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Master Students MPS Hold up Mirrors in front of Managers during Shadow Week

How do you bring education and practice closer together? In the revised Master MPS (Management of the Public Sector) it is done, for example, through the new profile course Leadership & Behaviour inside and between organisations. The Leiden Leadership Centre (LLC) is involved in organising the course. Students shadow managers during their work at an organisation for an entire week.

The results were presented during a closing event at the end of March, in the presence of the employees that had been shadowed. Student Fleur: ‘It was a lot of fun and a real learning experience and I was allowed to be present all the time. I even got recognised during meetings.’ 

Employees and managers of, among others, the IND (Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service), the municipality of The Hague, the municipality of Leiden, the SVB (Dutch agency for implementing national insurance schemes) and the Ministry of Justice and Security were followed by the master’s students for an entire week. Sometimes online, sometimes at the office. They were allowed to participate during meetings, sit in on individual conversations, take part in meet-ups, and have personal conversations. A group of four to five students was assigned to each organisation, each linked to a different type of manager or employee with different job descriptions and seniority.

The meeting kicked off with a quiz with statements

Gaining insight in the behaviours and types of leadership styles

The aim of the shadowing was to gain insight into the behaviours and motivations, and the interaction between managers and employees. Attention was paid to various styles of leadership and, naturally, the students gained a better picture of the daily workings of a governmental organisation. The students incorporated their insights from the shadow week into a group paper they had to present to each other, the teachers, and managers during the closing event.

The event started with a quiz with statements on leadership that were also used as discussion points later on during the panel discussion. A necessity, since statements such as ‘Supporting employees is made more difficult because of the digital work floor’ or ‘There is a clear difference between male and female leadership’ provoked wide ranging opinions.

Presentations at the information market

Being in the workplace

Afterwards, the students presented their papers during the so-called information market in which the findings were shared with each other and the organisations. Student Anne Fleur had shadowed José, transition manager at the IND. ‘It was a learning experience. You get a good view of an organisation and are really working with the practice.’ For José, who had just started working at the IND, it was also very informative. ‘You’re forced to take a look at your own management style and how you interact with the people on your team. It’s good to have that mirror held up to you.’


Rob, advisor development and implementation at the HR department of the municipality of The Hague, was shadowed by Fleur. Rob: ‘I thought it was really nice and very insightful because it made me very aware of “what I’m actually doing” and I started to think more about how I behave during meetings and how I approach things. It was an eye-opener. The feedback I got from Fleur is that she noticed several behaviours and leadership styles in me and I recognise that. It also suits my job. We have to be able to take on different types of roles.’

Fleur observed Rob at the municipality of The Hague

Fleur was allowed to be present during a lot of different meetings. ‘It was really interesting to observe and during the feedback it turned out that Rob could really recognise himself in the image that I had seen. I noticed a lot of changing orienting behaviour in Rob because he’s busy with implementing a new project and working on that mission. At some point I also got recognised during meetings. Rob smiles: ‘You were even asked to give input on the content: “Fleur, tell us, what do you think about this?”

The shadow week was a good first step to getting to know more about leadership for Fleur. ‘I’ll probably also write my thesis on leadership at the municipality of The Hague so it was really nice to have already been able to apply the theory in practice. I’ve learned a new way of doing research, not only through interviews but also through observations. Another skill learned.’

Applying theory in practice

Assistant Professor Tanachia Ashikali noticed that her students really enjoyed getting a behind the scenes glimpse of the inner workings of a governmental organisations. ‘Classes that we teach are naturally more based on theory and because of this shadow week they were apply to link these theories on leadership to practice. We hope that students also noticed the complexity of leadership in practice. By tagging along they get to see everything that comes with it and learn that in different contexts, such as individual, group, digital, different types of leadership and behaviour are also required.’  

Text: Margriet van der Zee

Images: Eelkje Colmjon 

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