How I Use Leadership Lessons to Help Develop Talent at Merck Group

For me, being a true leader is very close to my heart and I believe I’m still learning. Reflecting on some memories from my school days, I strongly feel that the process of learning begins very early on. Those days, we students were divided into different Houses for competitions and academics. And during one such competition, I was given the responsibility of leading the House that hadn’t won any annual shield/recognition for the past 20 years. As much as it was a challenge for me, it also provided an opportunity to learn something about leadership.

It was my first initiation to leadership, and this began for me during my school time. I soon realized the concept of leadership is much deeper. Over the last two decades, I have been fortunate to have gained multiple experiences, from which I have been able to build on to grow personally and professionally. I would like to share here a few of these experiences.

Leadership is the ability to identify individual strengths and capabilities
Going back to my school days, while we were working hard and utilizing the individual strengths of my House team, we realized that some decisions worked very well in our favour, while some didn’t. From being the laggard house to the leader by the year end and win the annual trophy for the Best House was the culmination of a lot of effort and decisions taken as a leader. That moment was an eye-opener for me, and the memories of the winning moment are still afresh.

It was then that I realized that leadership is not just about leading to victory, but the ability to identify strengths and background of individuals that contributes to success, for teams rarely fail.

There is magic for those who believe – that’s what I feel about leadership. Those who believe in the power of True Leadership will see how much a good leader can support in turbocharging the learning curve for talents. I am outlining a few key elements I think is crucial for trying to shape the thinking of future leaders.

Developing a thriving ecosystem
At Merck, I get wonderful opportunities to coach, guide and mentor talents professionally. I realize that it is the ecosystem you can create within the organization that will provide ample opportunities to the talents to comprehend, learn, experience, win or fail… but fail forward.

One such example at Merck India Biopharma is the GOLD program –GOLD (Growth, Opportunity, Learning and Development) aims to encourage cross functional collaboration, innovation, big picture thinking, a sense of purpose, leadership skills and a problem-solving approach. A set of teams work on cross functional short-term assignments and these teams, are guided by a lead and supported by a mentor. Short-term assignments contribute and create valuable impact on the talent’s career growth trajectory through its multi-pronged approach of designing, planning and implementing relevant solutions to challenging business situations.

Creating a culture of accountability
For me, this is a critical piece of leadership – Accountability means different things to different people. But the notion is centered around taking ownership for what they want to achieve in their path of success. When nurturing talent and providing with a thriving ecosystem, you are inadvertently placing the ownership on the talent. The idea is to nudge the talent in the direction of their dream by making them the charioteer of his or her own golden chariot. There is far more learning and growth when one moves along his own path by being more accountable for his own actions and decisions.

At Merck, Drive your Own Development is a concept that is rooted in this fact. You want to achieve something, you plan for it, you prepare for it and then you set out to achieve it. Along the way, there are leaders and mentors who will guide and coach you, support you on your journey. The wheel of your vehicle will be handled only by you.

Driving curiosity
Curiosity feeds the mind and soul. This spirit is so well imbibed in Merck and its people. The urge to do something out of one’s comfort zone and learn something totally different. I was an entrepreneur myself for few years and have also worked with a startup during early years. This gave me an opportunity to learn something new every time, whilst staying out of my comfort zone. The brief entrepreneurial journey and job at the startup helped me learn a lot about business functioning, funding etc.

At Merck, we truly believe in the power of curiosity. We believe no business can afford to ignore the power of curiosity in the workplace. Curiosity and Innovation go hand in hand. Finding time to be curious and innovate will have a positive impact on the growth of any product, company service.

Our Activate for Curiosity Program is a multimedia toolkit that has been created globally to help teams achieve science and technology innovation goals, increase workplace curiosity and strengthen their innovative thinking and attitude.

Short Term Assignments (STA) – An inhouse developed program that connects people’s skills set to appropriate growth-oriented opportunities across the Merck world. This year itself we have had quite a few of our colleagues getting into STAs. These projects usually cover all the elements I mentioned above.

I would like to end this note by stating the most famous quote of Spiderman – With great power comes great responsibility. I personally believe that the three elements I have captured here would resonate with you as well. Whether you are a leader or an aspiring leader, do think of these facets and work your way up from here. I am now, curious to know which of the above three aspects would you consider to be critical? Let me know your thoughts below.

Thanks, and have a great year-end.

About the author

Anand Narasimhan

Anand Narasimhan

Merck Specialties Pvt LTD, Managing Director

Anand has had an eventful career of around twenty years providing leadership in multi-national corporations across various functional domains. He brings a blend of managerial, technical, functional skills backed by a proven record in people management, developing strategy, business partnering and resource optimization.

He joined Merck as the as the regional controller in 2014 where he provided financial stewardship to the APAC business and guided the team to deliver aggressive growth and profitability expectations. His team set up robust systems & processes, analytical rigor, cross functional collaboration, strategic and functional thought leadership and has been instrumental in setting up processes to help monitor and drive the business. He has also worked on significant value creation and change management activities and on creating a diverse and strong finance community. At Merck he has been a key influencer for the adoption of the IBP processes, and also led the digital transformation agenda for the APAC commercial organization.

In his past mandate, he worked at Novartis as the Head of Business Planning for the International Region (Eastern Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific, 2011-14), and as the Head BPA India (2008-11) where he was instrumental in turning around the fledgling India OTC business. At Novartis he has rotated through roles in finance, strategy, and has also done a stint in sales. Prior to Novartis he worked in the advisory space with PwC and with Mahindra Satyam BPO where he headed finance and was a member of the management team that achieved a robust 90%+ year-on-year growth. He has also been an entrepreneur and headed his startup company.

Anand is an Associate Chartered Accountant from The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. He holds an MBA in Analytical Finance, Strategy & Leadership from Indian School of Business and an Executive MBA in General Management from IMD School of Business. He is passionate about developing people and building winning teams.

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