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Shadowing a municipality manager for a week: 'I saw him mostly putting out a lot of fires'

After a week of shadowing for her master's degree Management of the Public Sector, it has become very clear to student Loes what a manager's day looks like. 'He was putting out fires all day.'

What was your focus when shadowing the leader?

Loes: 'My group focused on ethical leadership. Ethical leadership means that the leader shows exemplary behaviour, is clear in norms and values and makes principled choices. We all shadowed a different leader within the municipality of The Hague. They didn't know what we were going to focus on during the shadowing week.' 

What did you notice while shadowing?

'At the municipality of The Hague, the focus is on conflicts of interest to prevent fraud, for example. In addition, management team meetings were often about how things are noted and formulated. These topics recurred in all the meetings I attended.' 

Loes (left) during the final presentation

Were there any other things you noticed during the meetings?

'All managers kept their pace during meetings. If a discussion was irrelevant, they went straight to the next point. In larger meetings, people were called in for each topic. These people waited in the corridor and when the topic was closed, they left again. This also happened in online meetings. I found that funny to see but it worked efficiently.' 

What did you give back to the manager?

'We gave back that really saw the bit about conflict of interests in the managers work. As a point for improvement, we noticed there was a lot of talking about each other, instead of with each other. There is a lot of interpretation of each other's behaviour instead of asking: what do you mean by that? I found it exciting to say this to them. In the end, it turned out that all the managers recognised themselves in this. They wanted to know from us what they could do to improve this.' 

What do you take away in terms of knowledge gained?

'Something I actually knew but had misjudged is that as a leader, you are putting out fires all day. The leader I shadowed had very clear for himself what he wanted to do that day. Only in the delusion of the day, he was completely consumed by other things.' 

Would you like to have the manager you shadowed as a manager yourself?

'Yes. He is accessible and I think you can discuss anything with him. Even if you don't agree with something. He is open to other opinions, I liked that about him.' 

Text: Annemieke van Es 

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