“I’m now leading projects on longer-term strategy, and the programme has helped me in leading a team to work on strategic direction.”

Huw Bannister

Global Diagnostics Director, DNA Damage Response, AstraZeneca


As the leader of a team, Huw Bannister was looking for a formal qualification to really make his credentials sing. Completing the Next-Level Leadership programme gave him exactly what he was looking for.

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My background

I was promoted from a country leadership role, where I was the UK lead for diagnostics, into a global role as the global diagnostics director for DNA Damage Response, three years ago. I have a background in pharmaceutical sales and joined AstraZeneca in a sales role almost eight years ago. I went from talking about drugs to oncologists in a sales capacity, to working on the diagnostics of the tests you need for these drugs. I now work in oncology pharmaceuticals, specifically on the tests that you need to have to understand the molecular analysis of ovarian cancer primarily, in order to prescribe the treatments that we manufacture.

I completed the Next-Level Leadership programme as I was preparing to grow into a bigger role in a growing area of my organisation. Diagnostics is a growing function in pharmaceuticals, and AstraZeneca is also growing, so the thinking was that I’d get a formal leadership qualification with an eye on leading bigger teams in the future. I’d led teams before doing the programme, but my leadership suggested that I get a robust, formal qualification and they recommended the programme at London Business School.

When researching the programme the content was really attractive to me in terms of the kind of leader I want and hope to be. I strongly believe in being a leader as a coach, but the concept of creating a safe environment, that Professor Dan Cable led us through, was new to me. The ethos that you can’t grow in an environment of fear, and that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, is something that I’ve subconsciously tried to do in the past. So the programme really hammered home what I felt already but wasn’t consciously thinking about, which was really stimulating.

Real world content

“The programme really helped me become more aware of how to empower my team to make their own decisions. It gave me some real world contexts, rather than just the academic side of coaching models.”

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Learning to listen and empower your teams

The classes and Faculty on the programme were excellent. The Reflective Best Self Exercise was very interesting, and it’s something I still think about. We are not good at telling people when they do well, but we’re good at telling them when they don’t. I recently gave a member of my team feedback on their salary review and I made sure to point out the moments when they were at their best, and they were happy and motivated when they left. I can see that aspect of the programme in what I do now as a team leader, and it’s such a positive thing. I also found the individual and group coaching sessions incredibly stimulating. I’ve just had my last follow-up session with my coach, and it was invaluable.

I’m now working to make my team feel comfortable in the knowledge that they can experiment and risk making some mistakes as long as they learn from them. Just because something has gone wrong, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to grow. I’m also applying the leadership concepts to my own development. My manager has told me he can see how I’ve grown since doing the programme.

The improvisation class made me realise I need to listen more. It was one of the things I remember really wanting to apply to my work. I was skeptical at first, but it was fascinating. I remember taking lots of notes and reflecting on how I could change my communication style with others. I thought I knew how to communicate because I’ve worked in sales, but it’s always helpful to be able to critique yourself, which the programme helped me do.

Transformation into a strategic leader

“I used to think leadership was something you just did as part of your job, but the progamme has played a large part in making me realise that I actually enjoy it.”

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Becoming a better leader

I’ve learned that if you invest time and energy in leadership, what you get back is magnified in your team. I’m now more drawn to leadership roles than I was before, and I’d like to lead bigger teams in future.

I’m now leading projects on longer-term strategy, and the programme has helped me in leading a team to work on strategic direction. You can’t really develop a strategy in isolation, so learning to be a better leader involves bringing people together to achieve that aim.

The programme took something I was relatively familiar with, which is coaching, and made it much more practical and meaningful for me in my current role. By using very light touch coaching methods from the programme, I’ve noticed a step-change in my team. I’ve been in this role for three years, but it’s only in the last six months since doing the programme that I’ve felt I don’t need to stress about everything all the time, because my team can cope with these things. It’s helped to free up my time, so everyone can benefit from me being a better leader of my team.

As a result of the programme, I’m now more consciously aware of myself as a coach as well as a leader for my team. If I don’t coach them, how are they going to grow, and become the best leaders? That’s really important. I’m also now more mindful of active listening, and not being so quick to jump to ‘solution-mode’, but actually understanding the problem or situation from the perspective of someone else.

If I were to recommend the programme to someone, I’d say that it’s been hugely positive in reaffirming that being a nice person, and focusing on the good things, is not a weakness. You can be a strong leader by empowering people; you don’t have to use the stick all the time, the carrot is probably more effective. Doing the programme has the potential to reframe your thoughts on yourself as a leader; you may already be a good leader, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a better one.

Next-Level Leadership

Navigate the critical transition from operational manager to strategic leader.