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Partnering the Leiden Leadership Programme: ‘Students ask the honest questions’

“A group of students does trigger something different than a research agency,” says Sophia de Rooij, chairman of the board of the Amstelland Hospital in Amstelveen. She reflects on a successful first year of cooperation with the Leiden Leadership Programme. While students got a taste of what working life is like, her organisation gained refreshing insights.

The Leiden Leadership Programme (LLP) is an extracurricular honours programme for master’s students. Participants learn about leadership and develop skills in this area. Part of the programme is a practical assignment. This allows participants to apply what they have learned to the real world. In the practical assignment, students work on a leadership issue within a partner organisation of the LLP, such as the Amstelland Hospital. Two student teams started there last year. Sophia de Rooij, chairman of the Board of Directors, talks about her experiences as an LLP partner.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about your work?

“We are a unique hospital close to Amsterdam. On one side we have the big city and on the other more rural areas. As chairman of the board, I try to combine my background as a medical specialist, academic and administrator. I think it is important for the hospital to be part of society, of the region and of an integrated healthcare system. We also train more than 10% of our staff through our daily activities.”

The desire to be part of society, is that also why the partnership with the LLP was started?

“Yes. We don’t just look at healthcare issues, but at multiple topics that concern us. For example, one of the student teams looked at what expats expect from us. They interviewed patients about their experience with healthcare systems elsewhere. This helps to better match our care to their needs. The other team has focused on sustainability. They looked at different aspects, such as regular waste and food waste, and came up with an advice. We then use that to further develop our sustainability plan. These are both great themes for the LLP.”

Sophia de Rooij in her office at Amstelland Hospital in Amstelveen.

How do these questions relate to the theme of leadership?

“Leadership is about acquiring knowledge, acquiring skills and forming attitudes. You learn the latter in practice. As a student, you are idealistic, but suddenly you find yourself in an organisation with its own pulse and rhythm. You discover that reality is tough. You have to match your own idealism and knowledge to the situation. That is precisely the beauty of programmes like the LLP. You get a taste of the reality you want to transform. That’s what leadership is also about.”

"Employees are challenged to look at their organisation with a new perspective"

How do you personally view leadership?

“One of the sayings I like to use is from the book The Little Prince. ‘I don’t think my job is to explain people how to build a boat, but to make them long for the sea.’ I expect people to do their job, but I am not going to explain them how. For example, if people think sustainability is important, I hope they will also come up with their own suggestions.”

And did they?

“Yes. It helps to invite people from the outside so that employees are challenged to look at their organisation with a new perspective. Young people are a better catalyst than, say, a research firm. A group of students does trigger something different. So when I announced they were coming, many employees raised their hand. They were eager to engage with the students.”

So the collaboration went well?

“Definitely. We would like to do more with many issues, such as food waste. But apparently there is still a high threshold to make things concrete. For success, something has to live in the whole organisation. The LLP is helpful for that, because students look at challenges differently. They ask the honest and sometimes painful questions. And that is exactly the goal.”

Text and photos: Robin Buijs

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