Kindness and Curiosity Matter in Business
Matthijs Visch is the General Manager of Patagonia in EMEA
Matthijs’ Top Values
How I know Matthijs
I met Matthijs while he was a General Manager (GM) at Nike in Europe and since then he has moved to Patagonia to oversee the EMEA region. On a project that we worked on together, I found him to be unusually curious for someone at his level of seniority, not just in the work but in me as a person. He made a conscious effort to lean-in, be present, and ask thoughtful questions. He’s one of those rare business leaders whose legacy is just as strong in investing in teams as it is in driving P&L growth.
Two years ago, Matthijs and I did a book exchange to deepen our mutual love of learning. He sent me a book called “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse” by Charles Mackesy. It’s a book with timeless life lessons for all ages, and it perfectly describes who Matthijs is: kind.
There are very few business leaders who prioritize human values the way that Matthijs does. In this interview, I asked him a lot of questions about how he stayed true to his values throughout his successful commercial career.
Q: You were early on the trend of up-skilling continuously throughout your career. What kept you motivated to do this?
In all fairness, I’ve always been a curious person so I think I’m naturally wired that way. But I also think it starts with my values. Growth (self-awareness, personal development) and curiosity have always been important to me. I’ve always been fascinated with how people interact with themselves and each other. So up-skilling was never about competition or what I was “supposed” to do. It was about following my curiosities rooted in my genuine values.
Q: Was there a tipping point in your career that made you start your self-development path?
In my early 30’s, I was working as a financial analyst and started asking myself the big questions like what makes me happy. This led to a huge decision tree that included friends, health, family, spiritual growth… and nowhere on that list was Excel spreadsheets. That re-framed how I wanted to spend my time pretty clearly. It eventually led me to write a 10-year letter as my future self to my present self, painting a picture of what a happy and successful life for me would look like on my terms. And I think this is an important point about self-development: it doesn’t truly gain momentum until you’re searching within yourself.
Q: Can you elaborate on that? About the foundations of self-development?
Self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-love… these are foundational for growth and development. If you’re not fully accepting yourself as you are with your flaws and your strengths, then you’ll be building on a shaky foundation of false beliefs and your ego. It’s important to ground yourself as early as you can in your career and not bother too much about what other people think of you or think you should be doing. When I see people on my team make themselves smaller or don’t exhibit self-acceptance or confidence, I immediately pull them aside and give them this feedback because I think it’s so important.
Q: Given all this self-development, how do you define success for yourself?
I’ve always had this belief that it’s about balancing well-being and development for myself and for my team. If I take responsibility for my well-being and I am in balance, then I can show up for my team as my best self and also encourage the team to do the same for themselves.
And in my experience, when leaders do this then the business results follow. I sometimes see companies getting this backward – overly focusing on results over people. And I think it’s a massive opportunity.
Q: What do you think distinguishes a good leader from a great leader today?
Great leaders understand what their superpowers are and commit to bringing those to life for their teams. Because they lead with their strengths in service of others, results almost always follow great leaders.
I also think great leaders in corporations need to take responsibility for the people in the entire value-chain, from factories to supply chain partners to retail partners to employees. Economic value creation at the expense of people is something we need to move past. Leaders need to take extreme ownership over the wellness of all the parties involved in their business end-to-end. If they put this at the heart of their strategy, it will become their competitive advantage in the long term. Financial success and responsible enterprise practices can go hand-in-hand, and it’s what I’m here to show as a General Manager.
Q: How do you invite others to develop themselves and each other with you?
There are a few ways to do this. I often invest in team coaching and development programs so that my team has the opportunity to develop themselves with professionals. I also believe that creating a safe work environment (free from fear of retaliation) is critical to allow employees to anonymously or non-anonymously call out micro-behaviors or provide transparent feedback. Leaders have to walk the talk here, because this kind of safety doesn’t come by itself and requires 365 days of commitment. You can’t afford to make mistakes here, because you will quickly erode trust. One of the things I do with my team is “Ask or Tell Me Anything” sessions every quarter where there are no taboos, with the only rule being respect for teammates and individuals. These practices signal to your team that you are committed to creating a culture of safety.
Q: What’s your favorite leadership quote?
I had a friend whom I would cycle to the office with every other day a few years ago. Anytime we passed someone on our bikes, he would always say “Good morning, how are you?” with a big smile. At one point, I asked him why he greeted everyone. His response still remains with me: “Kindness is free. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it makes the world better.” That has really stuck with me all these years: the effort is minimal and the impact is massive. It reminds me to reinforce my values through my behaviors and words.
Thank you for inspiring me and my audience, Matthijs!
Do you know any inspiring and values-driven leaders whom the world should know about? Shoot me an email if you’d like to nominate and introduce that person. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org