Marcel van Bergen on Leadership

Ilse Wouters and Marcel van Bergen share a few traits: both train leaders, both are entrepreneurs, and both still like to play. That’s why Ilse is the right person to go in depth with to find out more about the person behind Berg & Partners.

Text Froukje Peters
Image Eddie Mol

About Ilse Wouters, born 1976, based in Eindhoven. Role: Theatre maker, trainer, entrepreneur and owner of the Ilse Wouters Academy. Education: Theatre studies at the University of the Arts in Arnhem.About Marcel van Bergen, born 1970, living in Heeze. Role: Founder and Managing Partner at Berg & Partners, trainer, growth accelerator, executive coach, entrepreneur. Education: Bachelor in HR, Executive Master of Management and Organisation, various in-depth courses in leadership and change.

Good leadership: Inherent or learned?

In the right circumstances, anyone can use their talents to be a good leader. Essentially, a lot can be learned. Trauma in a person’s life or family can stagnate development. These sometimes form barriers that prevent a person’s full potential from blossoming. I’ve noticed that there is still very little awareness about this topic. Your family system influences your leadership.

What kind of leader are you?

I naturally want to be the best and so I set the bar high. This is partly explained by my family system. I’m my father’s child. My father was the eldest in a family of nine children. After his parents, my grandparents, divorced, my father also took responsibility for his family. As a result, my father didn’t always have enough space to do what he would have liked to do. That task, his desire, was eventually projected onto me, his only child. That’s me. The combination of my father and a mother who was very detail-oriented made me the type of leader I am today. Also, my past as an elite athlete was all about performing and my ADHD gives me the hyperfocus that I can now apply more consciously. If I really want something, it will happen. I learned incredible perseverance, sometimes at my own expense. By now, I’ve become very aware of my underlying issues and patterns. For years I’ve been busy with the topic of self-love – am I good enough? Am I meeting my parents’ proverbial bar? From that level of awareness, I make sure that as a leader I focus on staying connected, with myself and with my team. I used to want to do everything myself; that was something I’d ‘learned’ as an only child. These days, my work starts with connections. That calls for more peace in my life, so that I can actually be present in the moment.

‘These days, my work starts with connections. That calls for more peace in my life, so that I can actually be present in the moment.’

How democratic are you in practice?

I’m always on. When other people are just get started with thinking, I’ve already been working on those issues for some time. I have a vision and an idea of where it should go and involve others to join in looking at what would be the logical next step. As a leader, I provide guidance, but I no longer have to do it all alone. That is still a pitfall; a deeply ingrained pattern. These days, we implement good ideas together. The diversity of our team also allows you to look at issues from multiple perspectives and as a result guide a more diverse groups of clients. Some clients do not suit me as well as my colleagues do. I feel blessed to have this top team of professionals around me. We learn from each other and with each other. I, and all of us, still attend a variety of training courses every year. I also have a coach, a conversation partner outside the office. That touches on an important principle in leadership and membership within a team. For your leadership, you need to refuel in a safe space with integrity outside of your team. The insights you gain from that are what you exercise with your team members.

‘The cycles of society and the economy are moving faster and faster, so it takes effort to seriously free up time’

What is the secret of good leadership and entrepreneurship?

There are few secrets if you keep an open learning attitude. Sometimes I see that the ego can get in the way. Occasionally you have to first stop if you really want to continue moving forward. Slowing down to speed up is what we call it at Berg Partners. So you can gain new insights and hold on to them. Nature is also a fantastic mirror you can use to refuel your sense of peace and reflection. Nature feeds your brain in a different way. Vitality is also important. You can gain something from a simple morning walk with your dog. It is also important that – if you want to mentor, coach and develop someone – you have to make sure that you can actually be present. That you are available. That requires some mental shelf space. The cycles of society and the economy are moving faster and faster so it takes quite a bit of effort to seriously free up time. I find that quite difficult myself but it is a must. When you really take a break, you also discover more of your deeply ingrained patterns that are no longer serving the next phase for yourself, your team or the organisation you lead. Are you willing to explore that and develop further so that you don’t yourself become a hindrance to the organisation?

What is going right or wrong in these troubled times?

Authentic leadership is sometimes still a long way off. It takes guts to really dare to be yourself when it comes to both the gifts and chores of life. Authenticity is about becoming who you really are deep down. There is a lot of fragmentation in society and a lot of variables you have to deal with as a leader. That makes it complicated to provide guidance here. The new generation is subscribing to authenticity. What are you doing for the world? This new generation is taking space for itself. Right after graduating, they start working four days a week so they have a day at home for themselves or their families. And so that’s the challenge for leadership. Leading four different generations, each with its own distinct work ethic. That means, as a leader, you need to look openly at the world and not get stuck in your own groove.

What do women bring to the top levels of an organisation?

Among other things, women bring more connection and empathy. They look at issues from a different perspective. Unfortunately, you often see that certain women need to take on more of a masculine approach to get to the right place and hold their own there. That shouldn’t be necessary. It’s an incredibly outdated pattern. I do see that women are increasingly being seen and ‘embraced’ within companies, but it’s apparently still difficult to really give them the position. Men often behave differently when they are amongst men. When a woman joins the team, they have to adapt. They find that difficult. From an evolutionary point of view, this apparently needs some time. But let it be clear that women at the top bring enormous added value to management and executive teams. I have experienced that myself and I encourage it from my place as a supervisor of MT and executive teams.

How important is innovation to you and where do you draw inspiration from?

Our training and coaching offer is constantly evolving. We supply our learning curve with extremely diverse case histories, but we also refuel a lot externally. We have peer reviews within Berg Partners, where we learn from and with each other. We also use ChatGTP [an AI-driven language programme that provides quick answers and new, creative inspiration. It provides knowledge and human texts based on context and previous conversations, ed.] allowing us to access information faster.

But for me, inspiration comes in many different forms. It’s the difference between looking and perceiving. Because I’m always ‘on’, I have lots of new ideas, both in nature and in the countless industries we get to explore. I take pictures and notes with my phone that I work them out later with the team.

‘Dare to hire people who are better than you are. Promote a critical attitude and ask for sincere feedback.’

What is your advice for entrepreneurs?

Successful entrepreneurs or executives surround themselves with the right people. Not only within the organisation, but also with the partners they work with. Each of them has their own area of expertise and can support you in areas you are not as good at. Be open to learning. Dare to hire people who are better than you are. Promote a critical attitude and ask for sincere feedback. Look for diversity, dare to make a different choice. You don’t find innovation along the beaten path.

It’s not remarkable that leaders with big egos never come knocking on our door. After all, they already know everything. But the whole point is actually vulnerability. That also means authenticity. Everything is okay, including not knowing. You don’t have to know everything before you start something, but as a leader, you’ll be leading the way in figuring it out together.

What I also want to say is how important it is to slow down before you can speed up. Nothing will go wrong if you don’t make an important decision until the day after tomorrow. You need time to recalibrate and re-energise. We sometimes literally push the pause buttons on leaders and teams. What follows is peace of mind, space and insight. In this age of increasing momentum, there is an even greater need to slow down. Our programmes revolve around that awareness. Making better, more informed decisions and returning back to your true self. How do you ensure that everyone can contribute to this in the best possible way? It starts with creating a sense of calm and going through the management task together.

What are you personally looking forward to?

I look forward to our children continuing to grow. I thoroughly enjoy it now that I see how they have found their own way. A new time is coming for my wife and me, too. We’ve been together for 28 years and, for example, this was the first time our children didn’t go on summer holidays with us. That creates a different kind of intimacy. I’m also looking forward to the future of our office. We’re now on the ground floor for the first time. We can literally take root. I’m looking forward to writing the next chapter with the team.  Next year, I’ll ski the ‘Haute Route’ from Chamonix to Zermatt, one of those bucket list things. I’m also absolutely looking forward to that. Sport is still important to me, my system really needs it.

The last word

Keep learning, keep being open to meeting people who thinking differently than you. And keep experimenting. That’s where the learning starts!

Druk op enter om te zoeken of ESC om te sluiten
Press enter to search or ESC to close