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Authentic Leadership Dialogue:Philippe Mathijs

Philippe Mathijs, the Global Vice President IT and Operations at Wirecard, is a leader known for delivering to business priorities AND doing so in a most human way. My discussion with Philippe left a lasting impression on me, reaffirming my faith in the belief that we can be both result oriented and people oriented at the same time. He shares several anecdotes reflecting his unique leadership style in the interview that follows.

What has been a memorable experience in your leadership journey?

“In 2007 I joined HP Enterprise Services as a team leader. Things moved quickly, and in 6 months I was promoted 3 levels up. I was made the Global Head of Transformation. In 15 minutes, you’re in charge, and its either sink or swim. I was responsible for merging EDS and HP and 6,500 people were to be made redundant. I had to make tough people decisions very quickly, and it felt awful.

Although the pace was not my choice, I realized the “How” was. To me it is all about the people. I followed the script, and then went beyond. It’s a very small world, it’s important to treat people the way you want to be treated. I do wish it had gone slower. I’m older and more emotionally intelligent now.

“The thing is, outsiders don’t see how difficult it is to make tough decisions”

The thing is, outsiders don’t see how difficult it is to make tough decisions. To me, the buck stops here. It can get lonely at the top. At the time I didn’t have a coach, or a mentor and I wish I had. There is just a small pool of people you can turn to when you’re at the top.”

Philippe Mathijs: Global Vice President IT and Operations Wirecard

What do you look for when you are hiring a leader?

“I am willing to take a huge leap of faith on leaders even if they don’t have the experience. They need to have that something. Potential plus blissful ignorance. I can see it in a person.

What I look for are individuals who are able to work with ambiguity. Because often you don’t have all the “data” you need, and you have to trust your judgement and intuition. You need to be self-confident and be prepared to make mistakes early. Because the size and impact of the mistake can only grow the higher you go. I admire people who are not afraid to make mistakes and own it.

Once, I had a team member who was required to present a project plan. It was a really bad one, and I ripped it to pieces. When she came back, she had an incredible plan. I admire the resiliencethat takes, and I can see that. She went on to be promoted twice that year.”

How do you, as a leader, deal with challenges?

“I remember this quote by Tony Robbins: “You choose how you turn up.” As a leader I have to keep the front line. Regardless the issues you deal with, you just stay present. “

So how do you “turn up”?

“No matter how high you are, you are human. For me, for a day to be totally successful, you have to make 5 people smile at you. Treat everyone as a peer.

Also, I believe in letting the results speak. I know what makes my boss tick, but I don’t desperately try to please – be a “model student”.”

Let’s talk more about making mistakes ….

“When I was in investment banking, years ago, we went live with script for a client in its “test” form. I didn’t try to hide it, it’s important to own the mistake. This level of transparency made the client our most loyal client.

“You cannot avoid mistakes ever. In fact, I look for leaders who have scars”

Its important that the higher you go, the MORE transparent you become about your mistake. You cannot avoid mistakes ever. In fact, I look for leaders who have scars. The worst leaders today are those without scars. The scars make the leader and as a coach I like to coach leaders with scars.

What is important to remember is to keep moving forward through your mistakes. You have to get better and better, faster and faster, at bouncing back.”

How do you think Leadership is changing?

“Leadership is evolving. Organizations change faster and are working in multicultural contexts in an increasingly volatile environment. I remember early in my career my team were all Belgian, and we had a French client. Today I have 10 different nationalities in my team, and we deal with global clients. The environment we operate in has shifted, and even something simple as a handshake or personal space is perceived differently by different people.

“Education needs to evolve, to include these realities and prepare future leaders.”

Corporates need leaders now who know what diversity looks like and how to operate in that space.”

Philippe, what is the legacy you would like to leave?

“I would like to raise £10mn to build a foundation for under-privileged children. This realization came to me 2 years ago, when I was faced with difficult childhood experience, I had been carrying for 30 years.

Legacy really is about touching someone who remembers you as a good person. That you lived honor and integrity. These were values I learned from my grandfather, who was a police constable in his town.

Just ask yourself every day – how will you show up today? Because what we think, we become.”

Final Word

Philippe is what I would call a “conscious leader”. His brand of conscious leadership requires a very conscious choice of how to operate as a leader first and within that framework deliver against his multiple priorities.

As is often the case, existing and aspiring leaders can find themselves caught up in a maelstrom of shifting demands while working in a dynamic business environment. It can be hard to connect with one’s own leadership when this happens.

“I invite leaders to take a step up to proactively reflect on their personal leadership narrative”

I invite leaders to take a step up to proactively reflect on their personal leadership narrative – including their values, beliefs and even the legacy they want to leave behind. Integrating this narrative can create a higher level of agency in the work that leaders do – and this in turn results in higher levels of ownership and impact.

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