  I was enabled to be courageous enough to take this approach by a mixture of experiences that told me we were wasting our time with feedback that was non-specific; my internal dialogue also helped me to formulate the decision to go ahead with that approach.  This allowed an improved dialogue and for the organisation to make some important decisions on how to better interact with the international team.

While I felt a mixture of anxiety in working up the courage to take this approach, it was followed by a sense of relief and pride.


From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?

If you’re talking about the people who are in charge of the Australian Government – I’d say they’re not!!  This is a classic “Catch-22” situation for me.  If they were true leaders, they’d be leading with courage.  Sadly, we often see them taking the easy way out – or at least that’s how it appears.

That said, I see courageous leadership in Australia all the time.  Some of this is from people in the public spotlight.  A great example amongst a great many is Turia Pitt who inspires often with her courageous behaviour in the face of personal pain and suffering.  Reading her story and learning more about her ordeal was instrumental in helping me to make the decision to leave an (overly) comfortable, secure job to pursue a life outside the corporate world.

Alistair can be contacted at

We’re fortunate and grateful for enjoying Alistair’s friendship, knowledge, skills and experience in our workplace and also in our home.  @CourageChick

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