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Learning management by taking a good look at yourself

Stress, conflicts, and dilemmas: the life of a manager is not always a bed of roses. An Honours Class at Leiden University helps student board members make sense of things: ‘It’s not about being liked.’

Effective management by expanding your personal skills, which is the full title of the course, is available for third-year students who, in addition to their studies at Leiden University, hold a board position at a study association or conference organisation, for example. By taking training courses, they get to know themselves and improve their skills, such as time management and resolving conflict situations. One of those topics is communication.

A big relief

‘There’s a reason that we humans have become the dominant species on this planet,’ says instructor Kick Moors, looking intently at attendees. ‘It’s because we can communicate and collaborate.’ Everyone has their own style, Moors continues, and knowledge about your own communication preferences and those of others is of great importance: ‘It means there’s less need to interpret behaviour and makes communication more predictable.’

Here is an example: you have an analytical style – friendly but precise – and you get upset because someone is being very direct with you. In this situation, it helps if you know that the other person has an action-oriented style and thus likes to be direct: ‘It’s not about being liked,’ assures Moors. ‘That’s a big relief, especially for those among us who are sensitive.’

Fire right back

When the teacher has had his say, the students discuss the issue with each other. What communication styles do they have and what styles are they allergic to? ‘I want a certain amount of freedom,’ says a young man who thinks he generally has an expressive communication style. ‘If something has to go according to some preconceived idea, that really bothers me.’

An action-oriented colleague sees it differently: ‘I just really like planning my day. I find that unpredictable stream of new ideas irritating.’ In addition to complaints, managers also have tips for each other: ‘How should you deal with my directness? Fire right back at me. And do it straight away, so I can do something with it.’

‘Stress is always useless'

Exchanging experiences with other managers helps, says medical student Veerle Heesters, board member at Student & Lifestyle: ‘Talking with peers helped me see that the way I saw myself wasn’t very realistic. Now I can position myself more as a leader.’ She also learned to handle stress better. ‘Now I ask myself: Will the world come to an end if I don’t do this? In the end, too much stress is always useless.’ 

Fabian Mulder, who alongside his degree programme in Life, Science & Technology, is also doing the ‘Acquisition & Promotion’ workshop at the Science Career Event, also feels at home in the group: ‘It’s very telling that everyone here takes a hands-on approach.’ And that gets immediate results, he says. ‘At the end of the day, everyone has something concrete that they can work on.’

Busy bees

Eline Bergijk, who is Educational Director at the Honours Academy and also involved in the Honours Class, thinks a year of management is a perfect complement to the Honours College: ‘Honours students are busy bees by nature, people who do a lot beyond and above their degree programme.’ But administrative duties add something extra, she says. ‘They’re a very valuable learning tool because you’re learning in a different way.’ So, she is pleased that students receive support to develop in that area: ‘I myself had to learn how to manage by trial and error. We hope to give them a bit of preparation.’

Text: Michiel Knoester
Photography: Buro JP
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