Dorothee van Vredenburch, NN Group

Dorothee van Vredenburch, NN Group

Building bridges between purpose, people and performance

Dorothee van Vredenburch, Member of the Management Board at NN Group, told the Summit audience that she had searched for literature about leadership – and discovered no less than 220,000 books with ‘leadership’ in the title. “So who am I to tell you what's it's about?” she asked. Instead, she told the audience about her own personal leadership toolkit.

“You can choose to take it or leave it – what you choose not to take is also important,” she said, and went on to describe her role as chief change and organisation at international Insurance and Asset Management company NN Group, which includes responsibilities for communications, branding, and the Group’s own corporate citizenship programme. “Communications and personal communications are very important to us at three different levels,” she said.

Assets that don’t breathe

First, communications exist at the rational level; fact sheets, spreadsheets, contracts, and operating profits. “It’s important stuff to share – the 'what' – but not the most inspiring stuff for most people because it's about assets that don't breathe.”

The second level of communications is more complex and intimate; Dorothee van Vredenburch called it ‘the emotional level’, and it connects with customers, with employees and even with investors who rely on analysts’ information. “It’s less about data, more about connecting and doing. This is the ‘how’,” she said. “But it's a pretty rational ‘how’.”

Authentic communications

The third level of communication is the spiritual or intuitive level, or the ‘why’. “I think this is where the authenticity button is housed,” she said. “You just feel when someone speaks if they mean it or do they say it because it is politically correct?” and she referred to Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ Ted Talk for inspiration.

She said her personal mission and source of energy was striving to connect these three levels, which she calls connecting the purpose, the people and their performance ‘because posters and mouse pads don’t work; it has to come from inside’.

“Too much emphasis on performance and not on the purpose leads to short-term thinking. But too much on purpose without a close eye on performance means you’re floating in la-la land,” she warned, and emphasised the importance of a balance. “Your living assets are your connections with stakeholders – customers, employees, regulators, and society at large.”

A big dose of trust

A leader’s survival kit should also contain a big dose of trust, she said, and if you don't trust the people you work with then you’re working with the wrong people. “So change it and do something else.”

She summarised her view of leadership. First, a leader must connect people, purpose and performance by communication on three levels; the rational, the emotional and the intuitive – which gives the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. “I'm convinced this is how to balance your most valuable resource, which is time,” said Van Vredenburch. “Real leaders know this is the hard stuff, not the soft stuff. Put value on your social capital.”

Self-confidence helps you grow

Second, she said a leader must give others self-confidence. When people have self-confidence they are bold and try new things, they co-operate instead of surreptitiously attempting to bring projects down, she explained. And the opposite is to allow people to be fear-driven so that they cower and plod and spread negativity with every word and gesture. “But all too often we as leaders ignore or neglect it. Maybe we think if we give other people self-confidence, then it will desert us, but the opposite is true. It helps you to grow,” she said.

Van Vredenburch concluded by saying that leadership is about being, not doing. “People will forget what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

RSM Leadership Summit 2015 - presentation by Dorothee van Vredenburch, NN Group
RSM Leadership Summit 2015 - presentation by Dorothee van Vredenburch, NN Group Building bridges between purpose, people and performance
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