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How does leadership contribute to strong performance?

Carlo Wolters, Chief Executive Officer at N.V. EPZ (Power Production), delivered the keynote speech at WANO’s Site Vice Presidents’ and Plant Managers’ conference in September 2020. Here is a summary of the speech. 

In setting a vision and direction, it is important that leaders consistently follow their values. When it comes to leadership, one of the most important characteristics is authenticity. Leaders need to be authentic to their own values. This is essential for any leader and is necessary to lead any organisation. 

If a leader has a vision that is completely in line with their own values, then leading an organisation is less complex, and people will recognise and buy into the leadership’s philosophy and behaviour. 

In our industry, overall the most important value is safety, either those at nuclear plants work safe or we don’t work at all. I personally stay true to my values and do whatever is needed to support this to achieve excellence in safety. If there are gaps, you must be honest and address them.

We don’t know how long and how this COVID-19 situation will affect us. As such, setting direction and giving perspective to people is important. For me personally, there is no difference in setting direction during the pandemic or during any other time – my belief and values remain consistent and are not affected by the pandemic. 

When I joined EPZ, I recommended closing down a coal fired unit, because it had too many safety issues that would not be solved before the expected retirement date. It was a difficult decision, but it was based on my values of prioritising safety. In my organisation, I ensure that our leaders all have an authentic safety conscience.

Today in our challenging pandemic times, people can get distracted and worried about their families and friends getting ill, changing routines in normal life, and the absence of social activities. Leadership can foster resilience in staff by providing them with psychological and social support. An environment of trust with the foundation of using our “servant leadership model” has helped my organisation enormously in handling the current situation.

Today that means that I personally am more visible in the organisation, I’m sensitive to people’s worries, and show by example an adherence to our values. In practice, we have had a COVID-19 team in place with weekly calls with all leaders to discuss what we need to do, but we also talked about how each of us personally felt under this challenging situation. We took any concerns raised seriously and addressed them. 

We also had an online poll for our staff to share their worries or concerns. More than ever, we worked together to achieve our goals. As such they have a high level of safety and until now have had no COVID-19 cases. My message to operators of nuclear power plants is - let us not ignore gaps to excellence, be honest and be aware of your real situation at your plant.  

I would like to end this by quoting William Shakespeare, who wrote: ‘security is mortals’ chiefest enemy’. My explanation for this for the phrase is that if you think you are safe, then you are likely to be at your most vulnerable. So be aware of your issues, and mitigate risks promptly. 

In conclusion I would like to leave a question for all of us to consider - do you know where you are most vulnerable?