We all know the danger (and draw) of comfort zones. There are plenty of quotes from brilliant people all over the world encouraging us to “step outside your comfort zone” or “growth only happens when you’re uncomfortable.” When you learn to like being outside of your comfort zone, that’s when you have proven to yourself you’re growing.
This is how Agata Fischer, business director for detection and services at Leica Geosystems, describes her success and the consistent forward trajectory of her career. Rising up through organisational structures, she was recently recognized as one of xyHt’s 40 Under 40 for 2020.
The commendation reads: “While her academic background was in business process and marketing, Agata has gained an exemplary understanding of geomatics and geospatial theory, practice, and especially emerging technologies. Her steady rise, first within Hilti and since within Leica Geosystems, is impressive, but what brought Agata to our attention was her presentations and writings. Being both tech- and business-savvy and an excellent presenter is a potent combination; the multi-lingual Ms. Fischer is all of the above.”
Impressive indeed, but it took a strong work ethic and that ever-burning desire to prove to herself she could rise beyond even her own expectations to realise she actually enjoys challenges and consistently being outside of her comfort zone.
Making a change
Educated in business management and marketing, Fischer was first exposed to product management as an intern starting her career. Thrown head first into unchartered waters, she found herself providing product trainings with only a few days to learn the material. Managing the task well and with a strong mentor in the role, she aspired to become a product manager herself.
“With a great mentor who was a product manager, I always had a clear idea where I wanted to be,” said Fischer. “As a product manager, I could be very much like an entrepreneur being in the driver’s seat. I could be close to the customers, understand the workflows and their needs, and deliver solutions that bring value.”
With this experience, Fischer also wanted to better understand the marketing side of business, so her first role after her internship was as a marketing manager. Here she learned the process of features, benefits and values, and conducting market research.
Her sights, though, remained on her goal of becoming a product manager. Putting her networking skills to the test, Fischer was able to work on projects in other departments. Once again stepping outside of her comfort zone, she travelled alone to the UK to meet customers onsite and learn their needs firsthand. With her desire to learn and her willingness to work hard on full display, she pushed herself to prove she had what it took to succeed in the role.
“Though I prepared myself to fully succeed in this role, I was also willing to take a risk, really push myself into new territory,” recounts Fischer. “I was given opportunities to really think and act like an entrepreneur, being held responsible for the success of a complicated project.”
While transitioning from a marketing to product manager, Fischer took on the complex work of turning a services line into a profitable part of the business. First, using skills built in her marketing role, she conducted market research to better understand the customers she was now working with on a closer level. She then created a network of stakeholders who she turned into supporters.
“There was a learning curve to overcome here, and I identified the people who I knew were key to making this line successful and gathering their input,” said Fischer. “My transition pivoted on before relying on others to now becoming responsible and having complete ownership of the project.”
When the services line turned into a successful part of the business, Fischer knew she had finally proven herself. Along with her determination to reach her goals, she also attributes her success to a strong sense of curiosity.
“I’m a really curious person, especially when it comes to customers. I want to know what they are doing, what drives them, what pains them,” explains Fischer. “This genuine curiosity helps me to build trust with the customer and enables them to open up to me so I can help build better solutions for their problems.
I’m also always open to learning, which is what I believe keeps driving me to the next level.”
Today, Fischer leads a team of product managers and trainers in the Construction Tools Division of Leica Geosystems, being again promoted from product manager to business director. She’s now responsible for developing and guiding the product roadmap, go-to-market and sales strategy for Leica Geosystems detection solutions. Pulling from what she has learned in her own career journey, she aims to empower her team through a strong belief in them and trusting their abilities.
“Working in my role and within this company and with the leaders I’ve had plus always learning willing to grow while being uncomfortable, I’ve built a sense of strong confidence and pride in myself. I want to give that back now to those I have the privilege of leading,” said Fischer. “I focus on developing my team by showing them I believe in them, enabling them to grow in their positions with new responsibilities; essentially also pushing them outside of their own comfort zones to try new things even if they think they can’t do something. When they prove they can, it’s not only a celebration for them but the whole team.”
Building confident women in the workplace
Someone in the organisation Fischer says empowered her to take on challenging opportunities is Construction Tools President Katherine Broder. Fischer says Broder’s leadership skills inspired her to pursue her goals and model her own leadership style.
“Katy encouraged me from the beginning to pursue becoming a product manager,” explains Fischer. “She was and still is open to all of my questions, and she empowered me to design my own work programmes and style, implicitly believing in me.”
The feeling is mutual as Broder explains the mentoring relationship between the two actually goes both ways.
“Drive, dedication and the willingness to go beyond, that’s what makes Agata successful and a strong leader. It’s inspiring to me to see her grow and continue to unfold her talents,” said Broder. “Agata has truly become an asset to our business and organization. Meanwhile she has become my sounding board and mentor – a perfect development not only for me personally but also for the company.”
Seeing a minority of women leaders in the workplace, Fischer advocates for more opportunities for women to prove themselves in the boardroom. She points to the unique problem-solving and social skill set women possess to build strong results and more diverse work environments.
“Women, unfortunately, are not as initially confident in business as men even though they possess skill sets that are sorely needed to make business thrive,” explains Fischer. “When we make space, though, to build that confidence, as was done with me in the company, they surprise not only themselves but those around them in how much they can actually accomplish.”
Fischer is currently working with the company’s Human Resources department to chair a working group to further review how the company can better support women in the workplace, such as reducing hinderances due to childcare concerns. As an up-and-coming woman leader in the company, she’s now also mentors to other women, paying back the mentorship she received earlier in her career.
What does she recommend to women and others looking to prove themselves?
“Try. That’s the key. Always be willing to try and open to learning new things. Pick roles where you can continue to learn and be challenged,” Fischer encourages. “Growth doesn’t happen unless you leave your comfort zone. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable because that’s where we truly prove what we’re capable of and succeed.”