The Master Mentor Who Reigns Supreme in Hepatology

Emilie LAU

He is known to the medical world as Europe’s most cited scientist, winner of the European Association for the Study of the Liver’s Recognition Award (the highest achievement in the speciality), founder of the German Liver Foundation, Head of the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endocrinology at Hanover Medical School. Under his guidance, many young physicians have flourished into leaders of university medical departments or research institutes in Germany. Amongst them are Heiner Wedemeyer, Former Secretary General of European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) and Markus Cornberg, Medical Secretary of the German Liver Foundation, both of whom now work with him at Hannover. He and his mentees have shaped for themselves a collective identity known in Europe and the world as “the Manns School”. Behind these titles and achievements, how does Michael Manns identify himself? What is it like to work with him?

 


 

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“I consider myself a doctor, a scientist, and also a group leader but, above all, a mentor”.

 

Indeed, Professor Manns’ former mentee, Dr Heiner Wedemeyer calls him “the master who knows how to recruit the best fellows”. His success as an influential mentor is undisputed as numerous of his previous fellows and associates are now heading clinical university departments or basic research institutes in Germany. It is little wonder then, that many young physicians aspire to be Professor Manns’ mentees. But according to Dr Wedemeyer, the best thing about Professor Manns’ mentorship is not the promising prospect of becoming a leader like his previous mentees but rather the privilege to work with a “great mentor who is always supportive in every step of your career”. The grateful mentee summarizes three elements that characterize a professional relationship with Manns: teamwork, support, and freedom.

 

In his work, Manns prioritizes the team above all, as he firmly believes in the motto that “the team is the star”. He made this clear even in his very first meeting with Wedemeyer. “Every individual scientist, clinician or clinician scientist at any level: resident, post-doctoral fellow, assistant, associate of full professor, must understand that his individual success more or less rests on the success of the whole team.” Given his emphasis on the team over the individual, it is not surprising that Manns does not take for granted his authority as leader. For him, “authority and confidence in leadership is the result of hard work and not something you can beg or demand”. In his view, in order to be respected as a leader, one should be “reliable, trustworthy and demonstrate his responsibility in whatever he is doing”. Above all, he expects a leader to “respect the skills and acknowledge the contributions of each member of his department.” Manns draws an interesting analogy between a leader and a soccer coach.

 

“No manager of a successful soccer team ever scores a goal himself.”

 

It is perhaps thanks to his modesty and foresight that Manns effectively leads and manages a medical team of more than 50 physicians and 60 nurses.

 

Manns’ team is comprised of highly competent and distinguished medical professionals, many of whom are prominent members of European medical associations, most notably Heiner Wedemeyer, Former Secretary General of the European Association for the Study of Liver (EASL), and Markus Cornberg, the German representative in the panel for the EASL Practice Guidelines for Hepatitis B. To effectively bond such a dynamic team of influential medical professionals together while ensuring that each member is motivated, Manns grants them the freedom to perform their individual work. Wedemeyer testifies that Manns’ fellows “embrace the freedom to carry out any kind of research they want, as long as they are convinced that it is of importance”. With this freedom, Wedemeyer is now building his own research group at Hanover Medical School.

 

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Manns believes that an individual who finds satisfaction and fulfilment in the work he/she is doing, will be able to "contribute his/her own piece to the mosaic of the whole department".

 

One of the ways in which Manns promotes freedom for his mentees and associates is by encouraging them to enjoy their work. He believes that creativity—and ultimately success—has their genesis in the enjoyment of one’s work and the sense of fulfilment that it brings. Manns’ theory is that an individual who finds satisfaction and fulfilment in the work he/she is doing, will be able to “contribute his/her own piece to the mosaic of the whole department.” Moreover, when members contribute their areas of expertise, they naturally feel a sense of “identification and individual success”. At the same time, Manns reminds his associates that “it is also important to mediate between individual and team success because they are interdependent”.

 

In addition to the freedom to perform work that they enjoy, Manns also grants them the freedom to voice their opinions and critical feedback about their team. Manns states: “We are always learning by making mistakes. However, you can only learn from mistakes that you recognize.” In order to recognize those “mistakes”, he strives to foster an environment in which every member feels comfortable expressing his critique on decisions and leaderships. Further to this environment of free thought and feedback, the leader adds a “full transparency” so that all decisions concerning the team are made known to its members. This is Manns’ approach in keeping every one of his team member engaged and motivated.

 

As a mentor, Professor Manns provides unfaltering support to his mentees. Dr Wedemeyer gratefully recounts: “Michael Manns was always extremely supportive in all steps of my career. Thanks to him, I had the opportunity to perform a basic research postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. When I became EASL’s Secretary General, he gave me immense support, advising me on challenging issues and giving me thoughtful guidance. His understanding and support in these past years have really helped built my career.”  Professor Manns’ influence on Dr Wedeymer was apparent from their first meeting. After his graduation, the young doctor initially considered cardiology but at a friend’s recommendation went to an interview with Professor Manns who was already building a successful Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Hannover Medical School. That one meeting with Manns persuaded Wedemeyer to switch over to hepatology. He knew, back then and there, that the decision was clear: Hannover and Michael Manns would be the best choices for him. In the years that followed their first encounter, Manns guided Wedemeyer tirelessly and helped him become a leading medical professional in hepatology.

 

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Prof. Wedemeyer describes his mentor, Prof. Manns as a "great mentor who is always supportive in every step of your career".

 

Manns’ superior leadership and dedicated mentoring have earned him respect across Europe. Many young physicians eagerly seek his mentorship. But how does this leader choose his mentees? Manns explained that loyalty is the most crucial factor. More important still is the reciprocation of loyalty between himself and his mentees. He requires it from his mentees, but he in turn reciprocates loyalty shown to him. Identification with his institution is another quality that he seeks in a mentee. Finally, Manns communicates to his mentees his personal belief that “success is born of 90% hard work and perhaps only 10% intelligence”.  

 

When asked about his success, Manns modestly attributes the credit to his wife and his own academic mentor Professor Dr Karl Hermann Meyer zum Büschendelde for supporting his personal and professional development. Manns thanks his wife for providing him a “wonderful family and home” as well as personal advice and critical feedback. He is grateful to his mentor for teaching him “excellence, hard work, leadership, internationalism, mentorship, friendship and enjoying life as a clinician scientist and a person”. All these qualities Manns himself now demonstrates and in turn passes on to his mentees.

 

Above all his roles in life: a doctor, a scientist, a researcher, Michael Manns is truly a remarkable mentor. His devotion to this role is demonstrated not only by his mentees’ accomplishments but also by his own definition of success. “The main key to success is recruiting ambitious and intelligent young people and promoting them in their clinical and or academic career.” For Manns, success is to help others succeed.

 

 


 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE

 

Professor Michael Manns is the speaker of Tzu-leung Ho Lecture at the 2015 IDDF. He is invited to speak at this named lecture because of his significant contribution to education and clinical research in gastroenterology. With more than 800 ground-breaking papers published, Professor Manns is Europe’s most cited scientist. He was the former president of the German Association for Gastroenterology, founder of the German Liver Foundation (EASL) recognition award, recipient of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, amongst his other numerous distinguished titles and awards. Since 1991, Professor Manns has been leading the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at Hannover Medical School. Together with his team, he has developed and applied various forms of therapies that have become the standard of care in the world.  

 

 

ABOUT TZU-LEUNG HO LECTURE

 

Dr Tzu Leung Ho is the Director of the S H Ho Foundation Limited and Bethlehem Management Limited. Dr Tzu Leung Ho has been a medical practitioner for many years in the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore. He has dedicated himself to improving medical services worldwide. He contributes frequently to the medical field, by supporting territory institutions in Hong Kong, mainland China, the United Kingdom and the United States. He is a current member of the University Council and Chairman of the Committee of Overseers, S H Ho College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

 

In 2011, S.H. Ho Foundation approved a donation to support the establishment of the S.H. Ho Centre for Digestive Health in The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Medicine. This gift is significant to physician training, public education, clinical research and services in the area of digestive cancer. This benefits both patients and the community in large. Likewise, Tsu-leung Ho Lecture goes to leaders in gastroenterology who make significant contributions to public education and clinical research in gastroenterology.