Before he took the helm as CEO, Gielkens was partly responsible for the international expansion of Schouten Global (now Relevance). As general manager of Schouten China, he supervised growth in the pan-Asian region, learning valuable lessons. “When I look back at my time in China, it revolved around two things: agility and scale. Developments are happening so fast in China that agility is a genuine requirement. You need to change gears quickly, act fast, and make decisions on the fly. You need to know what’s going on in your environment and be able to adjust your strategy accordingly. If you’re not agile, you’ll always be playing catch-up.” Leadership effectiveness is thus very important.
In China, Gielkens worked on a completely different scale than he had in Europe. “You can add two or three zeros to everything, which requires a different approach from your organization. I’m immensely proud of the fact that we managed to roll out our services throughout the pan-Asian region during that time. All in all, it was a period that taught me very valuable lessons. Those lessons came in handy with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the bigger international journeys we are taking with our clients today.”
To stay relevant as a leader in the future, Gielkens says it’s crucial to know your business well. “You must stay up to date with what’s going on in your business,” he says. He also explains that it’s important that you can operate at a high level and withstand the pressure you may face as a leader. “You need to be both mentally and physically fit. I do that by playing sports: I like to cycle and play tennis. Besides being active, I also schedule rest periods by meditating regularly.”
Moreover, Gielkens believes it’s important for a leader to be connected to their purpose: you need to know why you're doing it. “For me, it’s all about creating positive change. Whether it’s at Relevance or at one of our clients, I want to facilitate change and give people the push they need. That’s what energizes me.”
As a leader, you must keep pushing your boundaries, Gielkens believes. “To me, leadership is not about waiting for things to happen, but about creating your own success. After all, you play to win, not lose.”
But how do you do that? To Gielkens, it’s a matter of connecting and inspiring. “You need to make sure that you not only inspire your people but also include them in your goals and strategy. You do that by constantly thinking ahead and having scenarios ready: if this happens, we’ll do that. That’s how you create a certain agility as an organization, which certainly came in handy during the pandemic.”
"Instead of waiting for things to happen, create your own success: that's leadership."
The CEO is proud when he reflects on the past year and a half. “Normally, about 80% of what we do is done face to face, and that suddenly plummeted to zero in March 2020. However, our turnover remained about the same because we made a massive change in a very short time: we offered all our services online and talked directly with our clients about what they needed most at that time. It turned out to be a lot: from supervising and collaborating remotely to organizing online meetings or designing digital onboarding programs. The fact that we could turn our services around like that in a few weeks showed the agility we had already built up as an organization.”
Job satisfaction is an important theme at Relevance, so for Gielkens too. “For me, job satisfaction means doing the things that you know will have an impact, that you are good at, and that you enjoy doing. I enjoy empowering people to take control of their own lives. Enabling someone to discover what they are good at, helping them identify that dream for the future: that’s really what drives me.” In the past year, the CEO also saw the importance of social interaction confirmed. “People really need that social connection, and as a company you have to facilitate that.”
Finally, for Gielkens, job satisfaction is about continuing to learn. “As a leader, you must enable your employees to do that. But above all, you must keep doing it yourself; otherwise, you’ll stagnate. I take an intensive course every few years. This year, I’m doing one at the IE Business School in Madrid, covering topics like blended learning and the latest technologies in that field. This introduces me to things I can immediately put into practice. By continuing to learn, you not only help yourself, you also help your organization advance.”