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Be sincere, work together and have fun: leadership lessons from Peter Hertinge

The former Volvo director travelled from Sweden to Leiden to give a lecture to the master’s students of the Leiden Leadership Programme. Among other things, Peter Hertinge speaks about the ‘why’ of leadership: ‘You have an important position that affects other people’s lives.’

Peter Hertinge’s visit is part of the Leiden Leadership Lectures, during which the LLP students learn lessons from experienced leaders from the field. Peter has over 35 years of leadership experience and was a director and CEO of Volvo Australia and Volvo Penta for the last 12 years of his career, until his retirement. In a lecture, he shares what he has learned during his career: ‘This is not a fixed truth of how things are, but how they were to me.’

Leaders vs. managers

Leadership is about using power, Peter begins. ‘There is a difference between being a manager and being a leader, in terms of power. A manager is given formal power from the top, that’s tied to your position. And that position gives you the power to hire or fire people and decide on salaries.’

‘Leadership is something you have to receive from the people you manage. This power must be based on trust, relationships and the ability to work together. If people don’t trust you, you’re not a leader but a manager; then it’s just a position and they see you as the boss.’

Peter Hertinge conversing with a student.

How to be approachable

But how do you do that, be a trustworthy and accessible leader? ‘Be honest and open,’ Peter says. ‘And that’s a matter of balancing things: you have to be close to people without becoming their friend. My guideline: being personal is allowed, being private is not. So you can share personal things, but not private things that come too close to you.’

One lesson Peter has learned about being an approachable leader is to walk more slowly through the office. ‘Otherwise, people think they can’t address you.’ Early in his career, Peter used to rush from his desk to the copy or coffee machine and back again. Later he learned that colleagues found him unapproachable. ‘You always walk so stressed, they said, and then I don’t want to disturb you, even if I have something important to say.’

Why, what and how

A key focus, according to Peter, is having a vision: why does this company exist, what is its purpose? ‘It’s important to have a purpose, or people will feel lost.’ Linked to the why are two other questions: the what (what are we going to do?) and the how (how will this happen?). As a leader, you must connect answers to both questions to that of the why. ‘It seems an open door, but there are a lot of places where this doesn’t happen.’

Peter also asks the why question to the students in the room: why are you participating in the LLP, why are you here? He says it is good to ask yourself what your drive is and what you can add to a team: ‘You need to understand your drive and develop your skills, because as a leader you hold an important position that affects other people’s lives.’

Master’s student Jonathan Benhaiem knows why he is joining the LLP: ‘I gained informal leadership experience by organising musical events. At the LLP, I want to gain experience in a more formal setting and learn more about the theories behind leadership. Peter’s story about vision and the why question appeals to me. My music organisation lacks this kind of vision, so we need to have a talk about that sometime.’

‘Walk the talk’

Finally, Peter emphasizes that a good leader must put their money where their mouth is. ‘Do what you say, so that people can trust you. For example, show that your employees are important if that’s one of your values, by greeting them in the morning. Or if you have a meeting, show up a little earlier to say hello to people. As a leader, there should be no difference between what you say and what you do.’

A final piece of advice

LLP student Kenneth Kuijpers is positive about the lecture. ‘Peter focused on his experiences with leadership and gave concrete examples. That added something, compared to previous lectures. Jonathan adds: ‘Theoretical models are sometimes difficult to translate into practice, so this story is very valuable.’

For the students, Peter has one last piece of advice: ‘Be sincere, work together and have fun doing it. If you don’t have fun, go do something else.’

Text: Femke van de Griendt
Photos: Eric van den Bandt

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