Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

Recently I had the privilege of getting to know an incredible leader, and I want to tell you about her. Ramona Sequeira, President of Takeda’s Global Portfolio Division, embodies a rare aptitude I call “compassionate agility”—the ability to prioritize empathic connection while deftly and boldly navigating challenge and change. If you’re leading in a difficult and/or transitional context, Ramona’s story is for you. Read on and be inspired!

I’m here.

Ramona Sequeira took a breath, relaxed her shoulders, leaned forward and gazed intently into her computer’s camera as she prepared to hear her colleagues’ responses to the question she’d just posed. Even with the constraints of virtual communication, her presence projected a soothing calm and connection to her audience. Everyone on the call felt her willingness to listen and her genuine curiosity to understand their experience.

It was spring, 2021, and Sequeira was President of Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A. and just beginning her tenure as the first woman to assume the role of Board Chair at PhRMA. She had set up regular virtual roundtable discussions with cross sections of the 3,000+ employees in her business unit.

The chief impetus for these roundtables was employee pain and confusion. Social upheavals from the previous year (including the Covid-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and others) had deeply affected Takeda’s workers. Many were seeking a response from leaders on issues like racialized hate and violence, and inclusion practices for minority employees. Other challenges loomed, too: confusion and concerns around vaccine mandates, the company’s return-to-work policies and procedures, and more.

I’m Listening.

Empathic listening was the heart of Sequeira’s strategic response. In the early days of the pandemic, she’d quickly recognized the need to flip the traditional leadership equation—80% business to 20% people—upside down. Over the years, she’d gained the confidence to define her own unique leadership style—one that aligned with her personal values and enabled her to become the skilled, courageously empathetic leader who was needed for this moment. A woman of color herself, she was aware of her biases and actively working to overcome them. She had learned the importance of sharing aspects of her story as a way of acknowledging what others were experiencing and feeling—including people very different from her. In this way, Sequeira was able to create spaces where employees could bring their honest questions, feelings, experiences, and stories forward—instead of the sanitized, buttoned-up versions.

During these roundtables, Sequeira was highly attuned to people. Her goal was not to opine about political stances, nor to defend company policies, nor to fix issues on the spot, nor to explain away challenges using corporate catch phrases. First and foremost, she simply wanted to recognize ways in which people felt confused and fractured. She wanted them to know that, amid their suffering, work was a place where they’d find a community of support, safety, trust, and advocacy.

Tell me more.

Sequeira went into the roundtable meetings not with a rigid agenda, but rather, with a handful of open questions about the topic at hand. For example: “What’s on your mind regarding x topic?” “What are you going through?” “What are your roadblocks?” “What are you not seeing that you want to see?” “What do you need from me?” At times, the feedback she received wasn’t rosy. But she would remain calm and graceful, nodding her head thoughtfully and asking more open-ended questions. “Tell me more.”

Sequeira was demonstrating the art of empathic listening. What effect did it have on the people and teams she led? Rushmie Nofsinger – former VP of Communications at Takeda and a frequent participant in these roundtables – says this:

“I was blown away. It was the epitome of leadership. We had faith in her. We all knew that, wherever we landed with these issues, at least it would be done with the appropriate amount of care, concern, and thoughtfulness. Sequeira set a new standard and model for what leadership looks like.”

I’m responding.

Sequeira’s roundtables didn’t just give her employees a place to experience support in stressful times. The trust she instilled and the wisdom she garnered also made her a more trusted and efficient leader. Because she understand the situational pain points so deeply, she was able to efficiently respond with targeted, effective solutions that people could get behind—the very definition of agile leadership.

Lead like Ramona.

If people are looking to you for guidance and assurance in a time of challenge and change, don’t be afraid to lean into the uncomfortable topics, questions, and stories. Ask open questions, pay attention, be courageously vulnerable. Don’t defend, just listen – both to others, and to your own inner wisdom. Your presence and care will instill trust, build resilience, and increase flexibility and efficiency through the changing of the tides.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.