Bieke Van Gool’s leadership advice: “Leadership is separate from your title”

“In a rapidly changing world, leaders face exciting yet complex challenges. Digitalisation, globalisation and the growing demand for sustainable business are not only transforming business models, but also placing different demands on the skills of leaders. “Leaders are looking for new ways to lead and collaborate. And above all: to get their team and the organisation on board,” says Bieke Van Gool. The leadership consultant and executive coach helps organisations and their people to transform. “As a leader, it is best to join forces and invest in a culture of effectiveness, collaboration and trust.”

“Leadership in 2024 requires shifting gears amidst the paradoxes that arise. My role is to prepare people for this complexity,” says the founder of LINKx, a collective of consultants, trainers and coaches dedicated to leadership development and impact enhancement. “To be able to deal appropriately with what comes their way, leaders need to be ‘agile’. In other words, they need to be not only flexible, but also adaptable. And all this without losing sight of employees’ need for stability. Leadership has become so complex that it is better to share leadership and develop shared leadership in your organisation.

Take the time to synchronise

Strong leaders, says the lawyer and author of ‘Why attention is the essence’, are “context intelligent”: they make time for the right things and harness the power of the collective. “They pay attention to what is going on and what is important. Are the priorities right, are they known and supported by people? And are we all on the same strategy? If not, what do we need to do? In practice, good leadership means deliberately setting aside time for synchronisation and allowing meetings to focus on process rather than content. In these moments, people talk to each other, listen and learn about each other’s perceptions, and get their noses back in the same direction. Greater mutual understanding leads to connection and increases collective impact.

(c) Lies Engelen Photography

Evidence-based and intuitive

Van Gool has more than 25 years of experience in leadership development. Clients describe her as a “committed and connecting pragmatist”. She has conducted more than 1,000 coaching sessions for clients including EY, Telenet, VITO and the Antwerp Management School. “What characterises all my clients – both Flemish and Dutch entrepreneurs, family businesses and larger organisations – is that they really want to make a difference. They are entrepreneurial people who want to move forward and have the courage to question their own way of doing things,” she explains.

Van Gool helps these clients to strengthen their leadership in a clear and personal way. In doing so, she combines a fierce passion for making a positive impact with a striking level-headedness. “I am lucky to work with driven people. Our LINKx method is practical, intuitive and evidence-based. It is based on scientific research in psychology, sociology and neuroscience. This is why I really enjoy working with and for the Antwerp Management School, where I have also been a guest lecturer since 2009. I feel completely at home with the school’s mission of ‘opening minds to impact the world’. I combine this insight and knowledge with my practical experience and expertise in the field.

Developing strong leadership

Leadership does not have to be innate, Van Gool believes. It is independent of your title or position and is essentially something you share with others. It’s about the behaviour you demonstrate that gets others moving. “Successful entrepreneurs know they are not always right. They are open to other perspectives and lifelong learning is often second nature to them. I see effective leaders thinking and working more consciously and more inclusively. They invest in development programmes, team sessions or multi-level interventions that open minds and bring new insights. And that leads to better decisions and innovation.

Entrepreneurs with strong leadership skills have learned to switch between different styles. “Because there is no one best style, leadership is personal or even identity-based. Through training programmes or executive coaching, we find out what works best for someone. Every issue and business context is different and authenticity is key. That is why we prefer to work in co-creation, often across all levels of the organisation,” explains Van Gool, who with her team offers tailor-made consulting, coaching and training. The leadership development programmes are both hybrid, online and face-to-face. “We like to work face to face. We take some clients to our workplace in Knokke. The surroundings with the sea and the nearby Zwin are inspiring.”


(c) Lies Engelen Photography

Focus on your team’s success

Connected leaders are more concerned with their team’s success than their own. Connected leadership starts with the leader’s connection to themselves and consciously answering questions such as: What difference do you really want to make? What impact do you want to leave? Who do you want to be for others, even after you have worked together? If you know and believe in your own answers, you will naturally radiate them to others. And if you don’t believe it yourself, others won’t believe it either”.

Of course, good leadership is also about connecting with the other person. “Knowing what the other person needs and taking that into account, adapting or moving with them, increases mutual effectiveness. If you have an eye for preferences and pitfalls, you can respond to them,” says Van Gool. “People not only have different needs, they also have different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. See how you can use those differences: that’s the message.

Role model

Recently, Van Gool has been regularly asked by clients: “How do I avoid toxic leadership? “There is nothing wrong with being passionate and expecting commitment and quality from others. But a lack of respect for others is wrong. If you work from your passion, chances are you will be inspiring. But, be available, transparent and consistent as a leader.

“When you are trustworthy, you provide guidance and security. When you give feedback, be aware of your role model behaviour. If you only see the ‘R’ in your HR, it is better to zoom out for a while. I have yet to meet an employee who does not thrive in an appreciative culture,” she says. In short, a connected leader is aware of his or her role model, cultivates a climate of feedback and lifelong learning, and facilitates a healthy working environment where people dare and are allowed to learn from what does not work.

Change for the long term

Another key word in Van Gool’s vision is shifting gears. It is crucial, she argues, that the leader stays focused on the long term. “This brings us back to the first essential question: as an owner and entrepreneur, who do you want your company to be for the world, from employees and customers to suppliers and other stakeholders? Next, decide how you are going to achieve that purpose. Successful leaders are willing to deviate from strategy, to adjust along the way. They look to see what is needed. They don’t wear blindfolds, they don’t have a plank in front of their head, so they are aware of the bigger picture. They can adjust themselves or their plan without losing sight of their long-term goals.

Keep moving

“Keep moving, no matter what, and don’t forget yourself,” is Van Gool’s final piece of advice. “You will encounter difficulties and disappointments along the way. Adjust your pace, you can always slow down or take smaller steps. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. If you want to make a difference with long-term impact, make sure that everyone – your team and your organisation – can join you on the journey. As one of my favourite quotes goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Do you want to strengthen your leadership or that of your team or organisation? Do you want to develop your self-awareness, knowledge and leadership skills? Then check out LINKx’s online or hybrid Leadership Essentials program.

Source: Josefien De Bock, 14 May ’24, Bloovi

Business & culture transformation

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