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How I found inspiring work and balance it with my family of six

By Katinka de Korte, Managing Director, Health & Public Service, Accenture Consulting, Amsterdam

I wanted to join the police force, but my parents thought it was a waste of all my schooling. As it turns out, through my work, I’ve still ended up working for the police, as they’re one of our clients. So I’m still involved indirectly with the detective work that always excited me. In this way, I feel I can also help to make the world a bit safer. 

We work for the Dutch Defense Ministry, too. It’s important to me that my work has this social relevance. It’s my most powerful source of inspiration. I want to have an effect on society and be able to explain to my children what I do and be proud of my work. That’s something I was taught at home: Be there for other people.

I jumped at the idea

When I started working at Accenture, a global professional services company, I was initially involved in consultancy assignments for big companies. After a few years (by then, I was expecting our second child), I was no longer inspired by my work. I was searching for my own identity and was thinking of taking a new job outside the consultancy world. 

While I was going through this crisis, the managing director of Health & Public Service visited me at home. He had seen (even before I had) that I was troubled about my work not having enough social relevance. He thought the public sector might suit me better. I jumped at the idea. When something feels right, I don’t need long to decide: It’s just how I am. I was also impressed that he came to see me at home and had been thinking about my personal development. As a manager, I now also ask my people what inspires them and think about the role that would suit them best.

Conference call on the beach  

We continuously have to make decisions in our lives, based on our ambitions, personal motivation and dreams. I wanted to be a mother, and I now combine a full-time job with four children. When, after having had two daughters, I turned out to be expecting twins, I asked if I could reduce my working hours to three-and-a-half days a week. That was no problem and was approved at once.

Even so, I didn’t manage to keep my phone switched off on Wednesday afternoons. I once took part in a conference call while I was on the beach with the children. Later, I went back to working full-time, in part because I wanted to become a managing director. I really thought that as a mother of four I’d never be eligible for such a move. But after talking it over with my husband, Marc, and a lawyer friend, I changed my ideas completely. Why shouldn’t I make that move? So I took part in the leadership program and went on to achieve my ambition.

“As a manager, I now also ask my people what inspires them and think about the role that would suit them best.”
Happy chaos

As a mother, I steer the happy chaos that is a big family, while as a manager I carry the responsibility for the people on my team. I apply the things I’ve learned in my private life in my work, and vice versa. Every child is different—just like my team members. It’s those differences that make life exciting. I experience this both at home (with four teens each in search of their own identity) and at work. It’s nice to see, time and again, that the wealth of insights you get in a diverse team leads to better decisions and more effective work. But it also challenges you as a leader.

I’ve found, for instance, through working with people with autistic tendencies that they often have a strong need for clarity. That reminds you just how important good communication is for everyone in the company. It helps you rediscover the basic principles of good leadership and helps you grow in your personal qualities as a leader. 

At home, Marc and I encourage our children to be open to people from different backgrounds and cultures. We want to give them a broad view of life and teach them that there’s more in the world than what’s in their own backyard. I sometimes dream of being able to spend time working intensively on a development project with Marc. But with four growing children, I don’t see that as an option for the time being. At the moment, my job is here.

“The wealth of insights you get in a diverse team leads to better decisions and more effective work.”
Spaghetti with meatballs

When I get home after a busy day, I first need to wind down. I do that by running a wash, tidying up a bit, drawing the kids’ attention to their jackets that are all over the place. Then I sit down and ask them how they got on at school and about their friends. As we talk, the stress disappears.

I also like baking cakes and cooking. My specialty is spaghetti with home-made meatballs. Marc and I often stay at the table the whole evening just chatting. I also like dropping in on friends for a cup of coffee and just chatting. 

The weekends are both hectic and relaxing at the same time. We create as little structure as possible and leave thinking about meals till later. I deliberately choose not to spend time doing things for myself on the weekend. As a mother, I want to be there for the children. So every Saturday and Sunday I go and watch them play sports—hockey, tennis and surfing. When I see them playing, so full of energy and involvement, I’m totally content—and even the awful cup of coffee from the sports club machine can’t spoil that.

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