Universiteit Leiden

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Eric van den Bandt

‘The ILLP has been helpful for every human relation I have’

What is leadership? Can it be taught, and if so, how? The International Leiden Leadership Programme (ILLP) helps students find their own style, say ILLP graduate Marko Simovski and his former coach Annah Neve in an interview: 'It’s about you, discovering you.'

'We have done some catching up already', says Marko Simovski smilingly, as he shakes the hand of his interviewer. Last year he was part of a group of 25 internationals that participated in the International Leiden Leadership Programme. Today, in the Wijnhaven building in The Hague, he and his coach at the time, Annah Neve, share their thoughts on the honours track for master's students.

Marko Simovski studies International Relations and Diplomacy in the Hague. The ILLP graduate is originally from Skopje, North Macedonia.

Hard truths

Raising awareness of your behaviour and how it affects others is at the core of the leadership programme. 'It is a safe space with just you and your peers, where you can discuss some deeply personal things', says Marko. For instance, he was confronted with the 'hard truth' that he tends to keep conversations going, just for the sake of it: 'You get to understand areas of yourself that you have not been aware of.' Another major insight for the diplomacy student was the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: 'I discovered the only real motivation comes from within.'

The gift of trust

The students do a lot of self-evaluation and planning for the future. This is when Annah and her fellow coaches become important: 'What I do is talk with students and ask them questions. Why are you thinking this way? How do you feel about what you have learned?' Marko laughs: 'That are difficult questions. But I think that’s the whole point of it.'

Annah Neve has been a coach in the ILLP for the past six years. She was also the head of LUF, the Leids Universiteits Fonds and is now part of the Motivation Institute.

Annah has been a huge help to him, he admits. His ex-coach is happy to hear that: 'Working with these people is a gift. They trust me with personal things, ask me questions. I really enjoy doing this.' But even for an experienced coach as herself, things can get difficult: 'If students are not open about themselves, there is little I can do.'

Better communicator

What Annah also doesn’t do, is tell students how to become a leader, or what makes a good or a bad leader. 'No one will tell you that', says Marko firmly. Whether that means the name of the programme is a misnomer? 'Absolutely not! By reflecting – and with a bit of guidance from the staff – you figure out what kind of leader you want to be. It’s about you, discovering you.' 

These discoveries go well beyond professional boundaries, states the graduate student: 'They are already helping me with my master, my internship, and my personal life. I see the effects immediately.' Especially the training sessions on communication and conflict resolution have been helpful to Simovski: 'Many conflicts are based upon miscommunication, so if you are a better communicator, it’s very helpful – not just for in the workplace, but for every human relation you have.'

Text: Michiel Knoester
Header photo: Eric van den Bandt
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