Dr. Marko Vesic - Definition of a Successful Leader

This interview with Dr. Marko Vesic delves into leadership and trust-building in the pharma industry, discussing the challenges and strategies in a remote work setting. Marko is specialized in rare diseases. In his current role, Marko provides comprehensive disease and product knowledge of severe pediatric conditions of epilepsy. During his career in the pharmaceutical industry in the area of Product and Medical Information Management, he has gained experience in product launching, strategic marketing, and sales. Marko holds a PhD in Molecular Biology. He studied at the universities of Novi Sad and Tuebingen and is currently completing the Pharma MBA at Goethe Business School.

Marko, what are the characteristics a thought leader must have? Are there any specific demands in the pharma industry?

When trying to answer your question, I think about what specifically a leader is, i.e., what is the difference between a manager and a leader? Usually, a person is called a leader because he or she is very inspiring, and this for many reasons: They are compliant and have strong moral and ethical values; share their vision, take you on their journey, motivate and support your own creativity and potential. They have the liquid discretionary effort, and you believe in their vision, you want to join their journey and you give perhaps a little bit more than you may have done otherwise. I think the key to being a successful leader is being authentic. What this broad generic term “authentic” really means is less important here - there are dozens of definitions. Important is, from my perspective, that authentic people are normally people you can trust and rely on. Trust is core of successful leadership, any form of leadership. In the pharma industry, the patient-centred approach ensures the highest moral imperative. To really live this approach, you must be people/team-centred first to your own team. That is one of the main tasks of thought leaders and only organizations with such leaders will really be able to live the abovementioned approach.

You said that trust is the basis for good leadership. How would you define trust in the business context? Are there any necessary preconditions for trust? How can a leader build trust in a virtual environment? How is it possible to maintain it?

Yes. I believe that trust is the essence of leadership. Trust allows a team to accept and commit to its leader’s goals and decisions. To understand the value, importance, and role of trust, it is important to understand what trust is (since it exists a way longer than any corporate leadership). Diving deeply into the human past, the primordial role of trust was important for our survival. When prehistoric people went hunting in groups, they did this with people whom they relied on and whom they trusted. So, evolutionary to obtain the trust you need time, time spent together in the same environment.

Nowadays – remote, especially virtual teams offer exactly the opposite: physical distance, lack of gestures and body language and perception of environment. That is why the biggest challenge for leaders of remote teams is to build trust!

Swift trust could be a solution. Swift trust is critical to virtual teams when there is limited or no time to build interpersonal relationships. It is a trust based on an early assumption that the given team is trustworthy, but this assumption is verified through actions around the joint task, scheduling, and monitoring.

Are there differences between industries regarding the digital transformation and maintaining trust? How do you think is it possible for the pharmaceutical industry to maintain trust within the company? What role does a Thought Leader have?

Trusting colleagues should be the primary leadership style – most of the people have no intention of betraying your trust. Why should they? Especially if we know that trust is an essential factor for survival. Thought Leaders should build a culture of trust! An environment of trust and live a self-fulfilling prophecy. The organization provides foundation and leadership commitment. Micromanagement does not mean trust! Controlling people on a daily basis creates an atmosphere of no trust. Leave “how” to team to decide. You would be in a good leadership by keeping your employees constantly informed, particularly now that we are working more virtually. Leave no space for speculations. It can create a cognitive dissonance because people will guess what the intention behind is – transparency.

In recent years, many teams have worked from home for several months at a time. What challenges have you faced since the start of the COVID pandemic? How can trust and successful communication be maintained in a digital environment?

I am aware of many serious challenges within the virtual environment, e.g., decreased cohesiveness, reduced team collaboration, social isolation and effect on mental health etc. With my direct colleagues, yes, we are constantly fine-tuning our working relationship and communication. We meet in person sometimes, mostly to learn about each other and if there is some issue, we are tending to deal very quickly. The main scope of this in person meeting is to build a cohesiveness as a team and to identify with the organization and its values. We keep our virtual meetings as short as possible with agenda and scope and hence we are “more present” creating an impression of presence even if geographically remote. The key is communication! Planned and purposeful – we communicate very strongly the intent behind our actions. We tend to delegate decision making to the whole team. If you trust them, you know in which direction the decision is going to be anyway – you give them trust to make decisions.

I learnt this a few years before COVID from my former German GM who was a pioneer in introducing a full remote working approach. Yes, in Germany and yes in pharmaceutical industry and it worked very well! 

Share and rotate power (in form of project lead for example). Private not public reprimands to deal with the failure of performance of individuals, public celebration to recognize people. This must be particularly emphasized due to distance. These are all challenges for micromanagers. I have never heard that working remote in the pharma industry is not productive. On the contrary, the results are even better, but I always hear that people are “encouraged” to go back to the office?!

„We don't measure time, we measure results“, is one of the experiences with our study group at GBS. There is a right to disconnect! When working, we often collaborate with people in different time zones and different cultures. One cannot expect somebody to be always in disposition. In Germany we dine early and after 8pm we are free, and we cannot expect the same from somebody coming from Italy and Spain where they normally work until late and dine when we in Germany are on the way to bed. We are five people coming from 5 different countries! More diverse it cannot be.

I am looking forward to my future role and to apply things learnt at GBS and improve myself by having an opportunity to obtain more practical experience.

Listen and listen, working on self-awareness. Leadership training of any kind is successful with high self-monitors. Such individuals have the flexibility to change their behaviour. I am constantly working to improve this.

*Disclosure: Not everybody can work remotely because this not always possible. However, whenever possible, remote should be a normal option for one who wants it and not a privilege. The market has been changing and this process is unstoppable – companies who do not follow it will face more and more hurdles to attract good talents.