When Antoon Vugts, HR director, changed his job in business for one at the university in 2017, he discovered to his amazement that the UM did not offer any leadership programmes. It appeared that most of them had been dropped around 2010 in order to make savings. In answer to questions such as how people conduct annual assessment interviews, give and ask for feedback, ensure that employees feel safe, I often heard: I just go with my gut, I never actually learned how to do it.
Proper training and supervision for new, but also for experienced managers is a “must”, according to both Vugts and Katinka Bastin, head of the Staff Career Centre (part of HR), which is offering the programmes. “The head of a department, section or service centre must be equipped for the task. Otherwise you destroy talent. Employees get stuck, work pressure mounts, there is no attention for their development, you don’t know what they are struggling with.” In short, a good leadership culture is of significant importance, the two emphasise.
The initial steps have already been taken. The one-year course Fostering Future Leaders for members of staff (academic and supporting staff in salary brackets 10 and 11) who would like to take on a leadership role in the near future, started in November. Their wish to take on a leadership role must be supported by their director.
For staff members starting out in a leadership position, there is the Fundamentals of Leadership training. A pressure cooker pot, according to Vugts and Bastin, that teaches people over the course of three times two days, to think about themselves (Bastin: “Very important, you need to know yourself very well”), the other person (colleagues), and the team. The theory is practised with such things as roleplay during the course, which can then be applied in practice. “We would like to make this training compulsory for all new leaders. The Executive Board and the directors have already agreed. The Local Consultative Body has now been asked for their agreement.”
In addition, another course is being developed for experienced leaders, the so-called TOP leadership programme. “We are thinking of lectures by leading academic experts in the field of leadership, both from the Netherlands and abroad, followed by intervision groups, in which you discuss certain themes with colleagues. We will not be making this compulsory, but we expect deans, directors and also the Executive Board to encourage participation.”
The UM is not done with just these three. There will also be tailor-made courses for individuals or faculties. Bastin: “For example, we already have a workshop for Young Professionals. Young academics (both academic and non-academic staff) who are in doubt: do I want to be a leader or do I want to completely focus on the content of my field?”
Good and not so good
What is the level of the ‘UM leader’ at this moment? Vugts: “We don’t differ from other universities in the Netherlands. We have very good people here but also – aside from good intentions – people who make terrible mistakes.” What is the most frequent mistake? “Not giving real feedback,” both say. “Not actually saying what you think of someone’s performance. At the moment, it happens all too often that nothing is said, or that the message is so wrapped up that it doesn’t come across. Until the breaking point is reached and a leader needs to get rid of someone. That is just not on. An employee has a right to proper feedback. And vice versa. We talk too much ‘about’ people instead of ‘with’ people. It is only when you break through that pattern that you will have the opportunity to change something.”