Rune Todnem By: We need MAD leaders!

rune-byexpertexplainsNote: A version of this text was published as a comment by PLF Chairman Rune Todnem By in The Sentinel newspaper (UK) on the 20th June 2017 under the title ‘Leadership is all about being MAD and EPIC.’


Every time there is a crisis we talk about the need for strong leadership, and since there is always a real or looming crisis we find ourselves obsessing about this topic. Often assuming that formal leaders perform ‘leadership’, we obsess about Theresa May, Mark Rutte, Barrack Obama, Donald Trump, Jose Mourinho, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and others. We obsess about our own bosses and politicians, and as on the topic of football managers many of us believe we can do a better. However, obsessing about formal leaders only takes the focus away from leadership which is not solely the responsibility of individuals at the top. Furthermore, obsessing about others only takes the focus away from you and me.

When I was two years old, James McGregor Burns suggested that although we know all too much about our leaders, we know far too little about leadership. I am now 41 and this situation has hardly changed as we continue to obsess about individuals. Either individuals we don’t want to be like, or individuals we would like to emulate. However, true leadership is no more predetermined by being like someone else than by age, gender, experience, physical stature, sexuality, nationality, level of education, income, wealth or cultural background. We don’t need a title or someone’s permission to lead. Nor do we have to be charismatic extroverts. In fact, we don’t even have to set out to be leaders in order to provide leadership. Many formal leaders don’t provide leadership, and many who do provide leadership don’t necessarily perceive themselves as leaders. All it takes – and I mean ‘all it takes’ – is for you to be you, and me to be me. All it takes is for us to step up to the responsibility of making our relationships, families, workplaces, local communities, institutions, nations and globe better than what they already are. Leadership is all about the ability and willingness to step up.

So, how do we do this? How do we ‘step up’ as Professor Rosabeth Kanter at Harvard Business School puts it? There is a whole industry out there making a good living of leadership development. Whilst scholars have used tons of published papers identifying leadership traits and categorising leadership approaches, consultants have spent hundreds of thousands of invoiced hours providing leadership advice. Still, we are no better off. Hence, I suggest that when it comes to leadership there is only one right way, and that is our own way.  Not Theresa’s, Mark’s, Barrack’s, Donald’s, Jose’s, Steve’s, or Richard’s.  Ours.

Here at the Public Leadership Foundation we are facilitating for an individual approach to identifying, developing and supporting emerging leaders. This approach can be summarised by two words: MAD and EPIC. We simply suggest that leadership is all about being MAD – Making A Difference. This is the sole purpose and key ingredient of leadership. If you are not MAD you are not a leader in our book. The way to true MADness goes through EPIC leadership. It’s about embracing and developing our individual Energy, Purpose, Identity, and Courage. It’s about knowing who and why we are. It’s about exploring who we want to be and what we want to achieve. It’s about believing in ourselves and others. It’s about challenging our very own comfort zones and taking risks.

The beauty of it is that we can all be MAD. No one has a MADness monopoly. We can all be Making A Difference to our relationships, our families, our workplaces, our local communities, our institutions, our nations, and our globe. Sometimes all that is required is a word of inspiration, support or correction. Sometimes all that is required is to start college or university. Sometimes all that is required is not to litter. Sometimes all that is required is to take on the responsibility of making something happen. To stop talking and start doing.  If we want cleaner streets, let’s clean them up. If we want better education for our children, let’s educate them. If we are not happy at work, look for alternatives. And, if we don’t agree with our politicians, let’s create change.

However, too often we decide to moan and abdicate from the responsibility of Making A Difference… We like to moan as much as the next, but moaning for more than five minutes a day makes us worse than those we moan about. Let’s take back control of our lives and futures. Let’s make sure there is only one side to our beds before getting up in the morning, and that is the right side. What is essential for our individual wellbeing and leadership responsibility is to take control. Imagine there are three circles. One inside of the other. The inner circle represents what we can control as individuals and groups. The middle circle represents what we can influence. The outer circle represents all that we can’t currently control or influence. There is of course no point moaning for too long about the weather being too cold or too hot, because we don’t have divine powers. There is no point in worrying about ever-declining hairlines or wrinkles. Doing so will not as if by magic make the hair grow back or the wrinkles to vanish. So, let’s focus on areas where we can make a decision or influence someone else’s. Let’s focus on growing these two inner circles of control and influence.

When talking about leaders, we are referring to leadership. When talking about leaders, we are referring to you. So, when we are saying “We need MAD leaders!”, what we really mean is that we need you, Making A Difference.

MAD2017 – delayed

For the third consecutive year the Public Leadership Foundation organises the annual MAD event. Due to logistic difficulties unfortunately we have to change the date of the MAD event 2017. This means that it will not take place at the 7th of September. However, we cannot wait to meet you all and to discuss the future of public leadership with you! Therefore we will soon announce a new date for MAD2017 on this website. We will keep you updated!


The purpose of the MAD event is to bring people together so that we can connect and learn from each other. The event is all about getting inspired to be MAD – Make A Difference – in our lives, institutions, and society as a whole.

The annual MAD event with its great diversity of themes, connections and networks coming together is at the very core of what we do as a Foundation. With a focus on students and young professionals from all sectors, MAD 2017 will be all about connecting and inspiring people to be MAD. Our intention is to kindle the fire in people so that we will all Make A Difference in our lives, jobs and networks. Will you join us and start Making A Difference in 2017?

Who is this for?
MAD 2017 is for everyone who is willing to Make A Difference. We believe in cross fertilisation of ideas and cross boundary thinking. Students can learn from professionals and vice versa. If you want to contribute let us know!

What’s in it for you as an individual and/or as an organisation?
You will get inspired by influential speakers and fellow MAD people. Through often surprising conversations with new people you may be influenced and motivated to make even more of a difference in your life.

Will you join us and start making a difference in 2017? We will soon announce a new date for MAD2017 on this website (By the way; there will be no entrance fee, because inspiration is for free).

Generation research update

In the meantime we’ve made much progress with the generation research. We’ve been very busy with the preparation of the first focus groups, which are planned on May 18th. These focus groups aim to give insight into each generation’s motives, incentives and drives. During the focus groups we will examine the extent to which members of each generation identify with an outlined generational profile. With our research we approach careers as being a dynamic social constructs, which means that during the focus groups we emphasize each individual’s interpretation and active fulfillment of their work values. After May 18th we will continue with organizing more focus groups and interviews, which will be all about exposing intergenerational tensions and similarities in the public sphere, as well as collecting good practices. All in all we are very excited to get started and discover our first findings!

Example & Accelerate

Example & Accelerate. An example where language shows us that some topics are remember more strongly when the same tone is used twice. As is the word EPIC, which shows as another function of language because the word itself has meaning but at the same time it means more than the word itself. EPIC speaks to the mind as is the EPIC apprenticeship itself.

You can let your imagination run wild, own initiative and ideas can be brought up and are stimulated. Wherever your imagination brings you in regard to your development goals, in consultation with the team everything is possible. For who does not know the meaning of EPIC beyond the word, it stands for Energy; Purpose; Identity and Courage. Capacities which will make sure that you can contribute to contemporary society. My own purpose has brought me to this apprenticeship, because I wanted to take the opportunity to develop myself. At every corner there is a challenge, a challenge which I hope one day to solve by experience and making a difference.

What are my goals? With help of a personal plan for development you get the opportunity to put on paper what your personal goals in live are. Further, we discuss and talk about this within the team. You will see that putting things on paper is making a difference already, because you are getting aware of your own ambitions and your own pitfalls. The EPIC Apprenticeship teaches me to be aware of my own capacities and therefore my own development goals.

This are meaningful lessons which I directly put into practice. As the foto shows I had the chance to meet one of the most inspiring people in Dutch society; the CEO of Schiphol. A man, who in my opinion, has one of the most interesting and dynamic job within the Netherlands. During this meeting I directly implemented one of the lessons which I had learned during the apprenticeship. First, being aware of the situation which I was in. Who was I speaking to and what was an appropriate way of behaviour? Next I try to remain calm and relaxed by using my body language and choosing my words carefully. This in combination with a normal dose of enthusiasm of course! But, the difference is that I now know to adjust myself in accordance with the environment and people around me.

This type of lessons seems small, but are crucial in contemporary society. With help of this learning experience you get the chance to look in the mirror and make mistakes! Because after you are aware of them we collectively take action and help each other by improving the mistakes. I am looking forward to coming weeks, because I get the chance to improve my pitfalls with help of a coach. My coach is a man with different qualities and another personality and that makes me excited. Because of this I get the chance to accelerate and improve my own qualities. By widening my own comfort zone I get the chance to get more out of my own internship.

These lessons are also helpful for making use of chances you get along the way. Do you know what you want but are you afraid to take the chance? Or do you take the chance, but you do not know the right way? All kinds of questions can be brought in during this EPIC Apprenticeship. For everyone who wants to make a difference; be EPIC and take this chance!

Lisa van der Heijden


Also have a MAD story you would like to share? Contact us here!

Kurhaus goes MAD

On Monday the 1st of May the PLF was invited to give a workshop at the National Assembly of Public Administration (Landelijk Congres der Bestuurskunde). The assembly was held in the stately Kurhaus hotel in The Hague. In the workshop the participants were set up to do a mini-Public Leadership Challenge, in which they were to design a digital tool to help people develop their leadership capabilities.

At the start of the workshop the group discussed what leadership is to them and if they encounter it much in their daily lives. We introduced them to the PLF’s vision on leadership and how we believe they can Make A Difference whatever their position in society. During the workshop the four groups, made up of students and young professionals in the field of public administration, came up with some very innovative ideas for tools with varying target groups –  from pupils at primary schools to government clients. At the end of the workshop, the groups themselves voted for the best idea, which ended up being a tie between two of the groups.

We got some great responses to the workshop and enjoyed organizing it. We hope we have inspired the participants to get a little more MAD.

Wanted: Public Leader with a great network

Do you want to engage in (new) public leadership activities? Are you a great networker and want to developing partnerships to anchor public leadership?

The Public Leadership Foundation (PLF) is looking for a Public Leader with a great network to strengthen our board!

The purpose of the PLF is to encourage, identify, develop and support leadership in the public sphere. We are setting out to be MAD (Making A Difference) through EPIC leadership (Energy, Purpose, Identity and Courage).

The PLF is a young and ambitious foundation. We want to anchor public leadership in society by connecting public, private and third sectors based on shared purpose.

Last year we organised multiple events and gave workshops at several congresses. This year the first (four) EPIC Apprentices started with their development program. Next year we want to continue growing, both in The Netherlands and Europe. Therefore, we need YOU!

We are looking for someone who:

  • Strengthens and further builds our partner network
  • Develops partnerships
  • Attracts sponsors for PLF events and activities by MAD people

Do you:

  • Want to contribute to the PLF purpose and vision?
  • Show leadership with a purpose?
  • Have humor (we take this seriously)?

And are you:

  • A networker in the public and private sphere?
  • Willing to learn and helping others to grow?
  • Looking for an ambitious platform and an energetic team to work in?

Than we really would like to meet you!


Giulietta Marani (+31 6 29496612) can tell you everything about the PLF and especially this position. Or meet us at June 12th 17.00 in The Hague (Plein) during one of our MAD drinks.

PLF workshop at the National Assembly of Public Administration

On Monday May 1st, the Public Leadership Foundation will be giving a workshop at the National Assembly of Public Administration (Landelijk Congres der Bestuurskunde – LCB). The LCB is a yearly two-day event organised by Public Administration students. It is an initiative of the Landelijk Overlegorgaan Bestuurskundeverenigingen, an umbrella association for 10 more local student associations. The assembly is meant for students of Public Administration and young professionals from this discipline. This year’s theme is personal leadership.

During the workshop the participants will do a shortened version of the Public Leadership Challenge. The case for this challenge will be presented by the PLF itself. This way the participants will get to know the foundation a little better, while in the meantime working on their own personal leadership. The team with the best solution for the case will get the chance to realize their idea together with the PLF. However, everyone developing their personal leadership is a winner according to us!

You can buy your tickets at the LCB website.

Generation research

Yosha van Droffelaar started as an apprentice at the ministry of Interior & Kingdom Relations. She will contribute to the Generations research where the PLF works together with FUTUR (national network for young public servants) and the ministry. This research seeks to contribute to a more balanced public sector, where all generations of public servants are represented and remain involved. In order to do so, the generation research attemps to identify what drives these different generations. The main research question is: what motivates different generations of public servants and how are public organisations designed to fit these motivations? Yosha says “When digging deeper into each generation’s motivations and incentives, I aim to challenge the self-evident prejudices and contribute to a growing mutual understandig in which each generations’ strengths are being represented”. A first blog with call for feedback is published here. If you want to participate, mail to Yosha.

EPIC Apprenticeship: the kick-off!

On 17 February and 31 March 2017 we organised the first two EPIC Apprenticeship sessions at Leiden University, Campus The Hague. Until summer 2017 the PLF and partners will work together with four enthusiastic future leaders on the start-up of the program.

During the kick-off Yosha, Lisa, Eline and Daphne have been working on formulating their learning goals and exploring their personal leadership potential. Giulietta, Florus and Ben joined them to discuss leadership and examples of inspirational leaders. Various leadership styles were introduced and personal strengths and learning goals were exploired through various exercises such as speed dating.

As part of the program the EPIC Apprentices will experience activities such as coaching, job shadowing, excursions and working with leadership challenges. In the next couple of newletters the apprentices will introduce themselves and share their learing experiences.

Do you want to read more about the apprenticeship and possible partnerships? Click here or mail Giulietta Marani.


Decentralisations of government services

Decentralisation of govenment services suggests the need for new approaches to leadership. This challenge was explored during our latest Public Leadership Challenge (PLC) arranged in partnership with Leiden Leadership Centre. Students, professionals, academics and representatives of public and not for profit organisations focused on the following questions: plc012017

  • Which public leadership must be displayed for this transformation to succeed? At municipalities, healthcare & welfare organizations and in society?
  • What are preconditions for successful leadership during the decentralizations?

Rene de Jong, the main organisor, says “It was great to connect all these different organisations and people and I can’t wait to organise the next one”. Click here for more information about the PLCs.

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