¨Leadership is not a hero's story, but a struggle¨, says Rabobank´s Chairman, Wiebe Draijer
Stay close to what really drives you, then you are capable of much more than you think and you really come into your own, says Wiebe Draijer (55), Chairman of the Board of Rabobank.
In the English language”, says Rabobank CEO Wiebe Draijer, “there is a nice concept: tectonic movement. At first, there is building tension, the first signs of which you can see on the dividing line of the earth’s tectonic plates well in advance. At some point, the tension becomes too great. Suddenly it shoots loose and usually, the result never ends up exactly where you would like it to be.
Then a new equilibrium is created. I think that’s a good picture of the changes in our time. The greater distance between rich and poor, a certain lack of direction, lack of moral leadership, and the resulting instability. We can now see that breaking loose all around us. And that happens shockingly.
“Growing a better world together, that is our mission, but when we announced it a while ago, we received a lot of criticism in the Netherlands because we would not be able to fulfill this promise as a bank. I hope that one day that mission will be recognized.
“I think we are well on the way. The next step we need to take is that we dare to go even further to be part of the bigger solution that is needed. For example, by building a new system of sustainable agriculture, and that farmers who want to contribute to it receive compensation.
Or the investment in the construction of 12,000 flexible and sustainable rental homes. Systemic changes are needed to turn the tide towards broad prosperity rather than one-dimensional gain/loss.”
On the pillory
“In the role of CEO, you regularly encounter despair. “Why am I even doing this?” Sometimes you are pilloried for some kind of statement, which you usually weren’t even involved in. Then you are thrown back to your deeper motivation and you can only find it if you regularly talk to yourself.
You should always be able to explain things to yourself. Why do I want to maintain this intensive lifestyle? What really moves me? That deeper motivation, to make my contribution to society, is a crucial part of what I do every day. If you are close to that motivation, you are capable of much more.
“I hope that a leadership transition is underway in which we give personal motivation much more a fair place. I think organizations and ultimately the world will benefit if people sort more quickly to the place where they can best come into their own with their deeper motivation. That makes everyone happier.
“I strongly believe in synchronicity as the basis for my leadership. Coincidence does not exist. If you work from your deeper motivation, the people you meet so-called ‘accidentally’ can be exactly the people you need. Then doors open and a kind of flow is created. There is a kind of coherence, coherence in the things that happen. That sounds esoteric, but for me, this is a valuable compass.
“In all those things you have to find out what your role is and what is meant for you. For me, that is a very active process. Joseph Jaworski wrote the beautiful book Synchronicity about this, which has been very significant in my development.
Since then I have always been looking for apparent coincidence because it can take you to special places. For example, it was not logical at all for me to make the step from the SER to my current chair. But it now fits very well with the changes that are taking place in society, and to which the bank has to respond.
That is completely in line with what is important to me in my development and my deep conviction that my most important value is to make a positive contribution to our living environment.”
Resistance helps you move forward
“In retrospect, you can often better understand how the lines of your life come together. I have learned to be much more open to that. That can also mean that you find out that your time is up and that you are ready in a certain place. It gives you more freedom of movement. Not in the sense of ‘I just do something’, but actively move along with what life asks of you. That doesn’t mean it will all go smoothly. It’s mistake after mistake, falling and getting back up again. You also have to look for that resistance to move forward.
“I have learned not to prepare in any more detail for speeches in front of large groups, for example. Daring to let the story take place in the space that is there, instead of trying to remember what you wanted to tell, makes you seem cramped. Just dare to tell me what is there. Brutal honesty is the start of real improvement and in my opinion really the only way to achieve maximum performance. Honesty is the highest value for me.
“True leadership to me is total integrity, transparency, and also determination. You are not only asked to fill a certain role but also to continue if there is a lot of resistance. Vision is important on the one hand, but also the willingness to stick your neck out and stand up for something that can make a big contribution in the long term. That result is often not visible when you start.
Then it comes down to the purity of your motivation, your conviction, and the transparency of communication. There should not be a layer of clean appearance over it. Leadership is not a hero story, but a struggle.”
Authority is about despair
“In the classical hierarchy, leaders could act as authorities and sometimes believed in it themselves. I don’t think that’s true. I think that the inside of authority in these times is much more about despair, having a conversation with yourself, and daring to name it.
“I sometimes run with a coach. He told me that he is accused of not being tough enough against his athletes. “But that’s a misconception,” he said. ‘The idea is that you are connected to the struggle of that athlete and only if that athlete dares to share his struggle can you coach him to his destination.’
“In the new version of authority, authenticity is more important than rank, hierarchy, and education. For me, authenticity means that your actions are in line with what you think and say and that people recognize that. I hope that this will be recognized as a model for leadership. I think that a growing group of CEOs has that deepest motivation as I just described, and I hope that that authenticity is given space, and also appreciation. If we recognize and encourage it more, it will be easier.”
¨Barber must hang¨
“That is difficult in our current Dutch culture. We place high demands on reputation, and that is also vulnerable. Nowadays it quickly becomes: ‘barber has to hang’. A customer with an unpleasant experience can just project it onto me and that can cause me a lot of trouble.
“The only tool I have then is connecting personally and starting the conversation. That is why I want to take the test with all the choices we make: can I explain what we have just done on the street to a random passer-by, man, woman, child? Authenticity also means to me that I am approachable for everything.
“In the first two years I worked for the bank, I thought I had to work actively to correct the bank’s reputation. I no longer believe that you can actively influence something like that. You just have to do what you think is the best you can do.
You have to earn trust and you also have to be granted it. The Netherlands is a special country in this regard. The reputation of our bank here is considerably less than in other countries. But that booing actually has a positive side as well. I’ve learned to use it as a motivator to do well or even better, rather than make it something I worry about. Of course, it can be frustrating at times and you wish you could be recognized for what you do, but I think in this day and age with social media it’s kind of an illusion.
“When I ask myself what I could have done differently, I often think: I could have been even braver, could have gone further, acted even more deeply from my motivation. Then maybe I could have accomplished faster. So when I talk about the hope that the next generation has that in them, I’m actually talking about what I would like to achieve myself. So it is also a personal encouragement.”
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