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Executive Board column: Trust in one another’s abilities makes us more agile

People in leadership roles are unlikely to discuss leadership skills with their colleagues. But that is precisely what we as a university would like them to do. Because trust in one another’s abilities will make us an agile university that innovates and makes room for talent.

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What makes them enthusiastic? What challenges do they face? Building on a healthy, engaged and learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s the turn of Martijn Ridderbos.

The word ‘leadership’ may suggest leading an organisation, but it also means personal leadership: taking charge of yourself, thinking about your own development, making decisions about which path to follow and reflecting on your influence on colleagues. The more you know about yourself and consider the effect you have on others, the more you are able to collaborate. 

If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is that trust in one another leads to great strength. The speed at which we started working from home and teaching online was unprecedented. Projects that would normally take months were rolled out in a weekend. This speed was caused by not only external pressure but also the agility that is generated when you trust one another. 

‘If I know what you’re good at, then I can rely on you to do your job properly.’

This agility is what we need to be able to respond to the complicated issues that our university faces. It is important to be agile, even when there is no crisis. If I know what you’re good at, then I can rely on you to do your job properly. If I can see that you do not agree with something, then we can talk about it. If we talk about it, we’ll be able to face new challenges together. 

This makes is important for everyone at our university to think about their personal leadership qualities. Because if we take the time to talk about this with our colleagues, it will make our work easier and more enjoyable. I’m convinced it is an investment that always pays off.  


Last Thursday I myself made time for this. Together with Annetje, Hester and the deans of the faculties, I took part in a pilot workshop on leadership. Over the past few months, a team of colleagues has collected input from the organisation and worked out what leadership means at Leiden University and which skills this involves. In the workshop we learned about these skills and reflected together on our own leadership.

Several pilot workshops will soon be held for groups within the organisation. Then the tools for discussing leadership skills will be made available to everyone. Because if we want to innovate and connect, as is the goal of our Strategic Plan, we will have to talk with one another about our leadership and skills. In our organisation we may have done too little in the past to make this sound appealing to people. If you ask me, we should start doing so straight away. 

Let’s Connect toolkit

If you’d like to start working on your own personal development already, why not take a look at our Let’s Connect toolkit. You’ll find articles, videos, training and tools that will help you start an open conversation. You’ll also find tips on how to connect with others and listen actively, and you can practise handling difficult conversations and reaching a consensus. You will learn how to give feedback and reflect on your own behaviour so you can communicate with respect.

Does this strike a chord or would you like to share any insights or experiences relating to this column? If so, send us an email at nieuws@leidenuniv.nl

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