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Leading teams: from improvising to directing
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Leading teams: from improvising to directing

Leadership is a balancing act. You have to support people but also let them do things on their own. Every leader has to learn this in practice, including Bert Geelen from Summa. “I enjoy my work more now that I delegate more to others”.

Giving teachers joy in their profession and elevating them to a higher level. That’s what Bert Geelen truly enjoys doing. Perhaps even more than teaching himself. By regularly demonstrating his commitment to the organization as a teacher at Summa in Eindhoven, he was given the opportunity to become a leader. Nowadays, he works as a team leader in the fields of Fashion and Performing Arts, and he has truly found his calling there.

Milestone  

Leadership is a separate profession that, just like teaching, is learned through experience. Bert knows all about it. A significant milestone in his leadership career was his time at the Hairdressing School, where he was actively involved for six years. He explains that initially, the team of teachers wasn’t functioning smoothly. “The work atmosphere was very informal. There was a lot of chatting, as in a hair salon, but it lacked structure, making it ineffective.” It was Bert’s task to unite the team into a more professional entity. He had to ensure that employees engaged in clearer dialogues about the quality of education and felt more accountable for their own contribution to it.

Father figure

Bert was pleased when iPM Partners came three years ago to further develop the team alongside him. “As an independent party, they had a fresh perspective on how things were going here.” During the team development process, the team identified areas for improvement. One of them was more effective meetings. The staff meetings at the hairdressing school had been lengthy and unfocused. Employees kept rehashing things even when it was clear that an individual was responsible for a particular matter.

Even for Bert as a leader, there was room for improvement. The team leader needed to adopt a more coaching style. He fell into what he calls his pitfall: the tendency to do too much himself. “Colleagues from the hairdressing school became dependent on me. I was lured into the traditional role of a father figure. Team members would come to my desk for various minor incidents and trivial matters, and I would solve them for them”. Bert was improvising left and right. “I was so busy with operational tasks that I had little time left. I would take serious work home with me.” Over time, this didn’t feel right. ”I thought to myself, ‘this can’t be the intended way’.”

Templates

The team rapidly evolved, adjusting their meeting culture and structure. They made firm agreements on the topics they wanted to discuss during their meetings. Team members took the initiative to propose agenda items, ensuring thorough preparation and even presentations. The need to also catch up with each other on informal matters was not overlooked. They reserved a brief moment in the meeting for this.

Bert, on the other hand, learned to delegate more effectively. He started trusting his colleagues more explicitly and empowered them to solve issues on their own. He resisted the temptation to provide them with predefined templates for specific tasks. “In the past, I would sit behind my computer and provide a head start. But I’ve stopped doing that. Now, I let colleagues find their own way that suits them best. This way, they take ownership of the task. If things don’t go well, they naturally come back to me for assistance.”

Afkicken

It took some time for Bert to adjust to the shift of focus away from himself. Colleagues no longer constantly knocked on his door, and what felt particularly uncomfortable was that they started bringing agenda items for the work meetings, something Bert used to handle himself in the past. Initially, he reacted awkwardly to this change. It felt like he had to go through a withdrawal. “You start questioning yourself: Do I still matter? I had to flip the switch: from doing everything myself to maintaining control. Now, I oversee the bigger picture, I now monitor the big picture, such as whether certain important points have been put on the agenda by colleagues.”

But the adjustment period didn’t last long. Soon, Bert started to see the benefits of delegating more to his colleagues. “It empowers employees, makes their work more challenging, and energizes the team.” He also discovered that his colleagues had more to offer than he had initially thought. “When you do too much yourself, like I did, you tend to underestimate people. Colleagues seemed less proactive. Once they were given responsibilities, that changed. They took much more initiative and revealed various ‘hidden’ talents.”

Appreciation

For Bert himself, his new leadership style was a breath of fresh air: “When I wasn’t constantly distracted by trivial matters, I could focus on the essentials. The focus on where my true value lies makes work more enjoyable. For example, I had more time available for coaching conversations with colleagues. I could genuinely help them progress in their development. That’s actually what I enjoy doing the most. And it was precisely for that aspect of my work that I received appreciation when I left the Hairdressing Training. I received many comments along the lines of: ‘It was great that you helped me take a step forward back then.'”

The experiences he gained back then are still serving him well, even in his current position at Fashion and Artiest. He had a much less hectic start there and was able to quickly focus on what he truly enjoys doing.

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