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Executive Board column: Energy and new insights at the strategic conference

It’s become somewhat of a tradition at Leiden University: the strategic conference at the end of June each year. About a hundred staff including the faculty boards, academic directors, directors of the expertise centres and Administration and Central Services, the representative councils and student assessors come together for a day and a half to discuss important issues at the University.

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 a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s Hester Bijl’s turn.

This year we spoke about implementing the Strategic Plan and the type of leadership this will require within our community. A fantastic leadership competency model has been developed, which we were all given a taste of. We also had a visitor: the Rector Magnificus of the University of Helsinki, who spoke about the similarities and differences between our universities and the implementation of our strategies. But the strategic conference is also about meeting people you don’t see so often in your day-to-day work. That sparks new energy and insights.

The student assessors came up with thought-provoking observations about interdisciplinarity and our international culture, which immediately got the discussion going. The same was true of the session about new hubs that will provide experimental space for interdisciplinary research and collaboration. We have a strong tendency to think everything through and map it out in detail first. But the working group said: ‘Why not just start a hub. Decide on a theme and begin the experiment. And issue a call for bottom-up initiatives.’ I’ve learned a few lessons from this and am going to look into it.

‘Everyone is so driven, both the academic and the support and management staff’

It’s good to be reminded every now and then, for instance at this strategic conference and other events, of our university’s strength: its people. Everyone is so driven, both the academic and the support and management staff. I knew that of course, but when you find yourself in a room with all these people or talking to someone about leadership, it strikes you once again. Not in the sense that we all agree with one another because sometimes we don’t. Then it’s good to talk to one another. I’ve also heard some positive criticism and that is exactly what we as a university need, also while implementing the Strategic Plan.

Strategic conference 2022 participants

The implementation of the plan really must begin and we’ll need everyone’s help with this. People are already working on some of the ambitions and action lines, for instance in the shape of projects and programmes that have been started in recent years. The Leiden Research Support or Recognition and Rewards programmes, for instance, or the developments on the theme of leadership. But it’s important that we also start new initiatives in the near future, a coherent set of them. And that’s a bit of a puzzle. To get a better idea of what’s already going on, the idea came up of a place (digital or physical) where we can follow what’s going on with the Strategic Plan.

I felt a lot of commitment from those present at the conference. But everyone is busy with their teaching, research and other day-to-day tasks. It’s no coincidence that reducing the staff workload is part of the Strategic Plan. This makes it important that we continue to meet up and ensure that the implementation plan appeals to our entire university community.

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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