Naji: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love. I’m Naji, your host for this podcast, having the pleasure to be joined today by Lisa Matar, a global life science senior executive with more than 25 years of experience leading organizations and driving significant impact across the globe. Lisa served as President and General Manager of Eli Lilly Canada for several years and was member of the North American Executive Committee. She served on the Board of Directors of Innovative Medicines Canada and chaired the ethics and compliance committee. Lisa currently serves on the boards of directors of Delphi Diagnostics and chares the Compensation and Governance Committee for them. She also serves on the BOD of Starpax Biopharma. Lisa earned her doctorate in pharmacy from University of St. Joseph in Lebanon. And I met Lisa a long time ago in France and she has definitely been an inspiration to me in so many different ways. Lisa, it’s so great to have you with me.
Lisa Matar: I’m really happy to be here with you today and, uh, I just wanna say like, congratulations on all the progress you made, uh, kind of from this mission of spreading love and compassion in organization. What you have done so far is simply amazing.
Naji: That means a lot. I would first love to hear your personal story from Lebanon to France to Canada and what healthcare, all that you’ve done in, uh, in this field too.Uh, what an, an incredibly inspiring career. I’d love to hear, uh, what’s in between the lines of this great career you had?
Lisa Matar: So I think we’re all shaped by our own experiences. Um, so I was born and raised in Lebanon. Um, and I spent most of my formative years, like in a war zone, uh, in bomb shelters. I’m sure you can relate to that.
Uh, naji uh, data has definitely shaped my identity. It has shaped me as a leader. It has shaped me as a, as a person. Um, and it made me no stranger to hardships. So during those. Very difficult times. Like we had really to work hard every day, not only to stay safe, but we had to work hard every day to bring a sense of like normalcy into our life.
So the word that I would use is determination. Um, it has always served me well. Uh, it has always pushed me to bring the best of me to the front. While under pressure, and it has fueled my success both professionally and and personally. So I’m, I had graduated from, uh, University of, uh, San Joseph, like pharma school, and after I, uh, graduated, I immediately joined Eli Lilly in Lebanon.
I was so lucky because I joined in a time where the whole, uh, regional hub, uh, was getting formed. So, I can say it was love at first sight. I immediately felt in love with Lilly, uh, with the people mainly and the culture. Second, I would say, uh, and I was so lucky early on in my career, uh, that I’ve met great mentors who really, really helped me, uh, not only in guiding me and coaching me, but I do believe that they saw a potential in me that I was unable to see.
And they took a bet by sending me as like, Talent from the Middle East to go on international assignments. So this is how I ended up after being area manager in Lebanon, I ended up in France, uh, on international assignment, uh, on the best adventure ever, which is launching Cialis. Uh, we both work on that product and my career took off from there.
Um, I wish I can tell you to be honest when I think about it, that I had a very clear outlined plan about how to grow my career. It wasn’t that at all. It was total freeze time. I simply kept saying yes to every job offer. Uh, and I ended up being, uh, Chief Medical Marketing Officer, business Unit, uh, like all different jobs.
That all prepared me to my last assignment with Lily. General manager, uh, of Lidian Canada. Um, like when I think about my whole career, like I moved a lot, changed therapeutical areas, changed geographies, but they are like, the whole career has been set on two major principles. One which is challenging the system, and second is challenging, uh, my own.
Uh, challenging the system. Um, I don’t know. Like I feel like I was not, the system was not set up for me to be successful. Uh, I should not get where I am today. I was a young female leader in the Middle East, uh, in a male dominated culture. So I didn’t have like a female role model to look up to. I didn’t have a modu operandi about how at the age of 23 you can manage a large team, a very seasoned sales rep, mainly male sales rep.
But I had to carve my own way. And later on, like years later, you would think that the system would have been probably more ready for like female ceo. When I became, uh, uh, CEO of Lillian Canada and I was elected to the board of, uh, in Medicine of Canada, uh, which is the industry association, I remember walking into the meeting and I just opened the door and I had like a view of probably like 20 male all in dark.
Like I used to call them, like the man in Black. And I was the, the only female CEO walking into this room. And I remember that I was, I kept saying to myself, You deserve to be here. You deserve to be here. Like all the way to this meeting room and. In reality, like when you condition yourself that you deserve to be in this room, that you have earned your right to be at the table, uh, you develop a confidence that other people will pick up on, and then it’ll give you all the legitimacy.
Fast forwarding, we, they have been incredible, the same men and black, they have been incredible, uh, uh, like war compan. Some of them, I kept them as great friends, and when I left the Boards of Innovative Medicine, Canada had 30% of female representation, which is an achievement. The second point is challenging my limits.
Um, I think we all have to work on a daily basis to challenge ourself. Like it’s easy to stay in a comfort zone, to be honest. I was just telling you like now I don’t know why I was, I, I had a little bit like of a nod in my stomach. Even on, on, on this podcast, like every time you try to do something new, like you have a kind of like a fear, which is really good.
Like it has always been my. And I have always said, I’d rather challenge my limits instead of limiting my challenges. And this is why, um, in my whole career, I don’t remember one position that I was comfortable with. By the time I was getting comfortable, it was time to move. And even now when, like after 25 years with Lily, uh, I was getting comfortable and I said, Yeah, it’s time for me to do something new.
And I took a leap and the unknown word of startup, which wasn’t easy by the way, it’s been 18 months. Um, it’s um, a lot of work every day, but I’m enjoying every minute.
Naji: Oh, thanks so much gi for sharing. Like, how can’t we be inspired by all that you shared and all that you’ve been doing and what you said.
Uh, you know, I, I really want to talk about a thing that you brought that made me think about this imposter thoughts that we might have. Um, and you’ve been vulnerable sharing those moments with us. Uh, here. So you said you deserve to be here. You deserve to be here. You kept saying it to yourself, and obviously you’ve been, definitely, the system is not helping even though we made improvements and you should be proud of what you’ve done having 30% female.
There’s still such a long road, uh, for us, and you touch on many different identities, right? Women, Middle East, going from other countries, et cetera. So my question to you, like, how do you. Do you have those imposer thoughts? How do you fight them? I frequently talk with people. I do have them, so I frequently talk with people who, uh, constantly have those i’d.
I’d love to know how do you live with them if you have them, and if you have any tips for us.
Lisa Matar: Like for me, like I said, we all have them. Like you all challenge. It doesn’t have to be only female only. Like you always question whether you’ve earned the right uh, to, to be at, at this spot. For me, it’s okay. I think we have to be okay with that, say, but don’t stay there for so long.
Um, it’s not about whether you have this imposter syndrome, it’s more about the image you portray. If I walk in and I feel like I’m extremely confident, That’s gonna be very communicative. It’s very contagious. People will see in you what you let them see. If you believe that you have an added value, if you work and demonstrating the value, that’s it.
That’s gonna be the end of imposter syndrome. But if you stay in the fear, Oh my God. I’m Lebanese. I’m a female. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it. If you stay in the why this is happening to me, and you stay into this self-doubt and victimization. This is like a negative place to be. If you very quickly move on to what’s next, What do I need to do for them to see my real value?
You’re already in the focus. You’re already in the projection. You’re already in the hope, and you convey the confidence that you need to convey for people to see exactly who you.
Naji: I love it. Use it practically. Use it for you to be even more confident and move forward. You, you let teams in so many different cultures, uh, we had those discussions between leading and, and Lebanon, France, Canada, and globally also, uh, teams.
Any, what, what are your key leadership learning, the leading in those different parts of the word?
Lisa Matar: Um, there is some tweaks from a culture to culture. But I have found, um, that people are the same. We are all the same, regardless from where we come. You may tweak the how you deliver the message, but at the end of the day, uh, human beings are very complex, uh, and they’re still different.
So it’s hard to say, This is the way you need to manage people in Lebanon. This is the way you need to manage Europe. Uh, this is said. There are some trends that you can see, like when. When I moved to Europe, I was so impressed by the technicality of people, like people really had in depth expertise. Um, and then I moved to Canada.
The culture of, Yeah, I wanna take on more, like give me more, and the, the, the whole loyalty to the company. So you, you can see some trends and the culture, but the leadership, I would say, style remain the same. What I struggled more with is when I got to Canada, it’s more about the title. Like, um, on my first week people were coming to me.
Okay, now you’re the GM of Canada. Uh, it’s a very big job. Watch out. Uh, like you have to get a certain posture of, of leader, uh, like the podium one, which is, which is okay. Uh, somehow they were encouraging me to be like, Touch kind of like the, the, to convey the image of strong leader. I didn’t know better at that time.
And for the first probably like 30 days, I was trying to be someone that I was not naturally, like I was kind of keeping my distance, uh, trying to give all the answer, like I know what’s going on, give the impression like, you mastered everything. But very, very quickly it drained me. Uh, I was so tired, that wasn’t me.
And I said, You know what? I’m gonna give it my try. I’m gonna be my. Uh, and, and see where it’s gonna take me. And the style, like leadership style that best worked for me across geographies is the authentic, imperfect leadership style. I am authentic and I’m far from being perfect. Uh, I know my shortcomings.
I know my flaws. I’m okay with my flaws. I am aware of those. I work on them. But I like, I, I feel like if people know that you’re authentic, they can. Accept your flaws, but they will never accept a phony leader. And that has always served me well. I believe authenticity, um, with imperfection, uh, kept me grounded, especially when you be, you get to a bigger job, like you can get fall victim of your own ego.
But acknowledging that my leadership studies far from being imperfect and being upfront and vocal about it, kept my ego in. Everyone knew, like I had some area was I was not really good at. And I kind of like pushed myself to, um, surround myself by people who are better than me in some areas. And, uh, the beauty of it, uh, people start coming to me with their own imperfection.
I didn’t have to dig a lot, dig deeper to know where I can. It was like an invitation. If my leader is not perfect, I can bring my true self to work so we can work on a better development plan. So it was a win-win. I spent less energy pretending to be someone else, and, uh, people felt much more comfortable, uh, talking to me, so I became more accessible and the conversation was very genuine.
Naji: I love it. I already heard, heard this before, authentic imperfect leadership style. It’s, it doesn’t t No, I . It’s yours. It’s yours. And I love it. Uh, a very personal question I have, you know, as, as you were talking about all those different countries, for full disclosure, I ask myself this question, I don’t have an answer, but I, I what, how so you always led in a different language than.
Own language. And you led in French, you led in English. Any, do you feel it’s different or is it harder, easier to do? So did you have to adapt some things? What, what are your thoughts about this? Um,
Lisa Matar: like, again, like if you’re not trying to be perfect, It’s okay. Like I’m not trying to speak with a perfect French accent or a perfect English accent cuz I’m not like, I’m Lebanese.
I speak like three languages. So that’s the beauty of it. If you accept it, you’re not, again, you, no one’s supposed, um, to see like the perfect leader. Then it’s, it’s, it’s fun. Uh, most of the people like I work with, they said because of the language and the accent, like we pay attention more to what you say.
And I always like, I all abused this to be honest, . Uh, so it’s fun. It’s part of your identity. Like if you see someone struggling in English, Goodest. To him, that means like he has another, um, he masters another language. So it’s all about accepting, being vulnerable and accepting to try and learn new things.
And this is exactly what we should like role model.
Naji: Uh, you, you mentored and coached so many people. Um, I was one of them. I still remember very well what you told me, uh, the first time we met. Uh, I, I, I won’t repeat it here, , but I would love to hear what’s, uh, the one advice that you’re giving today for, um, people you’re mentoring if they’re starting their careers in the healthcare sector.
Lisa Matar: First, like it’s not something that I say. I always check that they are in healthcare for the right reason. Like some people come to healthcare for. The money or they come to healthcare for, because they have a friends for people. But I always check that they are staying in healthcare for the right reason.
So my my first question is like, why you’re here. If your individual mission does not match with the company, you can do some tweaking. You can make some adjustment. Honestly, it’ll be a waste of time for them because they will do much better somewhere else. So I always like spend my first session if I wanna talk, like, why, why healthcare?
Why Lilly, why, uh, this startup? Like, that’s very, very important for me. Once you manage to get there, it’s very easy for, for, for them to say, Okay, how you can contribute? What’s the role that you wanna play? And like, and we’re not perfect again. Do you need to get from where you are to where you should be, But it’s all under the overarching umbrella that we are here to serve.
We all have a role to play. So what’s standing in the way of you doing a better role? I always take it from the mission and I will drag it from there,
Naji: with with the purpose. Uh, I will give you a word now and I love your reaction to it. All right? Sure. . So the first one is leadership.
Lisa Matar: Uh, leadership. Like we were talking about it. For me, leadership is work in progress. Um, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And we leaders, we benefit from every mistake we make, every challenge we overcome.
Um, like I said, my style is totally about the imperfect, imperfect, genuine, uh, leadership. Um, and I really like hate the image that we draw about the leader who is completely like in total mastery. I don’t relate to that and I fight every day to bring this kind of like authenticity to the, to the leadership style.
What about resilience? Uh, hard not to talk about resilience. Um, especially from where we come both. We come, uh, I always, um, believe that succeeding is easy. If succeeding is the only option that you. Working hard is easy if working hard is the only option that you have. Look, when you always put your alternatives and you pick one, whatever path you choose, you put the resilience behind it because that’s the only option that you have.
And for us, like coming from, um, from Lebanon and having to go like on international career, definitely we had a lot of adversity, um, in, in our personal life and in our professional life. And I’m a great believer that adversity shapes identity, but because of the resilience, um, I’m not saying that a life with privilege is not fun, but I always say that people who lived with adversity, they appreciate life more than people.
Resilience. This is where I get there is a pride into it. I overcame all the obstacles and any resilience story is an excellent story to tell to your children.
Naji: Have you thought? So I’m, I’m going out of the, Yeah. The one word, but I wanna double click on this, uh, piece, resilience. And you shared in the beginning your, your childhood and bomb shelters. Um, have you reflected back on this and what it brought you or how it shaped you as a leader? So, I’m hearing a lot around, uh, resilience.
Great. Uh, having the only option is when is practically succeeding. Uh, anything else from, from those days that kind of you feel really shaped who you are as a leader when you are managing your teams?
Lisa Matar: Like I said, it’s the joy. Um, again, like when you have worked hard and you’ve been resilient, you start to appreciate things even more than when things come to you easily.
So I will add to everything that you spoke about, resilience, which is like you’re passionate about something, you focus about winning. You put all the efforts, the severance and the grid and the determination, but you take out of this bigger. There is a lot of pride of, of pride when you reach some something that was like, the past was not easy and now probably like more on, on, on this side of my career where I’m more enjoying this and said, Okay, look, from where I start, like 25 years ago.
Like this is, this is from where I come and look for everything that I have achieved. And I keep telling this story to my kids, to my boys. They’re no longer kids and they keep saying, Okay, mom, we got it. We got it, . But it’s something that you keep reminding yourself like it’s amazing. Like there’s a feeling of accomplishment that like no one can take it away.
Naji: for sure. And yeah, you should, you should feel proud. And along the way, you impacted so many lives, whether by coaching them or helping them out with the, with the different drugs you, you managed to put on markets. Uh, what about diversity?
Lisa Matar: Um, like diversity by itself means nothing. It’s diversity, it’s equity, and it’s inclusion.
Like you need the three words for this to make sense and for you to reap the benefit of, of it. But I’m gonna try to be like, probably a little bit creative and, and this, uh, question with a small story. So, um, stay with. There once was a time in, not like a distant path, where penguins, they were ruling like a large lens in the sea of organization.
You know the story or not. Okay. I, I do not. So they were doing extremely well. The penguins were extremely, like, very successful until a point where they were struggling with one problem. They did everything they can. They brought their top talents, but they were unable to solve the problem. So they said, Oh, you know what?
We’re gonna leave the land of penguins and we’re gonna go and seek. Talents somewhere else. And this is where they had met Perry the peacock said, Oh my God, impressive. He is so charismatic, so fun. Um, he’s so loud. His feathers are so colorful, and they had to do the whole penguin dance for him to, for him to accept, to join them.
He finally accepted flattered by their offer and start working in the Land of Penguins. At the beginning, everyone was happy. They were all self congratulating themselves, saying, Oh my God, we have the best recruit, but very, very, very quickly as time passes. Um, the penguin started kind of like complaining about how loud Perry the pickup was that his colors were so bright, like it’s really like annoying that he is so creative, which is very much distracting them from doing their daily job.
So the top managements in the penguin called on for. Very, and said, We acknowledge that you are brilliant, that you have penguin potential, but we believe that you can benefit more if you, um, speak, like, turn the volume a little bit down, um, maybe you can go on wearing those distinctive suit like black and white and it’ll not even hurt if you start walking like a.
At the end of the day, to cut the long story short, bury the peacock. Said Thank you so much. Left the land of penguins and went to see his future and other lands. The land of opportunities. I always like tell this story because this is all about diversity and and inclusion. You can bring. Uh, people like you can have a diverse team, but if you do not create an environment of inclusion, you will not get the benefit of diversity.
And this story in particular make me like laugh and makes me sad because I have been the penguin so many times in my career where you go out, you try to bring people creativity, and then you stifle them by asking them to be conform to what we. So that’s my short answer to diversity, equity, and inclusion, ,
Naji: and it’s such a powerful example in how you ended it.
Yeah. The last one is spread love and organizations.
Lisa Matar: Okay, so we’re gonna be very honest here. When I first saw the Spread love in organizations, something didn’t sit well with me. I said like, Oh, Naji, what’s wrong with you? Like, why love? Like, no one’s gonna take you seriously. Um, I still struggle with the word love.
I think it’s very, very bold, but I have to give you the, the like put is to you because it has the merit of thought provoking. I am much more comfortable with a world like, Spread care in the organization. But put this aside, uh, the concept is phenomenal. Like seriously, it’s, it’s not only, I would say, um, um, moral imperative.
I do believe like morally we have to care and love each others. But I do believe in the bi it’s business imperative cuz if I care, I take care of my team, They. care of their customers, and then we will all benefit. But at the same time, I feel in my own experience, if people know that you care, they, they, they allow themself, like the masks are down and they allow themself to be like completely to bring their true self to work.
Um, I was reading two days ago, um, about. Experimentation that took place in some universities. To be honest, I don’t know which university, so apologies for that. Where a professor asked, uh, his students to inflate balloons and put their name into the balloons. Very, very simple task. And then he took all the balloons and then, uh, put them in the hallway way, mixed the balloons, and asked the students like, You have five minutes.
Find your own balloon. The balloon with your own name. Of course after, after hectic search, no one was able to find within five minutes their own balloon. And then he said, Okay, let’s change tactic. Um, now pick a balloon and give it to the person whose name isn’t. Of course, like within less than two minutes, everyone had their own balloon.
And I do believe that um, success in organization is very much like balloons. If we are all looking for hours, we will never find it. But if you really care and. Those, you will find yours as well.
Naji: What a great reaction to this, to this word. Yeah. And it is thought provoking as you said, and I totally believe that it’s, um, it’s, as you said, morally important, but also for business.
It’s, it’s key. Yeah. Any final word of wisdom visa for healthcare leaders around the world?
Lisa Matar: Um, it’s not, uh, words of wisdom. Um, it’s probably like a, uh, Like a call for all leaders, which is, um, the pay it forward. Uh, I don’t believe like any leader is where he is today. If it wasn’t because of the help of some individual or individuals who ha like gave him a hand along the way and pulled him up, uh, the ladder of success.
Um, I believe we should do more. Uh, we should be deliberate about paying it forward, whether through like coaching, whether mentoring or side conversations like pick whatever works for you, but we have really to do it. Um, if you’re only like leader with grit, you will run a successful business. But if you are a leader paying it forward, you will def definitely create a better legacy.
Naji: Thank you so much Lisa for this incredible chat and for being with me today. And also, again, I need to recognize the amazing inspiration you’ve been throughout my career. Thank you.
Lisa Matar: Oh my God, it was really my pleasure. Always, uh, a pleasure talking to you and, uh, to be honest, um, great job, what you’re doing.
Naji: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.