Learning with impact: From police commander to office leader

Etienne van Eck went from protecting Nelson Mandela to leading an office team. UBC Sauder Executive Education showed him how to make the transition.


Etienne van Eck is the Director of Investigations at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of British Columbia and he knows how to lead a team.

But his original training came from years as a policeman back in the late 80s and 90s and the style of training and motivational techniques in that environment are very different than anything he now experiences in the office.

In order to update and shift his leadership training to best impact his current team, van Eck enrolled in the course, Leveraging your Leaderships Strengths at UBC Sauder Executive Education. 


From 1994 to 1996 van Eck led the protection detail for South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela. He eventually immigrated to Canada in 1999, but his almost 15 years as a policeman with the South African police left a lasting mark on his role as a leader.

“I know that I know how to lead because of this training, but it was different then,” van Eck explains. “You take orders and often tell people what to do, but when someone’s life in your hands this effects the way you do it.”

For more than 15 years, van Eck has worked in an entirely different position, mostly in offices with teams of people working with and for him. And that was an adjustment at first. 

“It’s like I’ve lived two completely different lives.”


The course was positive reinforcement for van Eck, letting him know that his former training had started him off on a good leadership path and that he had adjusted appropriately for the office world.

“It was useful to reflect back to that training. Knowing I was doing the right stuff and to get that confirmation,” he says. “It helped me to learn how to adjust how I did things in the past by using the techniques drawn from the course and the experiences of others in the class.”


On his office door, van Eck has two pieces of paper that read: “Lead today like no other,” and “We all make mistakes: together we are a team”.

“Those are just words, but I think the challenge is actually showing that kind of leadership to your team,” he explains.

After he returned from the two-day leadership course in October, van Eck says he called a meeting and asked his own team members the question that had resonated with him: Do I get to do what I’m best at every day at work?

Each team member answered privately, only giving their answers to van Eck, and he says he was happy with the number of yeses. But this acted as a jumping off point and in the months following that meeting van Eck has spent one-on-one time with team members to help either discover or nurture their strengths.  The outcome, so far, has been very positive and van Eck says he will continue this work.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you lead this way.”

Executive Education at the Sauder School of Business

Our professional development programs aim to transform your career and accelerate your organization’s business objectives. With more than one hundred open enrolment programs taught by top Sauder faculty and leading industry experts, we zero in on your goals and ensure you get results.

We have a broad range of programs, from short skill-building courses for managers who want to make their mark to intensive week-long programs in residence for senior leaders. Each is comprehensive and convenient, minimizing your time away from the office and family. All our programs can be customized to meet your organization’s business objectives and professional development needs.