Leaders with luck

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Mark Vletter

8 Feb 2023 Clock 4 min

A while ago I found the email below in my inbox.

“Every January, Thinkers50, the world’s most reliable resource for identifying, ranking, and sharing the leading management ideas of our age, announces 30 thinkers to watch in the coming year. We are delighted to inform you that you have been selected for the 2023 Thinkers50 Radar.”

It’s quite a serious list. Gary Hamel is in the Hall of Fame, as is Sally Helgesen, just to name a few of the thinkers they selected. I am seen as a “champion of self-management”. Wow. That’s quite different from the nickname “eccentric lunatic” which I’m a lot more comfortable with.

The reason I’m on this list is luck. And I wonder: if you’re on such a list, shouldn’t you do more than get lucky?


I highlight a few items from my happiness list:

  • I was lucky to be born in the Netherlands and into a loving family.
  • I was lucky enough to go to Hanze University of Applied Sciences, thanks to the fantastic Dutch education system and my parents who helped me.
  • It was pure luck that I got to play with the technology of the leading Dutch research institute TNO in a country with a great tech infrastructure.
  • It was fortunate that Gerlof Bosveld , then general director of TNO and ‘proud manager of 400 strange IT people’, gave me the confidence to develop the technology further.
  • I was lucky enough to have Yvanka, my partner, support me in the Voys adventure which was definitely not easy for either of us during the first five years.
  • And I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work with amazing people every day who have embraced the crazy self-direction experiment we decided to embark on together.

Can we do more?

Together with this wonderful bunch of colleagues, we have been able to connect 150,000 end users and more than 30,000 companies with their customers. We have been able to inspire a much larger group by showing that you can work together as equals: the Voys Model, our handbook and the book we have written bear witness to this. And, last but not least, nearly 25,000 people benefited from the work of 48percent.org, our foundation.

That all sounds great, but could we possibly do more? Equality has been my driving force behind this journey. And it is precisely on this point that I see things moving in the wrong direction in some key areas.

Equality between people

The number of people living below the poverty line in the Netherlands is increasing. I live in one of the richest countries in the world and yet there is more poverty?

To give you an idea of ​​how absurd the system has become, over the past two years, the richest 1 percent of the world has amassed nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world. And we still tax labour instead of wealth. Putting a 5 percent tax on the wealth of the world’s multimillionaires and billionaires would raise enough money to lift two billion people out of poverty. That sounds better than buying Twitter, right?

And if you look at how the rich accumulate their wealth, it is mainly because they do not pay taxes with their companies. It shouldn’t be difficult to create and implement laws to ensure companies pay fair taxes in the countries where they make money.

Equality and our planet

And the planet? It’s no better off either. CO2 emissions are still rising. And I’m not talking about totals. No, I’m talking about the emissions that we add annually. There are energy companies – the biggest polluters – that spend more money on greenwashing than they invest in actual climate solutions. And even worse, we have politicians – leaders – who seem to be okay with that.

Organisations and leaders must realise that we cannot go on like this. Businesses only thrive in a healthy society. It’s the only reason they can exist. If you extract all the value from that society, your company will cease to exist. Leaders must realise that their companies are an integrated part of society. And society can only survive if it has a healthy relationship with the environment. We should no longer think of shareholder value, but of system value.

Equality and leadership

The Thinkers50 list says that we, the people on the list, are the ones to watch when it comes to management ideas. I challenge the people on the list and entrepreneurs: take real responsibility for the organisations you lead. Make them a full part of our society and the ecological system in which they exist. Only then do you really create value.

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