You were one of the first to establish the link between top-level sport and leadership.
Jan: “In times of crisis, not many people like to lead, while that is exactly when a good captain is desperately needed. Managing a company successfully, and retaining the right employees in your company, is becoming increasingly difficult. Therefore, it’s high time for a new kind of leadership. A ‘sports mindset’ must be integrated more into the business world. Top athletes are used to performing under pressure and manoeuvring quickly in competitive and complex situations. Performing under pressure is completely different from performing in your comfort zone. Instead of generating stress, leaders must create drive. Neuroscience can teach and help us a lot in this regard. Humans are complex beings, while simultaneously being such very emotional creatures. Too many leaders don’t understand enough what makes people tick, how feelings come about and how to deal with them… You don’t get people moving without emotions. But leaders are not adequately trained for this…”
… which makes organisations ‘overmanaged’?
Jan: “… and ‘undercoached’. BDO is breaking through that reality and has made an enormous effort in recent years to focus more on coaching their people. In this regard, the relationship of trust between the employee and the ‘people manager’ – the coach – is essential. Growth and development are central to this. By focusing on continuous feedback – and ‘feed forward’ – discussions, colleagues know better where they stand and where they want to go. This approach is actually an integral part of the evolution towards more sustainable entrepreneurship. This is not self-evident in a very rational business run primarily by lawyers, accountants, auditors, tax specialists, etc. However, awareness of the importance of connecting and coaching is growing and is also being translated into practice. This creates a great deal of stimulation and is clearly becoming a critical differentiator.”
“Receiving an award is actually getting feedback.” What do you mean exactly?
Jan: “Receiving feedback – in the form of an award or in other ways – may not be an excuse to become conservative, but to improve… regardless of experience and age. People who receive only positive feedback risk falling into the trap of continuing to work the way they currently are. Wrong! Growth-oriented feedback is much more valuable to me than purely positive feedback, because it makes you look at yourself critically and inspires change, evolution and, ultimately, even ‘doing better’ than before. It’s not easy to give and ask for feedback, but it’s crucial for an organisation’s growth story.”
So, it’s fine if feedback puts some pressure on you?
Jan: “A leader must understand the mechanism of where, when and how much pressure they can and may put. People need pressure from time to time to do more than usual, to broaden their tolerance zone. Obsessively avoiding pressure is counter-productive. The art is to convert pressure into positive drive and not into negative pressure or stress. Good leaders can do that.”
‘Pressure’ was the theme of last year’s CEO Summit. The headline for 2023 is ‘Human Cloud: Original Leadership’.
Jan: “A leader who connects with the employees in a human way also dares to (and must) push where it hurts, albeit without pouring salt into the wound. Compare it to receiving a vaccine: at first, you might suffer a little, but eventually you recover, you become better as an individual, and the group immunity grows too. As long as you give people enough time to recover. Giving recovery time is even more important than demanding effort. But don’t let employees stay home if they feel tired after an exhausting assignment – instead, give them a different, less burdensome task for a while. Bottom line: pressure is a well-intended system, and those who can apply the mechanism properly will end up with fewer burnouts or absences. People who experience ‘underpressure’ because they are not challenged enough will start doubting their own talents or skills. An effective leader understands and masters this paradox.”
Easier said than done?
Jan: “Absolutely. Managers receive too little support or, in the worst-case scenario, they have no interest in how people function. Whereas they must understand very clearly what impact the body can have on the brain and vice versa. Instead of having them take another 3-day course on process optimisation or a certain methodology, they need more training on ‘how do I deal with people?’
I once broke my little finger. The radiologist with years of training took a photo. The anaesthesiologist, also highly trained, put me under anaesthesia for the operation. Then it was the surgeon and the physiotherapist’s turn. So many specialisms for a little finger. Meanwhile, there is much less training for the leaders who work with people’s heads and have to understand why they feel good or bad about themselves. The impact of this is so much greater on the well-being of the people and the organisation in which they must function.”