‘You don’t have to be a manager to be a good leader’

Leadership according to Executive MBA’er Elaine Versloot

October 14 2021

Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Stewardship. These are the core values, embedded in all the education programs from Nyenrode Business University. In these interview series, three female participants of the Executive MBA education program tell us how they experience these LES values and to what extent the education program was able to contribute to this experience. This time around, Elaine Versloot, COO at Binx.io, tells us how the MBA has changed her outlook on leadership completely.  

When 33-year old Elaine Versloot entered the male-dominant technical world more than eleven years ago, she experienced that being a young woman in the IT world is not easy. And the fact that she did not have any diploma yet whatsoever, made it even more difficult to grow. “In my working environment, everyone set the bar at a certain level, but no one noticed that I had been at the level for a long time already. It frustrated me that I kept hearing: you need a few more years of experience first. It literally felt as if I was missing the piece of paper to validate the knowledge and experience I already had.” In an attempt to climb up the ladder anyways, Versloot, at the time a single mom of a two-year old son, applied for an Executive MBA wildcard. The ambitious Versloot was awarded the spot and turned her life around completely during the two years that followed. She found a smaller place to live and scaled back on sports and hobbies, in order for her to be able to kick-off the education program and to start building her career. 

The fact that she did not have a diploma at that time, was not because of a lack of ambition. As a teenager, Versloot wanted to become the director of a listed company, since “that seemed to be the highest achievable goal”, says Versloot while smiling. A little light-heartedness and a big pile of bad luck made that she started out at her first job without her VWO (preuniversity) diploma, where she developed herself quickly as an IT project manager. To her, leadership was the same as management. “I have worked at French and British organizations, where the hierarchy is strict. Leaders, I thought, are the CEOs of this world.” And becoming a CEO was still something she strived for.


From status to core qualities

What she didn’t know was that the EMBA would change her vision on leadership completely. “I looked forward to a certain status, also because I envisioned how my insecurity would partly disappear. But during the education program, I learned that leadership is much more about who I am, what I do and with which of my core qualities I can help people grow.” Because of the intensive leadership trajectory, she started to look at the concept of leadership differently. “Now I see leadership more as leading the way for people, pave the way for them. To me that is not necessarily about leading, but about showing direction.”

Being a female soon became an important leadership theme for Versloot. During a module in South Africa, prejudices about working females were raised during a group conversation. Those prejudices hit Versloot so hard that she left the classroom in tears. “As a working mom, I always had to fight against the assumption that ‘because I have a son, I surely want to work less’”, she explains. By diving into this theme with the group, she learned how to approach those prejudices differently. “I learned that I don’t have to fight, but that instead I can leverage my feminine qualities and use them as a strength. In my surroundings I see more working fathers, but I am the one still getting the response ‘It must be tough’ quite often. Now I manage to mirror remarks like that by asking about the other person’s view on the matter. It no longer feels as a fight.”

Leadership in a male-dominant company

Currently, Versloot is the operational director at a consulting firm. Colleague and fellow MBA’ er Ellis de Haan-Lulof, who hired her, can tell how much she has grown in her leadership. “When Elaine started with the MBA, she was visibly insecure about her own capabilities. Thanks to the reflection skills, the conversation sills and the view on leadership she developed during the program, she has become much more confident. I see this for example when she initiates the conversation in this male-dominated company about the way of communicating. Elaine is not afraid to tell one of the managers that ‘I don’t like the way you handled that conversation’. That way she brings a totally different dynamic to the team, since that kind of conversations is hardly ever had in a male-dominant company.”

To Versloot herself the difference is clear as well. In return for the piece of paper that she initially wanted to obtain from Nyenrode, she gained much more than anticipated: a solid basis, confidence in her qualities as a leader, but most of all a different view on leadership. “Even though I no longer have 3500 people reporting to me, I really like the position I currently have. I still want to get the most out of myself, but my ambitions are no longer related to status. I know now that you don’t have to be a manager to be a good leader.”


Nyenrode newsletter

Nyenrode shares knowledge with interested professionals. Apply to news@nyenrode for al news of Nyenrode.