Kees Roks, Head Region Europe at Novartis Oncology, has been an incredibly visible inclusion leader at his organization. A servant leader if there ever was one. Read on!
It’s hard to miss him. Kees Roks (pronounced “Case”) is close to 7 feet tall and usually towers over most people at a meeting. The Swiss native, however, could be the quieter person in a room, just taking in what all the stakeholders have to share. With over 30 years of international experience gained in Country and Regional organizations around the globe, Kees has most recently been the Head of Region Latin America and Canada at Novartis Oncology. In this role, he was a key sponsor of the women taking part of the Red Shoe Movement’s Step Up Plus leadership development program. He wore his red tie every week, made sure to meet and support not only the female talent in the program but any one who required his attention.
Kees Roks has built a career on inclusive principles, living them day in and day out. For his exemplary leadership and implementation of concrete actions to open doors to female talent we honor Kees Roks to the 2019 Hall of Fame.
Red Shoe Movement— What are some of the key traits of a great leader?
Kees Roks—Being a leader is not about the individual leading. In fact, the concept of servant leadership is one that resonates strongly with me. I see this as someone who offers support, is humble and removes obstacles. The idea of leadership being dictating is quickly vanishing. Being focused on my team, helping develop them and ensure they succeed is of utmost priority; after all when your team does well, so does the leader.
RSM—Why do women make great leaders?
KR—Diversity is a critical component of leadership and it builds stronger and more efficient teams. Gender is an important pillar and one we have to support.
I have had the pleasure of working with strong and capable women, now and in prior roles. In my experience, the female mind works differently from the male one. I value what female leaders bring to the table – sometimes offering better solutions because they are able to see an issue in a more 360 point of view and take into account the impact from all possible angles.
In my opinion, female leaders offer a different perspective on issues. They deal with challenges and situations with a more reflective and holistic approach; a man’s approach can sometimes be very solution-oriented and single minded. Neither is a negative but this is why we need to have more women in leadership positions to help find a good balance.
Don't miss Andrés Graziosi's interview for the Hall of Fame 2018
RSM— How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?
KR—First, at Novartis, we sit in an open space environment so there is literally no door (laughs). Figuratively, there is none because I believe in being fully accessible to my team. Going back to the concept of servant leadership of which the most fundamental tenant is that our people are our most important asset, I am never too busy to make time for them.
However, communication works two ways – as direct and as open as I am, I fully invite and expect them to be equally so. I want them to ask for time, ask for what they need and be proactive.
RSM— What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?
KR—Well, I never give a few minutes; I give as much time as they need. To dive deep into any challenges or have a deeper discussion, it is important to allow enough time to have the conversation.
Once we have that time, I fully expect and invite them to drive the agenda since they asked for the meeting. It is important to come with an opinion, come with what you need from your leader and what you need them to do. This means you are taking ownership and accountability – you are also being a leader.
Kees Roks suggestions for men to become allies
RSM—What would you say are the most effective ways to get men to become female champions?
KR—There are many ways to have men become champions. Put them into a diverse environment – perhaps they are the only man on an all-female team and/or work stream. Women have worked this way for years, often being the sole female in a group or team. Invite men to experience it as well to provide perspective. Also, highlight the successes of women on your team. Show how well they are doing to everyone else – prove it with facts. Personally, I also try to create as diverse an environment as possible and find the right balance of women on my leadership team.
That said, it boils down to the organization – as an individual I can only do so much. Companies need to make D&I a priority and include gender D&I KPIs in the objectives. Of course there has to be a balance, it is not just about filling slots with one gender because forcing something is not good overall. However, it is possible. However, it is possible; for example, if there is a leadership position available, have gender equality and diversity in the candidates being invited to apply. More importantly, it is critical to have gender equality and diversity on the side of the key decision makers for these roles as well, so we really find the best candidate based on qualifications.
RSM— In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line?
KR—What I can say is that having a diverse team and a diverse organization already, we are doing quite well. We are having deeper discussions and making better decisions.
RSM—At your level of responsibility, what do you spend most of your time on?
KR—People first. In fact, 80 percent of my day is talking to and helping my team. That can be anything from talking, debating, discussing various topics in both formal and informal settings. Being there for them is how I spend the majority of my time.
RSM—In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?
KR—Every experience is a lesson. I do not know that there is one in particular that stands out but I can say with certainty that, as a leaders, every time you come into a new environment you need to calibrate the need for context. I am not known to be always so patient (laughs.) I really force myself to step back and reflect and find the patience I need to help my team succeed. Mistakes and failures never end but how you handle them defines how you move forward. It is an ongoing journey of endless learning.
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