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Painting helps me grow as a leader

By Manon van Beek, Country Managing Director, Accenture The Netherlands

My passion is painting. Once every three or four weeks, I shut myself away and spend a whole day painting. At those moments, my world consists solely of my canvas, my brushes, and my palette. And, each time, it’s exciting to see how something appears on the canvas–all by itself. I paint whatever comes into my mind, and I rely a lot on my intuition.

Painting also helps me grow as a leader. This is the moment I take time to reflect on what I do, what my responsibilities are, and what role I play. In both painting and leadership, it’s all about making creative and surprising links between colors, styles and ideas so they form a harmonious whole.

For instance, one of the paintings I’m most proud of is the one of our breakfast table: a still-life in 1950s style, but with an iPad showing a photograph of our children, Emelia and Loeka. The jar of Nutella and the espresso symbolize Italy, where my partner, Silvano, comes from. The golf ball represents his love of golf, and the newspaper stands for our work. In this way, the painting symbolizes our life, making it very personal.

Manon van Beek with her partner, Silvano; daughter, Emilia; son, Loeka; and their dog, Boemer.

Manon van Beek and her painting of her family’s breakfast table.

Work/Life: Not catching balls, but throwing them well
Work and private life are tightly interwoven in my life, running parallel all the time. I had to learn how to get the balance right the hard way.

When I had children, I wondered how on earth I was going to combine it all with my work. I sometimes found it hard to find the right balance–both physically and mentally. But it’s like juggling. The real art of juggling is not catching the balls, but throwing them correctly. So anytime I find myself catching balls, I stand back, revisit my priorities and delegate more tasks or look for some help.

A former colleague once gave me a stool as symbol of a good work/life balance. A stool needs three legs or it will fall over. So you need to pay attention not only to your career and family, relatives and friends, but also to yourself.

Impact as main driver
I've been working at Accenture, a global professional services company, for almost 20 years now. I started as a junior consultant. Frankly, I saw that job as a springboard for a future elsewhere. But I was able to keep making leaps in my development within the company. That kept it interesting–and still keeps it interesting. And my ability to make a significant contribution to innovation and sustainable growth in the Netherlands gives me energy.

We make connections across sectors and between local and national authorities, big companies, startups and knowledge institutes. We get them talking about issues that matter, like healthcare and well-being, clean and affordable energy, and smart manufacturing. In this way, we are changing the way we live and work in the Netherlands. We are helping to create that impactful social transition and revealing opportunities for companies and authorities–that is my main motivation.

Equipping them with what they need
What keeps me going is the idea that I’m contributing to the development of the next generation of leaders–the young people I coach. I try to give them the right tools so they can become good leaders quickly.

At Accenture, we consciously strive for diversity and a culture that is inclusive. Whether as an organization or a society, we cannot afford to exclude talented people. For example, we now have 25 people on our staff from groups with typically high rates of unemployment, for example people with disabilities and refugees, who had been struggling to find an appropriate job. We also help our customers to do the same. The key, we believe, is to look beyond any limitations they may have and instead focus on their talents.

But we’re not there yet. For example, one of our people recently sent me an e-mail about the lack of cultural diversity at the top of our organization. He’s right, and we’re actively doing something about it.

Sharing dilemmas
What I always tell people is that they are the CEOs of their own careers, and that they need to plan their next steps and make their ambitions known. In doing so, you sometimes you need a helping hand and some good advice. And if you’re the CEO of your own career, it’s crucial you also have a supervisory board: people who have your best interests at heart and who can help you make important decisions.

Fortunately, I have my own "board," consisting of my mother, my husband, a college friend, a former colleague, and a former client: I always put my ambitions and dilemmas to them. My board gets me to take a look in the mirror. In turn, I try to do that for others. I also show my vulnerability by sharing my dilemmas. In this way, you get to know yourself better as a leader, and as a person. I hope to inspire and encourage others in the same way.

"Mom, can you just switch off?"
Your children also hold up a mirror to you. If you were to ask my 11-year-old daughter, Emilia, what kind of mother I am, I hope she’d say ‘Mom is very kind to me and she’s always there when I need her.’ But she’ll probably also say that I’m not at home enough.

She’d say I’m creative: I’ve made lots of things with them, and I like that sort of thing. Once I even wanted to be a crafts teacher.

At home, I’m always doing things. I just can’t sit still. So my children often say: "Mom, can you just switch off for a bit?" They’re right: I must learn to slow down from time to time. Fortunately, I’ve got some good coaches at home.

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