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Column Piet Bouma: Responsibility

11 December 2020
Drs. Piet Bouma, Managing Director University of Groningen/Campus Fryslân
Drs. Piet Bouma, Managing Director University of Groningen/Campus Fryslân

One of the most commonly used words in the last six months, after ‘corona’ and ‘social distancing’, is ‘responsibility’. We are being called upon to behave responsibly, to take personal responsibility for the consequences of our behaviour. Responsibility is not only demanded of us as individuals, but also of groups of people, institutions and countries. Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of the people around us, so that we can get COVID-19 under control as quickly as possible. To achieve that, we have to pull together. It’s in our own hands.

Here in the Netherlands, we have a strong tradition of self-management. After all, it was Dutch business experts who came up with the term ‘self-managing team’. And I am quite the fan myself. At least, most of the time. In times of crisis, however, it doesn’t always work. In such situations, individuals, groups and institutions also need to be told exactly how to behave. There needs to be a clear standard. Because sometimes there is no time to lose. This isn’t a plea for a ‘strongman leader’ in the current crisis, but for moral leadership that sets and communicates a clear behavioural norm.

Leadership and taking responsibility, where have we seen this combination before? In the name of our Bachelor’s degree programme Global Responsibility & Leadership. We teach our students to think critically about how to use the earth responsibly. We teach them to recognize and develop good leadership qualities. It’s wonderful to see them flourish in that regard.

But let’s return to the coronavirus pandemic. For many months now, prime minister Mark Rutte has been pursuing the self-management approach: “Change your behaviour, not because I am asking you to, but because it is necessary to control the virus.” This, however, proved to be insufficient; the appeal to the Dutch population had to be much more forceful. And behavioural norms had to be enforced more rigorously. Taking responsibility alongside clear leadership. As a country, there is no escaping these times of crisis. Now is the time to come together as a global community. I am confident that our Global Responsibility & Leadership alumni will be able to play a constructive role in this in the future.

This article originally appeared in Connect winter 2020.

Last modified:11 December 2020 3.52 p.m.
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