Suddenly you are standing alone as the head of a team, in the focus of attention: Is it time to take control as alpha wolf? Not for Lukas Berger, who in his first year as Marketing Director Respiratory Diseases at Roche above all placed his emphasis on: Listening and trust. In the interview he explains why good leaders are not lone warriors and which mantra had accompanied him through the first twelve months.
Lukas Berger studied commercial sciences at the WU Vienna (University of economics and business). After the state certification as medical representative he started in his first pharmaceutical position in the area of marketing and sales. He then worked for Roche in Singapore as project manager for the introduction of the Launch Readiness Process. Since his return to Germany he leads a team of four employees as Marketing Director Respiratory Diseases.
Lukas, you are Marketing Director in the area of Respiratory Diseases. What are you responsible for?
In the Respiratory Diseases marketing team we jointly develop solutions for the problems of our customers and strategies to anchor the positioning and differentiation of a medicinal drug for the treatment of idiopathic lung fibrosis in the minds of our customers. One of my most important tasks as Marketing Director is to lead the national Marketing Team consisting of product managers, trainees and interns. This means that on the one hand I coordinate the content of the marketing activities, but on the other hand also integrate the local activities in the global strategy. A second important aspect of my task is to further develop the marketing excellence in my team: I promote the further personal development and the professional competence of the product managers.
What were you doing at Roche before this and how did you become a manager?
I had already collected first leadership experience in the FMCG ("Fast moving consumer goods") area. I started in the pharmaceutical sector as product manager in the Primary Care area. As then the opportunity arose to become responsible for the indication strategy for one of the most prescribed biologics, I took the challenge and in this position collected further leadership experience. I last led a cross-functional and multi-cultural virtual Launch Readiness Team for Roche in Singapore to prepare the market introduction of the launch products. "Cross-functional" has high priority at Roche when the development of market strategies is involved. For this task different expertise is needed, for example commercial, sales, medical, policy and access competence. This makes the cooperation quite fascinating, but also especially challenging. Especially because often not all employees sit together at the same site but in "virtual" teams and work on a joint project from various locations.
To what extent was it helpful for you to slowly approach a leadership role?
For me leadership is not so much a question of talent, but more a matter of interest in people and a craft that one can learn. But hereby one naturally also makes mistakes. In my previous stations I had learnt how important it is to develop a joint vision and goals; what it needs to promote coordination processes and integrate different interests and bring about decisions. That was a good training in leadership and prepared me to lead a team.
What did your first day as new leader feel like?
Probably a bit like what a "Blind Date" feels like. When one changes to a functional leadership position one is confronted with the expectations of the employees, and especially at the beginning some of these expectations are not explicitly verbalised. This is a challenge that one clearly feels during the first days as boss. I was completely aware that I am now no longer only Mediator and Coach, but that my employees also have expectations towards me as manager. One must quickly find the right balance between active control and delegation. What is important and what is urgent? Which of my tasks can I, and which of my tasks should I delegate? There are no secret formulas for this because every team is a unique mixture of talent and potential.
The nicest thing for me in the role as manager is that I now not only support my employees in their tasks, but can also place an emphasis on their further professional and personal development.
What is your advice for other new managers on their first day?
At the beginning one should not be tempted to fall into the action mode too much. One should rather first stake out the expectations and find out: How does my team work and feel? What is the joint history of my employees? What do they need to be able to optimally fulfil their tasks? What happens on the inter-personal level? For this at the beginning it is very important to simply be there, to listen, absorb impressions, and to not immediately impose one's stamp on the team. One is now no longer a one-man show, but a facilitator and process supporter.
Soft skills, for example empathy, are therefore decisive for a successful leadership career?
According to my experience, leadership solely on the basis of professional competence is no longer the ultimate benchmark for all things. Through the diversification of the tasks and the complexity of our sector one can no longer be the expert in everything. Therefore soft skill factors such as empathy and interest in people are becoming increasingly important. Roche also pays attention to this when filling management positions, respectively works with managers in developing these competences – because one can definitely acquire them.
How were you familiarized with the new position?
A very important point is the support through the superior. Thereby I don't only mean the professional topics. Above all when the corporate culture was involved, meaning "how Roche Grenzach ticks", I was always able to count on my boss.
Apart from this within the scope of the Buddy system new employees at Roche are given a mentor for support – even if they themselves hold leadership responsibility. With my mentor I was able to informally and confidentially discuss topics that I had encountered in my new position. In addition to this there are platforms on all hierarchy levels – from Product Managers through the Marketing Director up to Franchise Lead – on which we share our knowledge and engage in personal exchanges. For example all Marketing Directors regularly sit together in the Marketing Director‘s Meeting. There we of course discuss professional topics, but we also engage informally.
What do you feel to be the greatest difference between an employee and a leadership position?
As employee I concentrated on structures and processes. As manager I concentrate on people. This means specifically distributing responsibility over the team and giving the team members space to grow and learn on the basis of their competence. Exactly this step is often also the most difficult when one directly changes from a manager position to a leadership position.
During my everyday working life I invest a lot of time in personnel development. I ask myself what the competences and interests of my product managers are, where my team wants to develop further and then together with them we decide which trainings and projects my employees can utilize for their development.
Was there any reading material or were certain suggestions or guidelines available that you found especially helpful during the first year?
I can definitely recommend Fredmun Malik`s "Führen, Leisten, Leben (Managing, performing, living)" as reading material, but far more important is the exchange with experienced colleagues.
What especially left a mark with me was when a different manager once told me how important it is to not concentrate on the weaknesses of the employees but on their strengths. This statement became like a mantra for me because I firmly believe that it is more productive to use energy for the development of the strengths instead of on the compensation for the weaknesses.
A leadership position brings a lot of responsibility for people and projects with it: How do you manage to switch off occasionally in spite of this?
As I mentioned, especially at the beginning of the leadership position one feels the demands of the team. Therefore regeneration time is especially important, which one specifically needs to plan for. For me for example the weekend is sacred. Then the company cell phone remains in the briefcase because I need this time to replenish energy for the new week. I don't rely on any special, elaborate relaxation technique but simply spend quality time with my partner. In the last instance everyone draws their strength from different things. It is only important to take the time for it.
Which moment during your first twelve months as manager do you especially enjoy remembering?
When I started with my new position I was initially very much in the listening mode. I wanted to find out who these people are in my team and what they enjoy doing. I took a lot of time for this. But I was nevertheless not sure whether this was the right approach. Then because of this after six months I sat together with my team and invited feedback. The feedback to me was then: "Oh Lukas, simply stay the way you are!" That was really a very nice moment! This was when I realized I had not made any grave mistakes and that everything had gone well – on the professional and the emotional side.
What is your advice for a person on the path, who is just starting with the first leadership position?
I feel two things to be especially important. Firstly: a positive attitude! My suggestion would always be to approach the team with a very, very large portion of trust and to assume the employees are good and know what they are doing. For me this promises more success than initial scepticism, because a leader greatly shapes the team culture. If the manager radiates trust then this also shapes how the team works together. The influence that one has in this respect as boss is often underestimated.
The second thing is an honest, healthy interest in the person. We all are not machines or cogs in a gear box. Whether on one hierarchy level or across levels: In the final instance people work together who also wish to be perceived as such. One needs to take the time for this. And this is possible here at Roche.
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