Stefan Willems is known to be a driven doer with a passion for helping people develop. His best advice: Stay true to yourself and use your energy and curiosity to bring out the best in others.
Stefan Willems is Dutch but has worked in Sandviken in Sweden for the last eight years, at SITS, Sandvik Infrastructure & Technology Services - the company that ensures that Sandvik’s 40 000 employees has access to all necessary IT capabilities for them to do their job. His job title Head of Strategy & Business Support means that Stefan leads the team of 25 employees and several consultants, that make sure that SITS develops and performs at its best. He is also known to be the catalyst that started the growth journey to agile ways of working within SITS.
What he likes most about his job?
“The diversity for sure, to work with different people, to find out what makes them tick and how to help them grow. My horizon is growing every day. The more diverse types of people in a group the better the solutions and outcome,” says Stefan Willems.
Curiosity is a word that seem to permeate most of what he says and does - and then we are not talking about the childhood curiosity that made him dismantle TV’s and radios just to figure out how they work.
“If you are curious and open about others and their perspectives, there is no course or learning that can beat that. Just remember to listen more than you talk,” he says.
Stefan Willems is a recognized doer and natural coach known to bring out the best in the people he works with. In doing so, the ability to find out what it is that makes people grow is one of the most valuable tools in his toolbox.
I am also a believer in saying what needs to be said, rather than what people want to hear even if it’s uncomfortable,” he says.
Could that possibly be that famous Dutch bluntness shining through? The question is immediately dismissed. In this context being straight forward always comes with an attempt to help. It’s never said just to make a point. This is confirmed by David Berg, Business Developer at SITS, who has worked with and reported to Stefan for several years.
“Stefan definitely has the ability to approach the elephant in the room and also to give the type of necessary feedback that others may shy away from because it’s uncomfortable,” says David Berg.
That honesty is something that David Berg appreciates in Stefan as a person and in his leadership.
“Stefan sees people, takes the time to listen and try to understand, and he is always very available, even when he is buried in work. He is always transparent, and there are never any hidden agendas. You can trust that he would never throw you under the bus,” says David Berg.
Holistic business view
He describes Stefan as a great inspirer and communicator who can explain the most sensitive or complicated things in an understandable way, and he welcomes Stefan’s holistic business view where focus is value and outcome rather than just ticking off the to-do-list. There are not many leaders that David Berg has met in his career that gets the same high rating.
“Stefan understands that leadership is about helping others to grow and succeed by using their own toolbox, and not about telling people what to do. That’s his strength,” David sums it up.
A speaker at Sandvik Leadership training
Stefan Willems leadership has been recognized during Sandvik Leadership trainings, where he has been a participant as well as a speaker.
“The one thing I shared that got the most feedback was my thoughts on honesty and the importance of staying true to yourself. Acting according to other people’s expectations steals energy that could have been used in a better way,” he says and reveals that he regularly tries to look in the mirror to make sure that what he sees is himself and not someone who has taken on a role.
It's one thing to adapt socially to different situations, but he has seen too many people put on an act at work because they think that’s what people want to see. He is convinced that nothing good comes out of that in the long run, as that stops you from helping yourself as well as helping others.
To help develop his own leadership he has always looked for people around him that he trusts and can share any issues with, good topics as well as the more embarrassing ones.
I recommend everyone to do the same. The people you ask will most likely be flattered and you will be surprised about how much help you can get.”
In helping his own team to grow he uses one-to-ones for individual development, and agile practices for team planning. The approach is just as straight forward in the appraisals as he truly believes in saying what needs to be said even if it’s unpleasant.
“But it’s a balancing act. My biggest learning since I became a manager is that my words can mean so many things, also different from how I intended it. Everyone has their own manual and way to perceive what is said. Finding that balance between being open and helping without hurting, that can be a big challenge,” he says and adds an for him just as important advice:
“Don’t take your job too seriously! If you do you will be eaten alive. My perspective is to find the humor in what’s happening. Accept that it’s human to make mistakes, own it, learn from it and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.
What do you look for in a leader?
"Authenticity and inspiration. The difference between a manager and a leader is the ability to inspire others and show the path ahead."
What do you find most challenging in your leading role?
"To find the balance between being open and transparent and how to help people in their development without hurting their feelings."
How do you excel as a team?
"By letting enthusiastic people, passionate about their job, help each other - add a bit of humor and the energy in the room will do the rest."
Role: Head of Strategy & Business Support, SITS
Tenure: Started 8,5 years ago and moved with my family to Sweden, three years in current role
Family: Spouse, a daughter (15) and two sons (18 and 20). My oldest son has moved out to study.
Favorite hobby: Working with wood and riding my motorcycle.
Secret superpower: Not so secret to the ones working with me: My creativity.