Most people have heroes. Or at least they admire people. For me, as the son of a sports teacher, these were usually sports stars and coaches. These were people who had not merely delivered a special performance but who had left a particular impression on me because of their attitude and personality. Engaged people, who had followed their paths energetically and who had achieved a unique performance.

    Take for example Toon Gerbrands, manager of the Dutch football club PSV. He had been a top athlete, top coach and manager in the business sector. According to him the definition of science is that it always works in the same way, whereas our daily lives, top-level sport and business are not concerned with science by definition: in reality things do no proceed in exact the same way twice.

    I thought it was a great statement and I agreed with him. Or his saying:   “Talent is no more than beginner’s luck. Real top performers have got talent, character and intrinsic motivation. You need to select on mentality”. His remark really fit in seamlessly with the views and statements of my colleague Professor Lidewey van der Sluis; “Everyone has talents, but not everyone is a talent” (2008). Gerbrands also quoted a beautiful remark made by Bobby Fischer, world chess champion: “I don’t believe in psychology, I believe in good moves”.

    By thinking about my heroes and my personal conversations with some of them I got round to building a bridge between sport and (personal) leadership theories I have been focusing on these past few years. And in particular on The Work Engagement Theory (Schaufelli, 2001; Bakker, 2009). A theory that argues that engaged employees have a very positive attitude which is characterized by an unsurpassed vitality, energy, a desire to work and to go for it full speed ahead! As a consequence, they also know how to turn in remarkable performances.



    ‘Engaged’: who does not want to be engaged? And what manager is not interested in hiring such employees? Engaged employees are open to new ideas, are mentally and physically healthy and go to work with lots of energy and vitality every day. This is not just a wonderful thing for these employees themselves, it is also very stimulating for their immediate colleagues. Moreover, it is good for the organization. In difficult times, work engagement produces extra energy to deal with stressful situations, which makes these employees worth their weight in gold.


    Studies into Engagement indicate that only 88 per cent of the interviewed employees experience this job satisfaction and a zest for life to a lesser extent or not all. In fact, engaged and passionate people have indicated that they feel their engagement is fading because their talents are not appreciated or because the employment structure in their company is too rigid.

    But what makes someone ‘engaged’ and under which conditions can they perform optimally? Which vitality and dedication must be shown to raise that energy and passion day after day? Can engagement be taught and/or stimulated? These are all questions that could help us do the things we enjoy with more vitality and dedication in our daily practice.

    The concept of Work Engagement and the theories on this subject were at the core of my doctoral research at Nyenrode Business University. The results from this research, my personal quest and the exceptional conversations with some of my sports heroes I had met both privately and professionally, were the reason for me to finally write a book with and about them. In line with the quote Tom van ’t Hek, former Dutch hockey coach, told me once: “Inspiration is good, but perspiration is better”.


    Bas Kodden, LL.M, M.Sc BA, Ph.D, Center of Leadership & Management Development Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

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