The leader as captain: Varen in de mist

Varen in de mist offers deep questions which you as a leader can use to have a good conversation with colleagues and your management team. It is a new management book that puts the reader at the helm of using modern leadership techniques to manage the risks owing to unpredictable circumstances. “After all, it’s on the bridge where agreements about decisions to be taken need to be reached and where long-term goals need to be considered, preferably in a professional and, if possible, scientifically responsible manner,” said Prof. Lidewey van der Sluis, Professor of Strategic Talent Management at Nyenrode Business University. On August 24, she presented the first copy to Hugo de Jonge, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public health, Welfare, and Sport. 

The book, written by Van der Sluis during the lockdown, is intended for leaders who have to make responsible choices with reason and conviction at a time when things are already uncertain. The book is structured along four strategic questions that managers in their agile management can adhere to: What kind of situation are we in? What are our guiding principles as an organization? What is our operating model? How are we going to do what we want to do?

Forward guidance

De Jonge is presented the first copy in his office in The Hague. The Minister acknowledges Van der Sluis drive to write this book: “It’s special that the press conferences during our country’s intelligent lockdown led to this book and these new insights. It’s great how Lidewey has used different models to analyze our actions and conduct. We can learn from the lessons and reflection questions she offers leaders.”

De Jonge also addresses the title, Varen in de mist. “You make decisions based on what you can see, even if this is unknown. You need that forward guidance to be able to manage your company, and in our case the country. So, it’s also ‘sailing with visibility’ and making decisions based on what you do know. I’m going to read the first copy with great interest.”


Varen in de mist is in addition to a manual, a workbook. Discussion and mirror questions encourage the reader to reflect on their own actions, the choices that have been made, and decisions that still need to be made. How do you navigate an organization through a crisis? Van der Sluis explains that unprecedented times call for improvisation and all hands on deck, albeit unprepared. However, organizations that do manage to keep their heads above water, or even profit from the flux, also hang on to navigation tools during these difficult times. Her research showed that executives who are worth their money, mostly steer an organization or a team through unusual situations based on the culture they had already built before. This is a relational culture in which employees with a common compass and principles work and learn together.   

Risk Management

She came to a series of significant realizations and from there designed instruments that leaders can use in the future to deal with uncertain times and unusual circumstances, or to take advantage of new situations. “The book feeds the brainpower, resilience, and imagination of the leader as a skipper,” says Van der Sluis. “The contemporary views on leadership and the corresponding conceptual management models it includes, gives leaders something to go on in times when the future seems uncertain. Leadership is essentially risk management that requires policy and technical knowledge and skills.”

Van der Sluis also believes this is also of great importance in the long term. “Our society is dynamic and complex, which means that sailing through the fog has become today’s metaphor for managing teams and people. The book includes an ‘after-lockdown navigator’ as a tool for executives who are at the helm of organizations and who don’t want to miss the mark.”