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I’m not much of a soccer fanatic but European Championships have something special. I’ve learned to enjoy them after spending an afternoon in Antwerp with some of my former Belgian and Dutch Adecco colleagues. Supporting the Dutch team on a big screen. Us all being dressed up completely in orange. That has been a few years ago indeed ;-)

As Belgians living in the Netherlands we’ve been cheering for the Netherlands as well as for Belgium in the past. After all my 10 years old girl has spent 1/4th of her young life here already and is getting even more settled in the Dutch culture than I am as an adult. So I have to keep up with her. That being said this year we had put all our hopes on our own Red Devils. The great promise of the tournament.

Funny thing is I’ve been switching between NOS (Dutch television) and VRT (Flemish television in Belgium) simply to get to see two completely different approaches to one and the same game. I would be stating the obvious if I told you – overall – the Dutch were much more exuberant in expressing their thoughts. And nobody is surprised nowadays to see a more or less tranquil Belgian adding valuable content nevertheless counterbalancing the much more talkative Dutchmen on NOS.

What I’ve especially loved to see was how a Jan Mulder (a Dutchman whom I’ve learned to appreciate) had the Flemish audience hanging onto his every word night after night at the table of Karl Vannieuwkerke at VRT. Even more the crowd went wild every time he accelerated. Uttering his strong and sometimes oversimplified views aloud. Those of you who know Jan know that he isn’t the one to mince his words. You love him or you hate him. But he got applauded as he spoke. As if he was saying exactly what the audience was thinking. Or feeling.

Now why am I telling you all of this? In my work as an executive Coach, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive in Belgium (even now with my free summer Growth Kit) is how to bring more of yourself to the table. You could say almost literally how to act more as a Jan Mulder on Flemish television. Or maybe even as a Thibaut Courtois sticking out his neck after the big disappointment. Let’s be clear I’m not judging anyone here. Not even taking a stand.

The question is: Why is it so difficult for us Belgians to step up and give our unsalted opinion in public? Whether it is a television-show, an important meeting or even your daily work meeting. Well here is what I think. One, we are not only afraid to be perceived as arrogant, but secondly we already see ourselves as arrogant when stepping on that big stage. I guess the saying is right about us being our own worst enemy from time to time.

Although we’re all aiming to be authentic in our leadership style, it’s deeply rooted in our Flemish culture to be modest. To be polite. To be patient. To let the other one speak. Not to interrupt. We have learned to nuance our opinion. To focus on content not on feeling. Yet research has shown that the most respected leaders aren’t the modest type at all.

One of the most passionate moments at the table of Karl Vannieuwkerke was right after the elimination of the Belgian team. Jan Mulder went quiet. The Flemish people at the table all started yelling. At the same time. All at once. It was a very tense moment. And I thought it was just beautiful. Seeing those people bringing their passion to the table.

Your feeling. Your unsalted opinion. Your emotion. Yourself.

Let me ask you. People of any culture. How do you do it, as a leader? How do you bring more of yourself to the table? Thank you for unplugging the modesty and sharing your tips and tricks.

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Looking forward to your thoughts !

Looking for a (not so modest) soundboard? Schedule your free 30-minute session online now (choose your date and time and I will confirm asap).

About the author

Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach. After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself