Stefan Engel: “Having empathy in leadership is as important as being right”

Having empathy in leadership is as important as being right. In any large organization, you need to collaborate with people in other departments and even in other companies to achieve lasting success. Making the right decisions is important, but it’s just as important to be empathetic and diplomatic towards others in order to get things done. […]

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Having empathy in leadership is as important as being right. In any large organization, you need to collaborate with people in other departments and even in other companies to achieve lasting success. Making the right decisions is important, but it’s just as important to be empathetic and diplomatic towards others in order to get things done.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefan Engel.

Stefan Engel is Vice President and General Manager of Lenovo’s Visuals Business, in the Intelligent Devices Group. He oversees the development, sales and marketing of the company’s monitor product lines. Engel has more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry, specializing in different hardware categories including desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, monitors and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While studying business administration at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, I was looking for a job and found that a school for adult education was looking for someone to teach computer courses. Given that I owned a computer that was considered state of the art for its time, I taught Word 1.0 and Multiplan, the predecessor of Excel. It was a great job and my first entry into the world of IT!

After university, my passion for IT grew and I decided to start a new job working for a system integration company. Three years later, I jumped into a new role as a product manager at a PC company, and eventually worked my way up to lead their Eastern Europe division and later Central Europe, where monitors were an important element of my work.

About 17 years later, I began my journey at Lenovo as the Region Manager of Central Europe. Currently, I am the General Manager of Lenovo’s Visual Business worldwide, helping to enable Lenovo’s vision of leading smarter technology for all, through monitors. I have the amazing opportunity to define products by starting with customer needs — in the near-term and far into the future.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on for monitors of the future? How do you think that will help people?

Today’s professionals are more mobile than ever before, and that means their technology needs flexible, multifunctional solutions. That’s why Lenovo’s design and engineering teams are looking into the future to anticipate the specific needs of customers, ranging from the next year and even five years from now.

While some cutting-edge technologies are already here, such as 5G and smart IoT, and will continue to evolve to meet consumer needs, within the next year, we can expect monitors to improve with larger screens, faster refresh rates, and higher resolutions that easily adapt to both work and home lifestyles. We also expect future monitors to be wireless and have enhanced integration capabilities. This will not only reduce desktop clutter while offering a modern design with slim, sleek lines, but establish the monitor as an essential part of the desktop ecosystem and home hub by connecting with multiple devices, such as a PC, laptop, or smartphone. 
 We will also see monitors getting sensors. For example, the ThinkVision T27hv Monitor has a human presence sensor for the first time. The monitor detects if a person is in front of the monitor, and if nothing is detected, it goes into sleep mode to conserve power. This feature saves energy and also acts as an additional security mechanism.

Looking into the far future, we also see cloud computing and roll-able monitors that have a flexible or pop up form factor becoming other prominent features being integrated. As remote work becomes the new normal due to the pandemic, businesses will continue to update their legacy systems to support cloud-based applications and a more seamless remote working experience across stationary and mobile devices. Even farther out, we see the emergence of roll-able monitors with the potential to offer unparalleled design benefits fit for any workspace. Imagine being able to pull the display out when needed, and then roll the device back up into storage when it’s not in use, which would be incredibly useful for anyone who’s previously restricted to having a full monitor set-up taking up too much space in their homes or need to stay mobile in order to be productive.

How do you think this might change the world?

This past year the pandemic ushered in an era of remote work on an unprecedented scale and has accelerated the need for technologies that can support our blended lifestyles. Work-life blend has become the norm — blurring the lines between our professional and personal lives. But whether we are working remotely or in the office, it is apparent that we need monitors that can support connectivity, functionality, cloud computing, smart applications, and a flexible design.

Monitors with a wireless connection and a USB-C hub or a roll-able pop-up design will eliminate the need for multiple cables, ensuring less desktop mess and will be easier to disinfect in shared spaces. The USB-C hub offers a one-cable solution that will enable users to connect the monitor to a laptop, phone or other smart devices with ease. Thus, the extended functionality makes it easy to transfer files when bouncing between personal and work devices whether the user is at home or in the office. Additionally, a 5G wireless connection and smart IoT applications help support various devices, like the smartphone, gaming consoles, and more, to stay connected with the monitor anytime, anywhere.

As the pandemic continues to drive work from home, as I’ve mentioned earlier, cloud-based applications can help businesses to remotely update their legacy systems to improve the working experience on either a stationary or mobile device. Applications, such as a display control center, enable users to not only master the complex display settings and seamlessly multitask through single and multi-display window control but offer easy remote asset management for IT managers.

To that end, these forward-looking monitor features will change how both home and office users work and play.

Was there a “tipping point” with customers this year that led you to these new monitor innovations? Can you tell us that story?

User insights power the technology experiences that we create. It’s crucial for Lenovo to address customer pain points through solutions that meet their needs. This year, technology played a critical role in people’s lives as we were confronted with remote working and distance learning for a long period of time. This increased screen time as a result of the pandemic led to several new challenges for us to solve. A few recent “tipping point” trends in monitors emerging from customer feedback include new standards and needs for natural low blue light technology, mini-LED and crystal sound display, mobile monitors, and a USB-C hub.
During the pandemic, Lenovo continued to listen to customer feedback, and our research found that people now spend, on average, half of their day in front of a screen. It was clear that this increased screen time can have a negative impact on eyes, and we needed to do something to protect our customers’ health. With our natural low blue light technology, monitor colors are still high-quality, but your eyes are better protected. At Lenovo, we feel a responsibility to do everything we can to protect our customers, and currently, no other major OEM has as many monitors certified by Eyesafe than Lenovo. 
 Another example of Lenovo’s constant innovation is using customer feedback to improve our on-screen display. As monitors increase in size, the distance between the user and the monitor increases and settings like brightness, contrast, and resolution need to be adjusted — and users must stand up to make these changes. In order to solve this user pain point, we developed the Think Color software for our Think series monitors and also developed a similar software called Lenovo Artery for our consumer models. This allows the user to make adjustments easily with the click of a mouse. In addition, the user can even update the firmware with just a few clicks. I can say from my own personal experience, before I had this software, I never changed the settings of my monitor, and now I can easily adjust it as often as I’d like.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

A good example of how we were able to address widespread adoption with customers was with the integration of Lenovo’s natural low blue light technology developed for monitors. Lenovo natural low blue light technology offers next-generation low blue and color requirements guided by health research, and input from leaders in the healthcare community. It helps users to minimize eye strain and provides a better viewing experience, even during prolonged or continuous use. 
 Lenovo visuals were among the first group of display providers to ship monitors with the natural low blue light technology in 2019. By then we launched the ThinkVision S28u Monitor for business and the Lenovo L28u Monitor for consumer home use, debuting industry-leading technology that physically prevents harmful blue light while at the same time providing high-quality true-to-real-life color performance.

To further support our efforts in making this technology a widespread standard for monitors, Lenovo announced a new certification that would be integrated into all its monitors — the Eyesafe standard, which is the highest set of requirements for the display industry. The Eyesafe standard certified by TUV, enables Lenovo to quickly communicate to our customers that our products have met the most rigorous standards for high-energy visible blue light, maximum energy and color performance.

What are a few “Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Having empathy in leadership is as important as being right. In any large organization, you need to collaborate with people in other departments and even in other companies to achieve lasting success. Making the right decisions is important, but it’s just as important to be empathetic and diplomatic towards others in order to get things done.
  2. Hierarchy shouldn’t get in the way of helping customers. Early on in my career, I did an internship in a large German company, selling chemicals that helped make foam in detergent, bubbles and more. At the time, demand was always higher than supply. A customer called me in desperate need of more supply to produce bubble fluid for kids to blow bubbles with. I recalled my own childhood and how much fun I had blowing bubbles as a kid, and wanted the same for other kids. Unfortunately there was not enough supply through my usual channels. So I looked up an internal contact list and called the head of the department with this request. He picked up the phone and reprimanded me, that I should have gone to my superior to reach out to him instead because of his seniority to me. I was shocked. This is a lesson that I took with me for the rest of my career. I made it a point to never let seniority get in the way of serving customers or having open dialogue with my teams. To me, helping a customer is always more important than internal hierarchies. As for the end to my earlier story? Well, I did end up helping the bubble customer and was very proud of myself for that.
  3. There’s no such thing as work-life balance. Work is a part of life and not separate from it. If you’re not happy at work, then a part of your life is un-balanced and you must fix it. Finding the right career path to suit your interests is important. If you are passionate about what you do, it will make those long nights seem shorter and you’ll be excited to start each new day.
  4. Very often, systems define the process, and not vice versa as it should be. When companies renew their IT systems, ideally they define the process as it should be and implement the system in a way that reflects this process. But often times, a great idea may get turned down by the killer phrase, “Our system does not allow that”. Of course, systems can’t be easily changed, but if there’s a will, then with time, patience and persistence, there’s often a way.
  5. Not everyone wants to become a manager, and that’s okay. Sometimes, people work better on their own, preferring to only focus on managing their own time and priorities, vs managing a team. Some excel as individual contributors, and others as managers. The key is to play to each team member’s complementary strengths.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is, “Make sure the life you live is your own.”
 There will always be many people telling us what we should do, what is good for us, and what will bring us ahead. I have seen many people losing their authenticity and their own personality by adopting to others.

A company does not benefit when all its managers are too similar. Enabling Lenovo’s vision of delivering smarter technology for all requires diversity. And diversity doesn’t only refer to ethnicity and gender, it also refers to experience, skillsets, perspectives and personality. A company that can integrate diverse and complementary talent into one team will be more successful than one where everyone is modeled to be the same. As for managers, you cannot be happy if you cannot be your authentic self at work. Don’t be afraid to be your authentic self.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Twitter: @Engel_Lenovo and on LinkedIn

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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