Like many of us, Miranda Gottlieb could have never anticipated what her 2020 and 2021 would look like.
In January 2020, she was working at a large healthcare company in Shanghai. By July 2021, she was criss-crossing the U.S., leading a marketing team at a new startup working to end a global pandemic.
After a year at Curative, marketing on-the-go testing, vaccinations, and other essential health services, Miranda has many thoughts about the nature of leadership. We spoke with her about leading through unpredictability, leading with a thick skin, and leading with humanity.
Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Note: Curative is one of LeadersAtlas’ corporate clients.
A year-and-a-half ago, you were working for a large healthcare MNC in Shanghai. Now, you’re leading marketing at a U.S. startup that’s helping end one of the deadliest pandemics of the last century. How did you end up here?
My journey is one part serendipity, one part risk, and one part just responding to the environment around me. I was working for Johnson & Johnson. I had a dream job – I loved my life and I loved what I was doing - working with healthcare startups looking to enter China or Asia as well as startups from Asia looking to expand globally.
Through that experience, I came to the U.S. for a meeting. I ended up getting locked out of China due to international travel restrictions. I was working remotely with a team based out of Shanghai when I got a call from a classmate I had met during my year at Schwarzman Scholars in Beijing. He said, “Hey, I’m doing this Covid-19 testing startup. We’re a couple hundred people and no one does any marketing for the company. Would you like to come help?”
I said, “No thanks.” I had a great job, I loved my life in China, and I figured I would be returning eventually.
After a few weeks, he reached out again and told me I should really come check out the lab in California and meet the team. If I didn’t like it, no harm, no foul. So, I decided to go out to East L.A. I met this young leadership team that was unencumbered by the 30 years of head start that other major companies in the testing space had.
And the opportunity was: did I want to come build something really important right now and not know what the future holds? And it sounded pretty interesting. I wanted to see if we could make a difference in this pandemic and, in the future, create accessible healthcare for people all over the U.S.
It’s pretty well known that startups are high change environments and then you add the pandemic and everything else that happened this past year. I imagine predictability was just off the charts. How do you lead in that kind of environment?
I wrote it down every day on pieces of paper, whiteboards, anything really: “Time is literally the only thing we can’t get back and people are dying. So, what is it we can do today?” Every choice, every decision, we should be asking: “Does it get more people access to testing? Does it get more people access to vaccines?
We gave the people we hired that urgency. We asked them: “Can you move quickly enough? Do you want to make an impact today and tomorrow and not be sure about what’s going to happen a year from now?” If that’s interesting to you, then this is probably the right environment to supercharge how you spend your days.
We want to paint a clearer picture here for readers on the marketing function at Curative. What kind of work were you doing day-to-day?
We did a bit of everything. Some days, it was tactical work such as making designs to wrap our mobile vans and kiosks. Others, it was the higher level work of building a brand. When Curative pivoted to COVID-19 testing in March 2020, we had to build the entire brand from scratch. That's everything from the brand guidelines, the messaging, the logos. So some days, it was working with designers to measure vans and other days it was preparing our leaders for interviews with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
You were able to pull together a highly talented team without having met many of them in person and also being relatively new to the company yourself. How were you able to do that successfully?
One strategy I employed that I think is really effective: ask someone to solve your problem. Give them the same problem and see what they come up with. I also look for a couple other characteristics, such as curiosity and kindness. How do they interact with me and the staff? Are they kind to our recruiters and schedulers? Are they nice human beings to work with? After all, we’re going to spend a lot of time together in high pressure environments. I also like getting people who aren’t on my team to interview people, because candidates will need to work cross-functionally once they’re in the role.
You’ve talked about how leaders aren’t necessarily judged on their ability to execute on individual tasks, but more on their judgment, strategic vision, and ability to work with high-level stakeholders to move things forward. What was that like for you going into this role a year ago?
That was the biggest change I saw in my own development that I didn’t expect. Working at a large company, someone always gave me a task and said, “Here’s what we’re looking for. Here’s where we’re going.” I’ve learned that being an individual contributor to someone else’s vision is a very different position than being a leader.
Being a leader can be a position of real vulnerability. You are the person setting the strategic vision and you’re asking for something from someone else. I’ve learned to be confident in my decisions, that even if someone disagrees or has a different take, I’m in this position to make those hard decisions. That doesn’t always feel good. It’s vulnerable. It’s tough. I’ve really had to thicken my skin sometimes.
How has Curative’s sense of purpose sustained over a long period, especially with the uncertainty, the burnout, and other factors of the past year?
When we hired folks, it was with the intent that we’re going to do this really hard thing together. For example, sometimes a freezer might go down on a Saturday night and we all need to go and make sure that the vaccines are saved. So, it’s not for everybody. I think I’m borrowing from an Elon Musk quote: “Nothing impressive was ever done in 40 hours a week.” I don’t think that’s sustainable and we don’t need to sustain that indefinitely. But we were in a pandemic. Now, we’re reconnecting and creating new norms and standards for how we want to make an impact moving forward at a realistic pace.
Our sense of purpose is sustained by having active conversations about the future. How can we continue to make a difference and support one another to achieve what we want, which is transforming healthcare with urgency, but not with a burnout mentality?
What advice do you have for young leaders in healthcare right now?
Have a thick skin. It’s intimidating. It can be intimidating to be a young woman who sits at the table. The way I deal with it is to think that every day my skin is getting thicker. There are people that may view us as naïve and inexperienced.
But I remind myself that I’m in this position for a reason. I was hired for a reason.
My counterparts are young, they’re dynamic, they’re interesting. They truly want to change the world, specifically in healthcare. U.S. healthcare is incredibly complex; every day I learn more about how deeply rooted U.S. healthcare systems are.
And part of the beauty is coming at it from a fresh perspective, which comes from youth, which comes from working abroad and seeing a different healthcare system, and also from questioning why things have to be the way they are.
We’re a really young team that cares less about the status quo and more about radical ambition and transformation. That means having a thick skin, a positive attitude, and a fresh set of eyes.
How do you empower your employees to achieve their full potential?
Treat them like they’re humans. There are so many easy things you can do to motivate people that are free and don’t require a complex set of structures. It’s calling them and saying “hello.” It’s telling them the things they do well. It’s giving them the day off when nobody expected it, because it doesn’t cost me anything and everybody needs a mental health day once in a while. It’s approaching your team that way, as opposed to, “they work for me, they need to do this.”
The second thing is bringing people together and investing in them. It sounds simple - bringing people together and treating them like human beings. Yet I don’t think it necessarily happens everywhere. We’re not just here to work. We’re here to make a difference and people need to be excited about who they work with and why they do it.
We believe that everyone has a superpower. What’s yours?
Being in control, but not being controlling. It’s a fine balance. My team told me that I can empower people to do things that I can’t do and that they want to do better. I can put people on those important tasks who are really good at those tasks, but also give them the freedom and the space to be able to do it in a way in which they know they can deliver.
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