Leadership Development Trajectory: “You can’t learn it only from a book”

Dr Ursula Glunk, senior lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at SBE and coordinator of the Leadership Development Trajectory

Today’s business leaders face all sorts of challenges. How best to deal with your colleagues, your subordinates, your boss? How to innovate and take risks while also safeguarding everyday affairs? How to manage the tasks you’re less good at?

At the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE), MBA students learn to approach all these matters and more through the Leadership Development Trajectory, which forms a key component of the MBA curricula.

Practical applications

“We’re convinced that for leadership positions it’s not enough to just acquire knowledge. You also have to have particular skills, engage in self-reflection, learn how to handle yourself and others”, says Dr Ursula Glunk, senior lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at SBE and coordinator of the Leadership Development Trajectory. “The programme deals with the challenges that you face as a leader on a personal as well as a business level. It offers direct transfer of the acquired insights into everyday life, so it’s really directly applicable.”

Glunk and colleagues established the Leadership Development Trajectory on a formal basis in 2006, in an effort to make the existing training in leadership more far-reaching but also more personal.

The programme is run by four staff, two of them internal and two external, all of them professional leadership coaches. And it is continually being developed further: for example, the training courses are revised on the basis of new insights and evaluations, sometimes in small ways, other times more substantially.

Glunk: “Something like this can’t be static; it’s not a one-sided process. But there’s certainly increasing optimisation, and it’s going really well.”

Personal effectiveness

The stated aim of the Leadership Development Trajectory is to increase participants’ personal effectiveness through insight into and practice of their own leadership. They expand their leadership horizons and impact – whether they actually hold any formal authority or not – and learn to cope better with the challenges of personal leadership as well as the leadership of others.

In addition, they’re encouraged to become more aware of their personal motivations, values and qualities, as well as any limiting thought patterns and their effects.

All this is done in addition to the regular MBA-modules through a series of customised components, including a buddy system in which students are paired off in order to share experiences and learn from one another.

Participants attend three two-day training courses on themes such as authentic and inspiring leadership, co-creation, communication and dealing with diversity.

In six-person teams known as ‘mutual learning groups’, they also work on cases and reflect on the themes that emerge from different perspectives. The team members themselves together decide which cases to focus on, and in this way, says Glunk, “the group essentially learns to steer itself”.

Individual coaching

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, each participant is assigned a personal coach with whom they work one on one. In seven sessions, they formulate and work towards specific goals, which might include learning to influence others more effectively, becoming more visible within their organisation, or staying resilient in the face of opposition to a new initiative.

Glunk: “During each subsequent session you talk about your experiences, reflect on them. This means you see things more clearly; you might for instance suddenly realise how you’ve been contributing to your own difficulties. Often you know in theory what you should do in a given situation, but still you don’t do it. This is called the ‘knowing-doing gap’. Through coaching, you learn to bridge that gap: for example, a manager might say he wants to give his staff more room for initiative, but at the same time he keeps a tight rein on things. So there’s this inconsistency between what you say you want and what you actually do. By exploring and challenging the assumptions underlying your habits, you can really integrate insights into your behaviour, so that you achieve a more far-reaching and sustainable change.”

Changing patterns

All this enhanced self-awareness serves to improve participants’ personal effectiveness as well as their management and leadership skills. In particular, they learn to identify thought patterns that may be holding them back, then to consciously and gradually abandon these patterns, experiment with new behaviour, and reflect on the effects.

“Recognising your usual patterns helps you dare to step out of them. You overcome your fears in that way. And that’s the best, most inspiring thing, because your possibilities broaden, you stretch yourself, and you really enlarge your playing field. You also take action: your goals don’t stay stuck in the intention stage but instead you actually take concrete steps towards them.”

This direct applicability of the Leadership Development Trajectory, it appears, serves as an important draw card in attracting students to Maastricht’s MBA programmes.

“After all,” says Glunk, “you can’t learn leadership only from a book!”


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