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7 Questions on Leadership with Anna Widlarz

Name: Anna Widlarz

Title: Technical Writer

Organisation: Sandoz

I like to think that my personal leadership style feeds off my multidisciplinary interests and versatile professional experience. Being a host of three radio programmes, working for an art gallery, voicing over a video game, serving as a journalist and proofreader of an English-language weekly are just some of the activities I have been involved in in my professional career that are not included on my LinkedIn profile.

I think the more well-rounded your perspective is, the deeper your understanding of people and the nature of working environments. This in turn, makes it easier to lead and achieve goals.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Anna's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Unpredictable changes to the plan can be a challenge but I have learnt to treat them as blessings in disguise. They are perfect occasions to use your unconventional thinking and find opportunities in places where you would not normally be looking for them.

Often, it’s exactly the unpredictable change that provides the best opportunities to grow and contributes the most to the team’s potential. If used properly by a leader, it can be a powerful team-building experience.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I have been working as a Technical Writer, creating user guides and other document types about various IT applications. One day I was asked to join a new project team and, shortly after, I found out that video tutorials for the app they were developing were out-of-date and therefore new users found it difficult to learn how to use the app. I talked to my manager about it and offered to update the videos.

My manager then talked to their managers and soon after I was allocated a team of Graphic Designers and IT Developers and I became the one to manage their video work. After we updated the video tutorials for that app, word about our video activities started spreading and other project managers began asking us to create videos for their applications. I have been managing the video team for the next couple of years creating marketing and tutorial videos, logotypes and printed materials for a variety of teams and IT applications. We have created over 100 minutes of video content.

Somewhere in the so-called ‘meantime’ I was selected for the position of Communications & Engagement Lead, taking over part of responsibilities of the then Informatics Head in Roche Foundation Medicine Network. This made me responsible for creating and executing a new communication strategy, defining communication channels and disseminating regular updates from the Network to over 1000 stakeholders around the globe. More about this role can be found in a reference letter on my profile.

This, in a nutshell, is how I have become a leader.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

In the morning, I hop on my bike and go for an early ride along the river or canal. It makes me feel connected with the world around me and gives me an energy boost before work. When I am at my parents’, I take my dog with me. She is a mixture of husky and German shepherd, loves a good run and never says no to an adventure.

After I come home, I am ready for what the day brings. I take a look at the task list I prepared the previous day, check my emails and chat messages. I do the most important tasks first, before morning meetings. Then the meetings come and I have time to support my colleagues if they need it.

After work I go out again, either to an event that caught my interest or to a cosy cafe where I can devote myself to the luxury that books bring to one’s life.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

When I was leaving one of my previous teams, I had a good-bye conversation with one of the team members and they asked: ‘Why are you leaving? We do not want to be led by anyone else.’ I was a bit surprised by this reaction so I asked why and they said: ‘You always knew when to stimulate the dynamism in the team and when to be more relaxed with us. It's a rare skill to strike the perfect balance in this regard and we really respected you for it.’ This made me realise a leadership aspect I was not aware of as it is my natural skill.

It also made me realise once again the great value of people in your team as they can make you think of extra factors that are important in your leadership.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

As we live in a world full of distractions and it does not look like this is going to change, I do recommend the book by Cal Newport entitled ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’.

It taught me vital skills to focus deeply on a cognitively demanding task and to derive pleasure from things that - unlike social media - do not give the brain an instant dopamine hit. Brain may be mainly water but it is still like a muscle: once you train it, you will enjoy the results it brings.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

To be a good leader, it is not enough to have knowledge and experience in your field coupled with leadership skills. A good leader is one who knows how to listen to their team, trusts their team’s skills and is there actively for them when a challenge arises.

Also, if you are a young leader in a larger organisation, you probably have your own manager as well. Observe your manager and learn from them. Try to think about your team activities from your manager’s perspective and learn from how your manager deals with different twists and turns of the project.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

The story comes from the time when I was managing the video team and we were working on a marketing video for the main product about to be released globally by our client. We discussed the scope of work with the customer and then I prepared the budget and work timeline.

After the client’s approval, we started the work on the video. Later on, at the meeting when we presented the first results of our work, the client informed us that they had changed their concept and they explained the new video idea to us.

The new concept was significantly different from the first one, which meant we had to start working from scratch but instead of getting frustrated, we listened actively to the client, wrote down their new requirements and prepared a new budget and timelines. The client accepted them and we started creating a new video.

The result? The client was satisfied, we were happy we could support them and the video was a big success among its global audience!

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