Bayer’s Dr. Sebastian Guth: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Relate to people on a personal level — be honest and authentic

Relating to people using your head, heart and gut is so important. Human relationships and connectivity inspire people.

Dr. Sebastian Guth leads Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals business in the Americas Region, including the United States, Canada and Latin America. Prior to that, he served as executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Bayer’s global pharmaceuticals business. Previously, he served as president and chief executive officer of Bayer Yakuhin Ltd., Osaka, leading Bayer’s healthcare business in Japan.

Dr. Guth started his career in the pharmaceutical industry with Schering AG, where he held senior roles in Asia and the Middle East. He was later appointed head of Strategy and Business Development for Schering’s European business. Following Bayer’s acquisition of Schering in 2006, he served as chief executive officer of Bayer Turk, Istanbul, and was senior representative of the Bayer Group in Turkey.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve been a proud member of the Bayer team for 20 years. As a child, I always had a keen interest in life sciences, and, as I grew older, I was driven by a desire to help save and improve patients’ lives. This mission is personal. As a child, I witnessed my younger brother struggle with a condition that limited his ability to walk, and, years later, I watched my late father battle lung cancer. I saw firsthand how he struggled to understand his treatment options and navigate the healthcare system. From that experience, I recognized the shortcomings in the industry and the need for patient centricity.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My dad was always my primary role model, and he influenced every aspect of my life. His passing inspired me to help others avoid what he and my family went through. The first and most important lesson his death taught me was to recognize that patients are people. My father was, and continued to be, much more than just a patient — he was a person.

His death had a profound influence on the direction my life has taken during the last 5 years. I saw from my dad’s perspective some of the shortcomings of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. He was a sharp, well-educated man, but even he struggled to understand the language his doctors used to communicate with him. Thankfully, he had my brother, a physician, by his side to help him translate that jargon into plain language. However, the average person likely doesn’t have access to extra resources to help them understand their treatment options. That experience shone a light on the areas where we, as an industry, have work to do.

My mother also had a significant impact on our family, especially during my father’s illness and death. I’ve never met someone so selfless, strong and attuned to other people’s emotions. I’m so grateful she was there to lead our family through such a difficult time and support us along our journey.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Bayer Pharmaceuticals has a rich 150-year history of helping improve the quality of life for millions of patients around the world. When I joined the Bayer team, I wanted to highlight that our business is all about people — helping people live healthier lives and prolong their lives.

At Bayer, our vision is “Health for all, Hunger for none.” By focusing on this higher purpose, we aim to transcend barriers to health equity and ensure access to both healthcare solutions and nutritious food for all people. Together as one Bayer team, we can advance our vision and improve the quality of life for as many people as possible across the globe while conserving the world’s natural resources.

One inherent aspect of “Health for all, Hunger for none” is the importance of working collectively to meet this challenge. From my experience, building the greatest teams isn’t enough — effective leadership is key. Leaders need to be the glue that connects the talent. Combining talented people and genuine connections makes a great culture. I firmly believe that culture drives engagement, engagement creates purpose, and engagement plus purpose equals performance.

Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

It’s crucial to lead with empathy. To be authentic and human. To be candid and willing to open up to the people who you guide. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Vulnerability makes you more relatable and encourages others to be vulnerable as well.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

A leader must focus on what is mission critical and never lose sight of the end goal. A leader also must be radically human and lead by example. An effective leader should exhibit genuine authenticity and show vulnerability. Often, leaders believe they need to know every answer. But, in reality, the path forward is not always clear. Leaders who recognize their shortcomings, know what they don’t know, and are willing to lean on their teams for help are strong during challenging times because they create environments that value collaboration.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Don’t act invincible. Be relatable. The strongest leaders admit when they are struggling and ask for help. I’ve tried to redefine my self-confidence from a leadership perspective, and part of that is being comfortable in the uncomfortable. I hope my teams leave our conversations with a sense of authenticity, vulnerability and trust. Last, but not least: Laugh. Find the fun in work and recognize that optimism is always a choice.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Focus on goals, both long-term and short-term. Focus on your people and foster a culture that celebrates trying, testing and learning. Innovation enables success, even in an unpredictable environment. Open a dialogue with your teams about the company’s goals and how everyone can help co-create and achieve them. As a leader, you need to set the tone that it’s okay to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Stay connected as a team and overcommunicate. Everyone, from C-suite executives to entry-level employees, feels a sense of vulnerability during turbulent times. It’s important that employees believe the whole company is in it together. As a team, we should function as a family and pick each other up whenever needed.

What are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Foster a common purpose, a unifying vision. We’ve seen this in the last 18 months — this unifying drive to help humankind during the pandemic. We saw it personally with our team at Bayer. Last year, colleagues in our supply chain organization continuously worked long hours to ensure a massively important shipment made it to the United States to help patients in need. Having a common purpose builds a deeper commitment and encourages people not to simply show up, but to step up.
  2. Relate to people on a personal level — be honest and authentic. Relating to people using your head, heart and gut is so important. Human relationships and connectivity inspire people.
  3. Be willing to test and learn. I often share that I started my career as a failed entrepreneur. I tested something and I failed but am exceedingly grateful that I took the risk. What I learned from that experience helped me become a better leader. Experiencing failure makes us more empathic and compassionate. It helps us redefine “success” so we don’t let the fear of failure hold us back. Most importantly, it teaches us to embrace change — to keep trying new approaches, which ultimately helps us win.
  4. Be transparent. When I was based in Turkey, the company faced an incredibly tough time due to profound changes in the market environment. The initial inclination was to sugarcoat things, but we decided to go the other way. This was, of course, the right thing to do. I’ve come to appreciate the value of being transparent and sharing the good and the not-so-good. If we don’t bring things into the light, we can’t wrestle them down and they will never go away.
  5. Recognize and reward people. The impact of intentionally recognizing people has become more apparent to me since coming to the United States. The effort to publicly celebrate people whose individual work helped advance a goal can really galvanize a team. It’s credible how a small act of recognition with little to no monetary component can make a big difference.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Optimism is a choice.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow me on LinkedIn to learn more about what Bayer is doing to address unmet patient needs and my point of view on hot industry topics.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Bayer’s Dr Sebastian Guth: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Ti was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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