First Edition

First Edition

Leadership explored at first edition of RSM Erasmus Business Series

The first edition of the RSM Erasmus Business Series took place in Amsterdam on Friday 28 June 2013. Senior professionals with an interest in leadership attended “Leadership: Relevance lost?” a free seminar led by Boudewijn Bertsch, adjunct faculty at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

The Erasmus Business Series seminar was attended by 75 executives representing a wide range of organisations, including KPN, British Airways, ABN AMRO, Houthoff Buruma,, Vopak and Accenture. To watch the video, click here.

Survey: Executives disappointed with the quality of leadership

Erasmus business seriesAttendees had completed a survey on leadership prior to the event. The results showed that respondents considered leadership very important. The average score was 9.1 out of 10. Yet, when asked how they experienced the quality of leadership they receive, the score was only an average of 5.5 out of 10.

Boudewijn Bertsch, who provides leadership programmes offered by RSM Executive Education, spoke about this dissatisfaction using facts from biology, neuroscience and history. He explained that, even today, most of our leadership approaches, and the way we educate leaders, relies on principles valid for manufacturing environments, largely ignoring the basic tendencies we as a species have for developing and leading people.

Mistaken use of the manufacturing template

Bertsch calls this the mistaken use of the manufacturing template. “This template does not do justice to the way you bring out the best in people and help them flourish," he said. “Many executives use leadership competency models and performance management systems that are examples of linear and defect oriented systems. These systems don’t bring out the best in people and sabotage the performance of our companies.”

He added that the phenomenal influences of the industrialisation era, which employed linear approaches, a defect-oriented cause-and-effect view and standards of perfection, causes us to limit the potential of people who have to operate in a world that is much more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) than a manufacturing environment.

“Calling people ‘Human Resources’ or ‘Human Resource Management’, shows 19th century industrial thinking as if people are just a form of resources, like material and financial resources,” said Bertsch. “This is manufacturing template thinking and it is time to stop it if we want to bring out the best in people.”

Using the collective intelligence and feed forward

Instead, Bertsch argued, we need to use non-linear and more context sensitive approaches to lead people and develop leaders. For example, focusing on feed forward rather than feedback, unlocking the collective intelligence, rather than just listening to the leader's views, making talent management more inclusive using intact teams rather than exclusive using only a select group in the company and assessing people's performance through multiple dimensions, including context, not merely linear performance ratings and competency models.

“Talent management needs to apply to all employees rather than a select few,” said Bertsch. He also criticised the use of linear personality type surveys, arguing that people can change and develop their character and behavioural repertoire through the deliberate use of what he calls “practice”.

Erasmus business seriesParticipants were invited to use a new approach to evaluate and provide feed forward to leaders, making use of three dimensions, as in a triangle. This approach is much more explorative, development-oriented and sensitive to context through narratives. This was received very enthusiastically as participants used this approach in small groups for 25 minutes. As attendees worked and discussed their experiences, the conference room came alive with an energetic buzz.

“Spend your time wisely,” said Bertsch. “Use leadership workshops for practicing collaborative tools and approaches, rather than personality surveys that promote self-limiting assumptions about people’s performance potential.”

Bertsch made a clear and provocative case that if executives don't change their approach to leadership and leadership education, they and their leadership will lose relevance. "Changing the way we lead and educate people in companies and society is long overdue," he said. “Leadership is a continuous discovery and conversation with the people you lead.”

Participants said they “were inspired”, “developed new ideas on leadership”, and “enjoyed using an innovative approach during the interactive breakout session.”

At the conclusion of the event, participants were offered drinks and networking opportunities.

About the RSM Erasmus Business Series

The RSM Erasmus Business Series is a thought-provoking, impactful, and interactive series of free seminars covering a range of business topics. Each seminar aims to inspire senior professionals, and develop their understanding of current business issues. The series is organised by the department of Executive Education at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

For more information on this seminar or the speaker, please contact Maja Cerim.