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Dr. ir. Robert Hekkenberg

What do you do if your job suddenly becomes a burden and any joy you derived from it disappears? Taking on more responsibility usually means more problems will end up on your desk as well. Robert Hekkenberg found himself unable to keep a grip on all his different projects. ‘I’m a trouble shooter. I like nothing better than a challenge. Give me a problem and I will solve it. Everything went fine as long as I could see the wood for the trees but as my responsibilities grew I lost control.’

Apart from his job as a senior lecturer Hekkenberg also heads the Marine Technology education department at TU Delft. Both roles are becoming increasingly extensive and complex. ‘The pitfall that presents itself is to feel responsible for absolutely everything’.

This is the ‘King Arthur syndrome’, as Aletta has dubbed it. Robert: ‘I storm off like a brave knight to confront the robbers at the gate. That gives me a sense of control and satisfaction. But what if there’s a whole gang of robbers? Things will quickly look a whole lot bleaker.’ And it showed. Robert no longer happily navigated the university corridors and his colleagues noticed he was not the man they were used to.

To make the decision to see a coach is an important first step. ‘It makes you think about yourself and what it is you want,’ Robert says. ‘The sessions taught me a lot. I did most of the talking and Aletta mainly listened. And then she would start asking questions.’

The extent of Robert’s influence on achieving solutions to problems was one of the subjects that came up during the sessions. ‘I have a tendency to take on the end responsibility for a solution, even if it involves a matter I don’t have the last word in. Reflecting more on the extent of my influence on certain solutions lightens the pressure. You accept that you can’t solve everything. At the same time I more actively involve the colleagues I share responsibility with in tackling problems when they arise. I’m no longer shouldering the whole burden of responsibility.’

It took no more than two sessions to get to the crux of Robert’s problem. ‘Of course we also discussed personal issues, things from the past, which can be at the bottom of how you handle things as an adult. We found that that was not really the case. With me it’s about becoming aware of how I want to deal with problems in the here and now.’

Growing self-awareness has also meant Robert got to know himself better. ‘We talked about channelling emotions and that has proved to be a great help when communicating with colleagues. The atmosphere has improved, I’m experiencing less stress and am enjoying my work more. I’m a little surprised at how quickly we got to this point. But if you can identify the problem it’s much easier to solve.’

It took a while for Robert to decide to turn to coaching but now he wishes he had done it sooner. ’If in doubt, just go for it. The academic world is full of people who are so focused on performance and results they forget to reflect. And that will get you into trouble if you don’t do something about it. Once you make that decision you will find your problems may not as difficult to solve as you thought.’

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