In the spotlight: Mariëlle Heijltjes, Professor of Managerial Behaviour

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My name is Mariëlle Heijltjes. I was born in 1968 in Heerlen. I am married, and the mother of two sons of 15 and 13. I hold several roles at Maastricht University, as an Associate Dean, Director of Postgraduate Education and Professor of Managerial Behaviour.

Bridging science and business

Do I find it difficult to have different functions? No. On the contrary, I think I am in a privileged position. My work has both an academic side and a very practical side to it. One of my biggest sources of inspiration comes from translating academic research into applicable practical knowledge. I like seeing myself as a bridge builder between science and business.

The core of my work consists in examining the motivations behind the behaviour of (top) managers. I became interested in the topic during my studies in business economics. For my PhD research I had to conduct one on one interviews with members of various management teams. I was struck by the fact that often completely different views on the same subject could exist within a team. I asked myself at the time: are they aware that they all think differently about the same topic? And what kind of consequences does this have in terms of cooperation and effectiveness? I could not answer these questions back then because they were outside the scope of my research, but they certainly would later define my professional career.

As a scientist, one must be naturally curious. It was my curiosity that brought me to Maastricht University. I joined the second batch of students who in 1985 went to study at what was then called the Faculty of Economic Sciences. I became part of the adventure of a still very young university. The intrepid character and the innovative spirit of the university had an enormous appeal to me. That innovative spirit has never quite left the university and the faculty, and certainly remained within the Postgraduate Education department.

An adventurous mindset

I have always had an adventurous mindset. That’s probably due to my youth. My father used to work in the Air Force, so we often had to move. I also think these wanderings developed my inclination for traveling and working in an international environment. During my PhD for example I spent one year in the United States and a little less than 10 years ago my family and I lived and worked in New Zealand for half a year.

It is only later in my career that I found some answers to the questions that had intrigued me so much during my PhD research. I learned that (top) managers are often unaware of their own behaviour and motivations. This awareness, however, is crucial to bring about change; it is impossible to influence people’s behaviour if you don’t know why they do the things they do. Often people act in a certain way because they believe that it is the appropriate thing to do or it is what others expect them to do. That’s when it becomes interesting to examine what feeds these assumptions. If you can find the answer to that question, you have a fertile ground to work with.

Every person and every manager has his own frame of reference. You can compare this to a telescope through which you can look at the world, and also look at yourself in the mirror. If you put on a different pair of glasses, you see the world and yourself in a different way. That is in essence one of the exercises that we do during our tailor-made programmes: we offer managers a whole collection of glasses and show them new ways to look at things. In that sense, you can compare us scientists to opticians, whose task it is to give people a sharper image of reality.

Globally responsible leaders

Ultimately, I want my work to contribute to the development of so-called globally responsible leaders, leaders who are aware of the impact of their actions on the world in the broadest sense of the word – on the economic performance of their organisation, but also on society and on the environment. In order to achieve lasting results it is important to pay attention to all these aspects as a human being and as a company. The companies for which we develop tailor-made programmes share this vision with us.

The specificity of our tailor-made programmes is that they are set up on the basis of co-creation and co-learning. We go and sit down with a client and create a programme together. We bring our academic knowledge and they bring their practical experience. In this way, we truly learn from each other. In this respect, the traditional distinction between teacher and student does not exist. A tailor-made programme resembles more a development process than a finished product. It is created gradually on the basis of feedback that is constantly being added. This method of creating and learning is very innovative. We at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics are very much forerunners in this approach and we can compete with comparable business schools in world cities such as New York and London – how cool is that?!

Additional information can be found on:

Postgraduate Education  – http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Faculties/SBE/TargetGroup/Education/Professionals.htm

Tailor made programmes – http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Faculties/SBE/TargetGroup/Education/Professionals/customisedProgrammes.htm

By Postgraduate Education

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