“Do you know that all of us today share a common trait with effective leaders? We all believe in life-long learning.”
Ron Jacobs, Projects Manager at the Postgraduate Education department of Maastricht University School of Business and Academics (SBE), was addressing a mixed group of about 40 guests, academics from Maastricht University and local business stakeholders, who had joined PGE’s first Breakfast Booster session at Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt on 4 July.
Whether it was because of the beautiful venue, the welcoming atmosphere, the fine summery weather, the appetising buffet, or the pleasant table setting in an orchard garden, the participants seemed to be in a fresh and open mindset, ready and eager to make new acquaintances, be surprised and gather new insights.
“Under the motto: ‘We all need to have breakfast,’ the idea behind our new Breakfast Booster initiative is to offer you an occasion to boost your day by sharing not only a healthy meal in a pleasant environment but also by having stimulating and inspiring conversations,” explained Jacobs.
Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt, a country estate in the outskirts of Maastricht dedicated to business events, conferences and workshops and the former residence of the famous 19th century Maastricht industrialist Petrus Regout, presented itself as a fitting partner for the Breakfast Booster sessions.
“Our cooperation came about naturally,” explained Jacobs. “As a knowledge organization, we at Maastricht University are eager to share our in-house academic expertise and explore new opportunities to so. Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt is a splendid location, with all the necessary facilities and its own business network.”
The Breakfast Booster sessions will take place on a monthly basis, every first Friday from 8 to 10 and aim to create an informal platform where academics and business professionals can meet, exchange and learn from each other, on a regular basis.
“Each event will have its own theme and we can also experiment with various formats or types of activities,” said Karin Litjens, business ambassador at Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt.
The theme of the first session, Leading in Learning, was a logical choice. “It’s the slogan of Maastricht University,” said Jacobs with a smile, “and it includes both concepts of leadership and education.”
The guest speaker for the session, Sonja Zaar, was the second logical choice. “Besides being the director of MBA programmes and international projects within our department, Sonja is currently conducting her PhD research in educational sciences and leadership development,” Jacobs explained.
Great leaders are…
As the participants took a seat at the various breakfast tables spread out across the garden, Zaar invited everyone to take part in a small exercise connected to the theme of the day. “Ask yourselves: Which inspiring leader, real or even fictional, would you have liked to welcome at your table this morning?”
Lively conversations ensued. The diverse gathering of men and women of all ages and business or academic backgrounds started exchanging views and ideas not only on Zaar’s question but also on a variety of other themes, such as the different types of leadership styles, the low representation of women in business, the ‘rat race vs quality of life’ dilemma, the business culture in South Limburg, the needs and wishes of small and medium sized companies, e-learning developments in the health industry, the rise of coaching trajectories among professionals, among others.
With the World Cup 2014 reaching its concluding stages and the Dutch team still making its way up to the final game, the most frequently named leader turned out to be the Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, who was praised for his risk-taking but smart decisions, his team building skills and his forward looking strategy. Other favourites were Richard Branson, Neelie Kroes, Angela Merkel, André Rieu, Vladimir Putin and Nelson Mandela.
… Great learners
The participants then followed Sonja Zaar towards a small courtyard next to the orchard garden where she gave them a brief presentation on the topic of learning and development.
“The most valuable thing you did this morning was not to write down the names of your most inspiring leaders: You already knew that,” said Zaar, switching to English to be understood also by the non-Dutch speakers of the group. “The important thing that you did was to get out of your usual environment and your comfort zone to come to our event, meet new people and share knowledge. Our goal was to bring you in a state of active learning by stimulating you to discuss about a specific topic within your group, make connections, exchange views, use different images and colours when writing down your thoughts, walk through these premises and enjoy the sun together.”
“Leaders are known to be great learners,” she continued. “One of the things that effective leaders do is to create or join settings where they are constantly growing.”
The participants smiled and nodded in agreement as Sonja continued: “Research has shown that the mental model for development and growth is the belief that one can learn and develop. It’s not about what you are and how good you are now but what you want to be and how good you want to be. You have to organise your own learning setting and be the master of your own development.”
Judging from the feedback forms, the participants were unanimously positive about this first Breakfast Booster session: “Inspiring, illuminating, very recognizable and directly applicable,” wrote Hans Schalkens, executive director/personal coach, Schalken&Partners. “A unique mix of business and academic knowledge in a practical and concrete implementation,” shared Yvonne Hoogstraaten, Relationship Manager at Podium 24. “Surprinsingly inspiring!” confessed another participant.
Later that morning, more public testimonials appeared on several social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Yvonne Hoogstraaten’s tweet was perhaps the best endorsement the organisers could have hoped for:
— Yvonne Hoogstraaten (@YHoogstraaten) July 4, 2014
The next Breakfast Booster will take place at Buitenplaast Vaeshartelt on 5 September.
By Sueli Brodin
Photos by Jean-Pierre Geusens