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‘The human leader: what if it all started with me?’

With the UM Star Lectures, Maastricht University wants to facilitate its alumni by bringing the university to them. The lectures offer the opportunity to meet each other in an informal way and at the same time to get inspired and share academic insights and experiences. On Thursday 6 February, Star Lectures took place in 14 different cities in 5 countries. UMIO’s director Mariëlle Heijltjes was responsible for the Star Lecture in Düsseldorf with the title ‘The human leader: what if it all started with me?’.

The lecture in Düsseldorf was the third Star Lecture that Prof. Dr. Mariëlle Heijltjes provided. In the past, she already spoke in Munich and Cologne. About a hundred alumni came to the atmospheric Maxhaus to meet and listen to the lecture about leadership.

“I wanted to paint a picture of what the attendees should pay attention to when shaping their own leadership role, show them which elements play a role in this”, says Heijltjes. “I think this is a very important topic because in today’s complex world, as a leader you can literally make or break people’s well-being and productivity.”

How to be a human leader?

“In that complex world of digitalisation, sustainability and globalisation, as a leader you must constantly navigate between directive and empowering behaviour”, Heijltjes continues. “Because on the one hand you have to maintain a certain order – after all, you have to deal with a budget, objectives and operate within set legal and moral frameworks – and at the same time you have to keep people inspired because the work is too complex to only follow the rules.

To successfully navigate between these two potentially opposing leadership behaviours, you need to be aware of how you respond to paradoxes and complexity. In stress situations, the default reaction is to close the shutters and fall back on existing (behavioural) patterns that you feel comfortable with. However, another option is to notice that you are doing that and to consciously work on remaining open-minded and curious with the aim of continuing to move forward. With the latter attitude, the chances that you keep your employees motivated and engaged are much greater. However, this requires a certain internal flexibility and resilience. So to be a human leader, you must be prepared to work with how your emotions, behaviour and thoughts interact. That way, you can better understand what you do well and what you still need to learn. If you are willing to keep investigating how that works for you, it becomes easier to navigate a complex environment.”

Interested and enthusiastic

During and after the lecture, there was a lot of interaction with the attendees. Heijltjes: “I had set up an interactive lecture so that everyone could actively participate. That worked out well; the audience was interested and enthusiastic. Because most attendees have experience with leadership roles, I think what we discussed provided them with words to express what they already knew intuitively and had experienced. That led to recognition, introspection and a lively debate.”

Pictures: UM Alumni Office