Exceptional leadership rewarded

Beyondership Award

At Vlerick, we aim to develop leaders who go beyond the average and we provide you with the tools to become just that: true Beyonders. The vMA-Vlerick Beyondership Award is granted to the Executive MBA student who best integrates aspects of exceptional leadership into his or her in-company project. The three nominees for the 2012 award comment on their projects and share their views on leadership.

Prepare for the unpredictable -

“It’s all about knowing how to strike the right chord to coach people into change”

  • Name: Kurt Melens
  • Position: General Manager NTGent
  • Project: Preparing for Black Swan Events in the Cultural Profit – winner

Kurt MelensNTGent is Ghent’s publicly funded city theatre. And black swans are unpredictable high-impact factors or events. The metaphoric title sums up exactly what Kurt’s project set out to achieve: “Find ways to reduce the potentially negative impact of factors and events beyond the organisation’s control, such as the level of government funding, the European economic crisis or the success of our productions.”

So Kurt identified strategic breakthroughs to improve the theatre company’s business model. “I advised implementing price differentiation to raise revenues, making strategic use of IT and introducing formal portfolio management procedures and intelligent supply management to reduce operating costs and improve efficiency. Quite revolutionary measures for a cultural organisation really.” But he also recognised that the success of these measures hinged on leadership and organisational culture.

“Like most theatre companies we have a dual leadership model with an artistic director and a general manager. It’s always a balancing act trying to reconcile seemingly conflicting artistic, social and financial interests. It’s absolutely crucial that we adopt a truly joint leadership to bring about the required organisational and cultural changes.”

Kurt believes a common misconception is that as long as someone is assigned the leadership role, the rest will follow. What, then, does it take to be a good leader? “Empathy and excellent communication skills are vital characteristics, especially in the world of theatre. You’re mostly dealing with quite sensitive people. It’s all about knowing how to strike the right chord to coach people into change.”

How to avoid the drawer -  “Good leaders are truly authentic”

  • Name: Danny Vossen
  • Position: Strategic Marketing Manager at Technicolor
  • Project: Business Model Innovation in the NSP Value Chain – nominee

Danny VossenThe network service provider (NSP) industry is highly dynamic and volatile, with rapidly changing technology and new players constantly entering the market. Danny investigated how Technicolor, a leading supplier of digital content delivery services and home access devices, should innovate its business model in order to avoid the commodity trap. He proposed a range of new business models, each requiring varying degrees of change, as well as recommendations for their implementation.

For Danny, good leaders don’t rely on their position to impose their ideas; instead they show empathy, inspiring and motivating people to share their vision and act on their ideas – principles he also tries to put into practice himself. “When I started my project I’d only just joined the company. So naturally I came up against some scepticism. As I didn’t want my report to end up in a drawer, the biggest challenge was to gain credibility and get input and buy-in from the rest of the business.”

Good leaders don’t limit their input to that of their superiors. “Take a 360-degree view. You’ll often come across useful ideas that may not have found their way to the top of the organisation just yet. That’s why, early on in the project, I contacted people from the operational levels, asking for feedback on some rough ideas, to test the water, as it were. After all, any change would first and foremost have an impact on their way of working.”

Does he have a role model? “Not really… I believe good leaders are truly authentic. And that’s also what I aspire to be.”

Turn the problem on its head -

“Have the courage to pursue your own way, consistent with your values

  • Name: Claudia Kipka
  • Position: Regional Manager for South America at EABIS
  • Project: Sustaining growth. Suggestions for the corporate development of an international NGO – nominee

Claudia KipkaWhen the successful partnership between the Hong Kong office of the NGO Earthwatch and HSBC came to an end, Earthwatch* had to build new corporate partnerships to sustain its growth. Usually companies will select the NGOs they want to support. But Claudia turned things around. “What if NGOs were to select their corporate partners?”

She based her project on the hypothesis that a successful partnership requires a sufficient fit between both parties: the company and the NGO. For one thing, the company needs to demonstrate certain characteristics, e.g. a commitment to sustainability. But also the NGO needs to assess how it can create value for the company. By analysing companies from three sectors (IT, Finance, Food & Beverage) and by looking at the competitive landscape for each, Claudia narrowed down the pool of potential partners. The last step in the selection process was a “customer evaluation tool” she developed, making it possible to evaluate specific companies and recommend possible levels of partnership according to their profile.

The most important lesson learned? “You can’t do it all on your own! I needed to involve many people, especially since I was doing something that hadn’t been done before. If you’re not sure how to go about something, ask others. People can often help you in a way you’d never have imagined. Just make sure you don’t forget to give them feedback on the outcome. A thank-you note with a copy of your report, for example.”

For Claudia that’s also what leadership is about. “It’s about taking initiative and trying something new, but also opening up and connecting with others.” Is it enough to be a good leader? “I’d add integrity. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not and behave consistently with your values. A good leader has to have the courage to pursue his or her own way, and be prepared not to be liked by everyone.”

*At the time of her in-company project, Claudia was External Affairs Manager at EABIS. She came into contact with Earthwatch via conferences and papers.

How to be a Beyonder

Exceptional leaders have the courage to go against the tide. If a leader wants to make a difference, then he or she should leave the beaten track and colour outside the lines if it’s for the better. Beyonders and beyondership are terms coined by professors David Venter and Herman Van den Broeck to describe exceptional leaders and their leadership style. In their book “Beyonders – Transcending average leadership”, they explain how exceptional leadership is about the fundamental attitude of leaders towards their business and the people around them. Whether you’re a leader or being led, if you have the performance of your organisation at heart, then this inspiring book is a must-read.

& Rankings

Equis Association of MBAs AACSB Financial Times Economist Intelligence Unit