Leadership Lessons for the Next Generation of Leaders at Merck Group

Having worked in the Healthcare industry for more than 2 decades, I am blessed to have identified my goals and aspirations at the very early stage of my career. As a Biochemistry major, I started off working at a lab as a quality specialist. I soon came to the realization that as much as I enjoyed being immersed in the world of science, being able to have close interaction with people and making impacts that matter to them, was what I really long for in a work environment. As naïve as it may seem now that I looked back, it was this modest idea that motivated me to take a leap of faith and landed on the business side of healthcare, where I started to bring people of various functions together and deliver the best available options to patients.

It is also with this idea, that I have always been cautious on how my decision or behavior as a leader might affect others, as I am a firm believer that, leadership is not defined by one’s title or position, but their ability to inspire others with their actions. Throughout my journey at Merck, I have seen and worked with leaders of all kinds, and I think it is fair to conclude that, leaders who are willing to help and inspire their team members find their intrinsic motivation and bring out the best in them as they work towards a common goal, are usually also the ones who deliver the optimal outcome for the organization in terms of business interests. Of course, not everyone shares the same method and approach of doing so, and I’m glad that there are a few role models at Merck whom I’ve followed closely while shaping my own leadership style.

Three leadership lessons I’ve learnt at Merck

  1. Treat each team member as a unique individual – while this may seem to be a “stating the obvious” kind of statement, it can often be overlooked in a corporate setting, especially in a more collective culture where commonality and cohesive decisions are valued over individual contributions. Yet when one comes to think of what all human beings really have in common, regardless of the cultural background, is to be respected and appreciated for who they are as an individual. One leader at Merck has shown me how powerful it could be by treating a team member as someone with a name and being present when engaging in a conversation. Offering reassurance to each individual that they will be heard and supported in their most comfortable way possible, could also be seen as a form of recognition and acknowledgement that drives people to go that extra mile.
  2. Share the real story behind the decisions made – leaders are humans too and being human means that there will always be flaws in us no matter how much we aim for perfection. In a wonderful world, we can be confident in the decisions we make as we know we have the sufficient information, analysis, and resources needed to achieve our goals. Yet more often than not, we are put in the position to deal with difficult situations where making tradeoffs is the only way to achieve our goal.  Under such scenarios, we can only try our best to maximize our gains while managing the loses, and it is even more critical for leaders to be transparent and honest with their team members and help them understand how and why such decisions are being made, so that we can come up with the best solution as a team. I have learnt from this leader that being authentic and willing to tell the real story, even if it was a failure, struggle, or simply just admitting that they do not know everything, does not necessarily take away your credit as a leader. Rather, it is a proof that taking calculated risks for impactful outcome is an encouraged behavior.
  3. Walk the Talk – this is essential no matter what leadership style one identifies themselves with. I see this more as a prerequisite for anyone to become a respected leader, as without the necessary and clear processes in place to support the execution and delivery of performance, leadership qualities mean nothing. In other words, leaders ought to walk the talk and to lead by example. When a goal is set and aligned, the next step is to examine how can we bring all the required resources together and remove the obstacles so our people can focus on the critical actions that will allow us to achieve our goal and aim for execution excellence.

I have always carried the 3 learnings with me as I progress and take on different roles. Whether it is relocating to a different country or being exposed to a whole new area that I have little reference of, I find theses learnings helpful. After all, it is the people that your surround yourself with that get you where you are today. A leader is the one that is able to have people willingly follow them to achieve one common vision that all of them believed in, and creating the environment where everyone can thrive together, is the only way that will get you far.

Five Pieces of Advice for the Next Generation of Leaders
It should be aggregable to all that if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that change is the only constant in life. We are living in a world full of uncertainty, challenging the norms and what we used to rely on to comprehend how things are constructed. One positive aspect of this is that, those who are only entering the workforce now and those who are in their early career stage could be far better equipped and agile than us in operating in a VUCA world. Whilst they might have different ideas and expectations of leadership given such experience, there are a few traits that I believe will remain the core of people-oriented leadership style:

  1. Be authentic – don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. “Fake it till you make it” is probably the last piece of advice that I’d give to anyone. The expertise and skills needed for certain roles can be accumulated and polished as you progress. Understand your areas of strengths and weaknesses, leverage your strengths to set examples for others, and allow those with traits to complement your weakness to inspire you.
  2. Be inclusive – acknowledge the diverse nature and attend to the needs of your team members that stem from such diversity. Show people through the shaping of policies and culture that all perspectives are welcomed, and that you, as a leader, are here to support their needs so that everyone can bring their best to work.
  3. Always put people at priority – this goes beyond creating development opportunities and proactively pushing talents of high potential to excel. In an unprecedented time like this, it is never more critical than ever to have everyone believe in what unites us as a team. It is only with a clear common goal and the understanding of how each and every one can contribute, that we can bring our purpose to live.
  4. Ensure transparency – overcommunicating can be a good thing sometimes. Following my last point, how do we arrive at the decisions we make and what are the impacts that these decisions will have, is something that needs communicating over and over again so that everyone understand where we are headed, and this is especially true when changes are being implemented.
  5. Give and take feedback – last but not least, always be willing to give and take constructive feedback. Being assertive and candid during unprecedented times are indeed critical, yet you also need to constantly be reminded of how you can do better to support people around you and grow together.

Good leaders come from all walks of life and there’s no one set of principles that defines good leadership. It is through constant reflection, adjustment, and high-level of self-awareness that one gradually grows into the leader that they set to become. It is a never-ending learning journey and also the most rewarding one. So buckle up and enjoy the ride!

About the author

Boon Huey Ee

Boon Huey Ee

Merck Group, General Manager Taiwan, Hong Kong & Macau

Boonhuey Ee is currently the General Manager of Merck Biopharma Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

She started with Merck in 2004 and brings with her over two decades of experience in the Healthcare industry, and over 15 years in Oncology. Boonhuey has in-depth knowledge of local and regional markets, and extensive exposure in various other complex healthcare environments.

Prior to assuming her current role, she was the Country President of Merck Malaysia, and had a four-year stint in China’s challenging environment, where she built the Oncology team to successfully showcase impressive performance levels and doubling on previous revenues. She was a member of the Global Oncology Leadership team instrumental in driving commercial and development in Oncology. In her previous role as APAC Oncology Regional franchise head based in Singapore she was responsible for 12 markets within Asia Pacific.

Boonhuey has strong business acumen and is a firm believer in the power of teamwork and collaboration. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, where she plays an active role in the Global Action team focusing on Women in Leadership (WiL), and co-founded the Asia Chapter in 2019.

She has worked in companies like GSK and Bayer prior to Merck and had attended executive and leadership programs in London Business School, INSEAD and CEIBS.

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