HERE’s TO LIFELONG LEARNING                 Posted on August 18, 2011

As you might know, I am a fan of lifelong learning. I believe that we all have much more talent than we show the world. I have also noticed the more talents I use, the more impact I have. And that feels good. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about the money, is it? It’s about creating with purpose. And forthat, we consistently need to keep learning. So I recently gave my own development a boost. Iwent to an intensive language course with the famous “Nun’s of Vught” (I’ll call it, “the Nun’s” to keep things simple.)

I took on this rigorous training as I want to express myself better when I work with native English speakers. So, I leapt into a big week with the Nun’s for some English, English and yes, more English. The experience is not for the feint hearted I can tell you. But it was a great – and I’m not paid to say this by the way. I got so much from the Nun’s highly structured and controlled learning approach. It was confronting at times, but I found it worked for me. In fact, I loved it.

The learning environment made me think a lot about how people learn and about the value of discipline. And of course, this fed into my ongoing reflections on the learning approaches we offer at RSM Executive Education. For example, we are currently rolling out a new international marketing programme with one of our clients. To do this successfully, we must give participants the tools to follow global systems and also capably handle local challenges.


We need to give our clients the ‘strict’ skills required to keep in tune with international patterns and at the same time inspire them to think critically and be creative in dealing with local conditions. This is where our multi-level designs should deliver what today’sclimate demands – a healthy degree of focus coupled with an openness for change and for the unexpected. My experience last week delivered part of that approach. Perhaps recent learning trends have tended to move away from a more rigid approach. And perhaps we should embrace it a little more. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Silence is golden – As I reflected in my post about going on retreat, moments of silence should be part of our system of learning. The rhythmic pattern of learning at the Nun’senforced quiet moments. We all need this on a daily basis.
  • Strictness delivers – I quickly and precisely saw the solid ‘observables’ that I can work on.
  • Creativity can come from strictness – The approach unleashed a more creative process within me; much more than just an improvement in my international English. I have found myself thinking a lot about language and how it is connected to values and how people do things. As one of the teachers said, organisations need to include more in their (internationalisation) policies and their working identity. I agree.
  • A strict approach gives tangible ‘observables’ to work with, as distinct from the old, and more narrow, concept of ‘learning goals’. I like that and I gained new insights to feed into how we do things here at RSM.
  • I am constantly striving to keep our Executive Education programmes sharp, relevantand of real benefit to our clients. I want us to make sure we give what is needed for the ‘eye of the hurricane’ – that is, the self knowledge and the solid observables to for our clients to take with them to keep them at their best.

Which of your many talents are you focusing on? Do you have solid observables to work on to keep you at your best?


TRUST AT WORK TAKES TRIAL AN ERROR        Posted on July 13, 2011

The new world of work creates a whole new set of demands around trust. We have to think quickly and creatively to come up with new ways to keep trust strong at work. As we try new things, some work and some don’t – making mistakes is all part of it. Trust is like glue for an organisation. We all have to keep working hard to make sure it sticks, as without it things fall apart.

The new work model involves people working from home, pulling out the laptop in an airport lounge, calling a client on the other side of the world at some crazy hour. We’re busier than ever and it’s an exciting time – but the downside is that we often don’t get a chance to use our social antennas, to see, hear or get a real sense of the people we are dealing with. This is having an impact on social cohesion and critically, on trust within organisations. The ways we are used to creating and maintaining trust involve being in the same room, now we’re lucky to be in the same city.

My team works with people all over the world. We communicate with clients and colleagues around the clock. To take care of these relationships, I decided to equip each of my team with the ‘latest and greatest’ in mobile phone technology. This move was well received until I made a mistake which undermined the trust between us. Here’s what happened…

On collection of their new phone, I asked my team to sign that they would respond to communications via the mobile 24 hours a day. This was not a good move. The problem was not about being contactable all hours – my team is highly motivated and understands what the job requires. The problem was that by asking them to sign this statement, I made them feel like I did not trust them. You can imagine that during this time there was a lot talk around the office – and not always of the highly productive kind!


So I am not just talking about trust here as something that serves to promote a happy, warm feeling. I am not talking about a soft concept. When I talk about trust in this context, I am referring to a critical driver of success. The bottom line is that an environment of trust means increased focus, productivity and opportunity for growth. Keeping trust alive and well takes consistent work and effort. We are exploring new ground and there is no quick fix. To help spark your ideas, here are my Top 3 Ways to promote Trust at Work:

  •   Be transparent – communicate clearly. Tell the truth even when it might be hard for the other person to hear. Share as much as management information as possible. Be open with your reasoning. Be brave and say it how it is.
  •   Create a safe space – when people feel trusted, they feel safe to make mistakes and to grow (a learning organization). Balance empowering people by giving them lee-way and ownership, while at the same time asking their best.
  •   Walk the talk – as a leader, I strive to make sure that I act in a way that is consistent with what I ask from the people I work with. This means that I have to reflect on my own behavior.

Do your colleagues trust you? Why, and perhaps more interestingly, why not?


CHALLENGING CRITICAL THINKING              Posted on December 8, 2011

This summer I biked from Berlin to Copenhagen and part of the joy of it was the time and space it gave me to think. You know that free, uninterrupted feeling where your mind really gets to think through things a few layers deeper? As I rode my mind was peddling as hard as my legs! But it was what I saw along the way that made the biggest impact on my thoughts.And I wasn’t entirely ready for it. I biked past, Ravensbrück, concentration camp duringWW2 (primarily for women and girls).

As I was riding past the camp, I slowed my peddling to really look into it and what it looked like. My mind had to work hard to begin to imagine what happened in this space – and how what happened here happened. I saw the buildings where the guards and the officers lived and work – and it struck me that these people got up each morning to go to work – just like the rest of us. But their job was to punish and torture people. How on earth could they do this day after day?

The psychology of the situation had me ruminating for miles. And it got me thinking about psychological inclusion. It’s a very extreme example, and certainly provokes a minefield to consider. But one of the parallel’s I drew is the danger of groupthink. How do we prevent people from walking with masks on and not giving their own opinion? How do we give people the confidence and the strength to ask questions and express their real opinion?


My view is that critical thinking itself should be challenged!

Here at RSM we are dedicated to improving critical thinking and turning it into practical action. One of our top professors has done a lot of work looking into the decision making process in management teams – and also its pitfalls – because we leaders don’t always think as independently as we think we are. As leaders we should be aware of groupthink, its pitfalls and what we can do to stimulate an environment of open dialogue as well as a real and open debate. To create a certain of independence, in meetings and cooperation in our teams. It’s more and morenecessary to focus on this.

There is a famous business case based on the NASA’s tragedy concerning the burning Challenger, one minute after departure. It has been found that this happened because of a technical fault that the technical team picked up shortly before takeoff. But the management team didn’t want to hear about this technical fault; they became angry because they felt that the technical team was disturbing the process of launching. Their thought was – we have a goal and we need to go for it – the rocket will be launched and we can’t have criticism. But that is stupid – because criticism can be vital – it certainly was in this case! For a leader it is important to make the distinction between genuine critical thinking and those figures which show a certain level of resistance.

I know, this topic can be discussed a lot more in depth, but my first view is that leaders need to:

  • have a basic knowledge of psychological insights
  • stimulate feedback for themselves but also for other leaders and professionals around them (pitfall of narcissism – next time more about this subject)
  • keep their system open! In one way or the other, moving people, flexible rings, exchange, even temporarily.

How do you prevent your team or organization of groupthink? Do you know this?


A NEW YEAR WISH WITH A TWIST!                Posted on January 4, 2012


My New Year message to you is perhaps not the standard message and may sound like a paradox. While this time of the year is about sharing time with loved ones and caring for others, I invite you to think also aboutyourself and about “productive narcissism”. The word “narcissism” can conjure upnegative images of a person who is self- centred and does not care about others. However, I have another context for you to consider and that is the concept of“productive narcissism”.

I have worked with this concept for the last 5 years, first used by one of my teachers, Michael Maccoby. Maccoby redefines the productive narcissist as someone who is best suited to lead during times of rapid social and economic change. He also found that narcissistic leaders are the most effective type of leaders in times of disruptive change. What I am saying is that, a little narcissism can be a good thing.

Why? In creating more entrepreneurship within organisations, or attracting business, it’simportant to stand up for what we believe in, and follow our goals – this calls for a certain amount of narcissism. We also need such personal determination in times of tough competition or in a harsh political environment. In fact, throughout history narcissists have always emerged to inspire people and shape the future (have you already read the biography of Steve Jobs?).

But, and this is a BIG but, while narcissism can be useful – even necessary – for effective leadership, we also need to bring in the antidote for the downside of this personalitycharacteristic. This process is called, “paradoxical development”. Here at EEOD, we strive to offer programmes in which compassion is combined with drive, focus, and determination. People, and especially leaders, need to learn how they can balance themselves, for example by bringing in a strong team around them with complementary skills (not clones of themselves), having an understanding of psychology, and by possessing deep insights into their own strengths and weaknesses.

I believe that combining this understanding with expert knowledge and sound abilities will provide us with the basics for creating a sustainable future. Because business is not just aboutgrowth in this year’s turnover but ‘growth’ in many different areas. Balancing your leadershipto develop yourself, your people and your organisation is the success I wish you in 2012 and beyond.