The 4 ways AbbVie’s Daniela Toia grew her career

And overcame self-doubt along the way

Photo of AbbVie's Daniela Toia, vice president of regional manufacturing in Europe, with quote saying, "It’s been a bit of a journey for me, building step by step the understanding that I could do very well in my career — and I could even push myself to do more than I ever thought was possible."

Daniela Toia always had big aspirations for her career. But with them came self-doubt.

“At the very beginning, I was unconsciously limiting myself in what I could achieve,” Daniela shares. “While I was aspiring to have a position in functions where I could have an impact, I could not see myself leading those functions.”

Turns out, she could.

Daniela is now the vice president of regional manufacturing in Europe for AbbVie, the sixth-largest biomedical company by revenue in the world.

“It’s been a bit of a journey for me, building step by step the understanding that I could do very well in my career — and I could even push myself to do more than I ever thought was possible,” she says.

We sat down with Daniela to talk about the five strategies that helped her grow her career and how she overcame self-limiting beliefs along the way.

Perfect is the enemy of better

“At the very beginning of my career, like so many other women, I was very much convinced that I had to be super competent and prepared, and perfect as well, in everything that I was doing, at work and in my personal life,” Daniela says.

This idea of achieving perfection felt debilitating at times, and Daniela viewed certain leadership positions as unattainable.

“I could not forgive myself for not being perfect and this was limiting myself. It was this idea of: how can I be more if I’m not enough now?” she says.

Daniela started to realize that being “competent and prepared” was important, but it wasn’t everything.

“I wanted to be in control of any single detail, which becomes almost impossible when your span of responsibility grows. Actually, I learned: you need to prioritize what to focus on. And you need to acknowledge that it is more important that your team feel accountable for those details, while you work to build for their growth and their success, at work as well as in personal life.”

Being deliberate in developing yourself

Since the beginning of her career, Daniela has believed that she could work on herself, understanding her areas of improvement and being very deliberate in developing herself against those areas.

“It’s about taking small steps,” she explains. “If you have a clear understanding of where you want to go and where you are in this moment, that’s when you can work on filling the gaps that are preventing you from getting there. This helps you to grow in a very deliberate way to arrive at the next step. Then the next. And then the next.”

Vocalizing her career goals

When Daniela grew from a quality assurance position to a site director with AbbVie, she recalls the importance of being outspoken about her career intentions.

“It was clear to me that I wanted to be a site director, so I worked to make it visible to others who were in a position to help me get there,” she says. “I see other women leaders struggle to do this or feel shy in doing this. But if you are aiming to be considered for a position, the company has to know that you want to get there.”

Leaning on others

“Don’t be shy or intimidated when asking for feedback from your peers, your boss, or even the people working for you in order to understand how you can be a stronger leader,” Daniela says when reflecting on how she continued to advance in AbbVie.

“Even when I was staying in the same position, I still faced challenges,” she adds. “And meanwhile, as I was growing as a leader, I was also growing as a person. Leaning on others helped me to navigate those challenges.”

Later in her career, Daniela decided to start working with a coach — and she hasn’t stopped.

“I highly recommend this to all leaders. My coach helps me to understand myself and develop a level of self-awareness that, on one hand, helps me understand my strengths, and on the other hand, helps me to understand what areas I need to work on.”

Embracing lateral moves

Daniela’s path to leadership hasn’t always been linear — sometimes, Daniela explains, growing as a leader has meant making lateral moves.

“It’s important not to be afraid of having diverse experiences,” she says. “I had the opportunity to experience different types of jobs within AbbVie. Sometimes, these were roles that I wouldn’t have chosen as my preference, but I decided to take them. And it was great because I had the opportunity to broaden my ability to look at the business in a way I couldn’t before.”

As Daniela pushed herself to take on roles outside her comfort zone, she also developed confidence in her aptitude for learning.

“Those experiences that brought me out of my comfort zone are the ones that enabled me to grow holistically — from a professional, leadership, and personal point of view.”

The next phase in her career

Daniela enjoys reflecting on how far she’s come.

“An exercise that’s really helped me is looking behind to see the journey I’ve been on and the success I’ve achieved,” she shares. “This gives me the confidence that I really deserve to be where I am… It’s a continuous journey to get to each new role, and I’ve overcome various challenges to get to this point.”

Now, as a senior leader, Daniela is shifting her focus toward a new arena.

“I want to develop the younger generation and help those who are going to face the same challenges I did in terms of developing confidence along their own growth paths,” Daniela says. “This is very important to me, especially in the context of women leaders.”

Her favorite piece of advice? “Don’t pose a limit for yourself, and don’t allow anyone else to limit you. It’s simply a matter of willingness and taking those small steps,” she says. “You will get there.”

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