Give our colleague Maggelien Lambrechts a blank T-shirt. Ask how she would design it. And be assured that a beautiful and unique one will emerge. From this T-shirt, a rich conversation unfolds. About how important family is. About how a study in English and Spanish literature led her into the HR profession. About her career 2.0. And above all: about daring to jump.
A blank T-shirt
If I gave you a blank T-shirt, how would you design it in such a way that I get to know you?
If you gave me a blank T-shirt, I would endow it with lots of colours. In a motif of paint splatters. All mixed together. AND there are people on it. The T-shirt, when you see it, might be a bit imperfect and not perfectly straight. Those paint splatters represent the creativity and wonder that children have. Who without thinking just put something on paper that they feel like doing at that moment. I love that feeling of letting go and not thinking. In that respect, I also watch my own children a lot. They remind me not to forget my wonder. And that I keep dwelling on the little things in life. Like the sun shining. And then enjoying that. Or letting myself be surprised by spontaneous things. Friends passing by and then suddenly, hup, sitting on the terrace with each other.
How did you actually grow up?
My grandparents were farmers. The whole family also built their houses around this land. As a result, I grew up on a street with my nieces and nephew nearby. No surprise then that we visited each other for every occasion with the family. I still live in the same village and enjoy the contact with my family and sisters. In that respect, I really am a family person.
You just said something about people on that T-shirt, is there a link with that to how you grew up?
That's funny indeed. Because, in everything I do, I need people around me. That has been super important to me since childhood. From the youth movement to theatre I was in: I move in groups of people. I also recognise it in my previous job at Oxfam Belgium. I enjoyed having a team and investing in human contact. Incidentally, I also enjoy peace and quiet, but I prefer to have people around me.
Jumping: closing a chapter
You recently started a new chapter in your career. That first makes me curious about the chapter you stepped out of... can you tell me something about it?
Before starting this new chapter, I worked in HR at Oxfam Belgium for about 10 years.
The remarkable thing is that I had no background in that at all. I studied English and Spanish literature. And I had a lot of interest in people and relationship. That made me end up in HR. Yet I discovered common ground between my study background and work. At the time, for instance, I had to read and analyse many books: what does the author want to say? From which zeitgeist is this author writing? Moreover, languages provide insights into other contexts and cultures. Thus, my studies helped (and still help) a lot to understand and support people. Incidentally, I started as an employee, became a manager and grew to HR director within Oxfam Belgium. Eventually, I was also able to think strategically about the organisation's policy. So I experienced the whole picture.
What would you call the chapter you are closing?
I think that period at Oxfam was the biggest learning experience I had. From someone just coming into working life, I was given and seized opportunities to learn by trial and error. In it, I have been able to experience all levels of the organisation. That has given me such a rich baggage of knowledge and experience. Looking back on that time in that respect, I would call the chapter 'Jumping'. I would say that to the me I was 10 years ago: 'It will be all right, dare to let go and jump. There's always a safety net if needed."
If you could pick one big lesson from that time, what lesson would it be?
It sounds cliché, but still how important it is to stay close to yourself. That's when you achieve the best relationships and results. For example, a really difficult moment was firing about 20 people. I hated it: how was I supposed to handle that? I talked a lot about it with a fellow director. And then I discovered that I had to do it my own way. By including 'myself' in how I felt and experienced it myself. So that it didn't become so distant. This kept me close to my colleagues to whom I had to break the bad news. As difficult as it was, these were people-to-people conversations. I wanted to be there for them. I felt people appreciated that: staying close to yourself and also being honest about what it does to you.
Career 2.0: the start of a new chapter
What new chapter are you starting?
For me, it's the 2.0 version of myself and my career. The jumping I feel: towards something new and uncertain in all areas. In that respect, a year and a half ago, I could not have imagined that I would make this step now. Do I dare financially and with the uncertainty of entrepreneurship? At the same time, you never have certainty in life. In that respect, I also have a side that dares to make the countermove. Call it that childlike side of letting go and just doing it. I recognise that from my student days, for example: everyone around me went to Ghent, but I wanted to go to Leuven. Now I do the same: although my surroundings and parents are nervous about me taking the step to self-employment, I still make that choice. It helps that I feel a strong confidence from our colleagues at K&S from day one. Whereas in other organisations you first have to try and learn by doing, my colleagues trust that I can do it. In that, it is very nice that colleagues don't hold my hand. And let me do it. That's great and gives me a lot of confidence to grow in my entrepreneurship.
What kind of work do you enjoy getting out of bed for?
I most enjoy work that is about getting people to talk to each other. And contributing, through interventions and exercises, to colleagues getting to know and connect with each other in a different way. I notice that people have a lot of work to do in the day-to-day. The feeling of getting the job done then lurks. And working together only from that business link I find unfortunate. In my work, I would like to ensure that there is also a people-to-people connection. That you get to know each other in other ways to understand each other better. To work and learn together from there. I like to contribute to that.
What is an example of this?
I remember a session around talents with core quadrants. One group was discussing each other's talents. One person was struggling to recognise and acknowledge a talent in himself. But because the group also saw that talent, combined with its value within the team, an insight arose in this person. That this talent contributes to cooperation. By picking out examples at work with each other in the process, insights arise that help to improve cooperation.
What does learning mean to you?
For me, learning is about nurturing yourself and growing. I have noticed that I have been able to spend less time on this due to the arrival of my children. But, I find it important to reinvent and discover myself. That is a foundation for me. A piece of happiness to keep feeding myself and feeling like I'm not standing still.
Suppose I interview you in a year's time... What is the best project, movement, or question you look back on then?
I hope to have done a nice project on diversity and inclusion then. In all possible forms. I have no idea what that was exactly. But I hope I will have been able to connect. I feel that in the world today, connection and equality are so important. I want to mean something in that.
If you could give this talk a title, what would it be?
When I think about it... 'Goesting'. On the one hand, it's about the gusto I have in exploring my career 2.0. On the other hand, it also comes from this conversation. I just get an appetite to go make that T-shirt. To explore that creativity further. And to get started.