VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development

While CEOs are often portrayed as the solo-leaders of firms, there is an increased awareness that corporate strategic decisions are the result of intensive deliberation and communication between numerous actors within boards and their stakeholders. Recent corporate scandals, however, have shown that as a society we know little about what happens in boardrooms, or how various stakeholders can influence the decision-making direction of boards including executive and non-executive committees.
The VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of factors influencing the decision-making of boards, including board members and CEO characteristics, behavioural patterns, governance structures and regulatory requirements. With a mission to create knowledge that can help top management teams to develop and to better lead contemporary organisations, we aim to explore the interplay of multiple factors that shape the performance of boards and top executives within the boards through a deeper understanding of leadership effectiveness, socio-cognitive and communicative behaviours and leadership teams in general.
Our experts are renown scholars who work in the areas of behavioural change, psycho-analytics, cognition, communication, career, corporate culture, legacy, governance and strategy. Together with boards and top management teams, we build new interdisciplinary theories on the topics related to consciousness, sensemaking, the unsaid, the unknown, emotional trends, board and executive climates, information-processing and faultlines, as well as development and learning. In our research, we draw on qualitative, process-based, and reflexive research methodologies.
Next to our research, we also offer various post-graduate and executive development programs as well as colloquia, conferences and seminars that bring together knowledgeable professionals and scholars to bring forth issues that are current and relevant in our world today.

Khapova, Prof. dr. S.N. 
Prof. dr. Svetlana Khapova
Loo, Erik van de
Prof. dr. Erik van de Loo
Winter, JaapCo-director
Prof. dr. Jaap Winter

Affiliated Scholars

Engbers, Marilieke 
Marilieke Engbers
Tcholakian, Lara
Lara Tcholakian
Tjemkes, Dr. B.V.
Dr. Brian Tjemkes
Bunea, Emilia
Emilia Bunea
Dassen, Marie-Claire
Marie-Claire Dassen
Roques, Hélène
Hélène Roques

PhD Defence Marilieke Engbers

Engbers, Marilieke 
Organizational Behaviour

Dissertation title
How the unsaid shapes decision-making in boards: A reflexive exploration of paradigms in the boardroom

Date and location
October 14, 2020 at 11:45 in the Aula of the Main Building of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Life registration on:

How the unsaid shapes decision-making in boards: A reflexive exploration of paradigms in the boardroom
Engbers, MariliekeDespite board of directors are of institutional importance, scholars still have a limited understanding of boardroom processes. Uncovering the black box of board decision-making requires direct observation of what goes on in the boardroom and overcoming many methodological challenges. This abductive subjective account reflexively explored board’s decision-making, not through what is said, but through the unsaid. The author observed 37 board meetings of 17 boards and interviewed 119 board members about what happened during those meetings. The author more specifically explored how board members responded ‘in action’, what they had not said and why and when they consciously or ‘preconsciously’ chose to silence their thoughts and feelings. Putting the unsaid, instead of the said, front and center, meant exploring the difference between what is said and thought, and thus how blind spots, incongruities and perceived incongruities, shape board decision-making.
This dissertation offers an emerging explanation of  1) how taken for granted and automatic, socio-cognitive processes between board members shape board decision-making;  2) how board members who consider their governance paradigm objective - and therefore, are considered paradigm-attached - enact a spiral of unsaid when they try to manage silent conflicts through informal decision-making 3) how four silence climates shape four different levels of cohesiveness and cognitive conflict towards board effectiveness and 4) how being aware of different levels of consciousness and perspective is required to investigate ‘taken for granted assumptions’ as well as automatic behavior in boards.
Short biography:
Marilieke Engbers (1969) completed her PhD at the School of Business and Economics at the VU University Amsterdam. She combines her lectures on strategy realization for the VU Finance and Control Program with consulting work for Reconsulting on board effectiveness, self-evaluations, strategy and leadership.  During her PhD Marilieke was assigned by the Housing Associations Authority to research how board’s monitor the risks of long tenured CEO’s. She published the report ‘Kracht en Tegenkracht’ in 2019.

2nd Web-Dialogue Series: “Board Diversity”

It was with great pleasure that the VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development had its 2nd web-dialogue, on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.

The topic of discussion focused on board diversity and the role that diversity plays in board governance, board decision-making and board compositions, by using a seminal article as a basis for our discussion.

There is still a strong divide in research related to the importance of diversity in boards, and the factors that are at play, but it was clear that there is a pressing need to address matters of group belonging, the role that board chairs play in facilitating inclusion and effective board behavior, and the importance of culture in board diversity.

We thank all academic and practitioner participants who joined us and enriched the discussion by sharing their insights and concerns related to the topic.

We look forward to future web-dialogues on boards and executive leadership and will be sure to announce future dates and registration details in the near future.

For more information about the mission and activities of this Center, please visit the VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development (Amsterdam) and help us build a unique community of knowledge on boards.

Board Diversity 1

Board Diversity 2

Web session 25 August

If you are concerned with how the decision-making process of boards could be more effective and sustainable, we invite you to join our web-dialogue series to explore and discuss seminal academic papers related to board and leadership.
These sessions are organized by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Center for Board and Executive Leader Development, the purpose of which is to uncover the black box of boards’ decision making. Considering the relevance but lack of sufficient knowledge of what really goes on in the boardroom, our goal is to help board members and experts concerned with boards’ work to explore, better understand and sustain strategic decision making.
Each month we will discuss a seminal article and its relevance for practice in 1.5-hour long sessions. Specific questions we aim to address are: “how can we interpret and find meaning in research findings?”, “what can we do to improve board decision making?”, “what new knowledge and study is required to better understand what goes on in the boardroom?”
We welcome you to join us in one or more sessions, at free of charge, but on a first-come/first-serve basis, considering that the format of each session will be with limited space. Upon your registration, you will receive a copy of a conceptual or empirical paper that will be discussed, as well as the Zoom-related information.
During the first session on Tuesday, June 30, we discussed “Are boards designed to fail” from Boivie, Bednar and Aguilera, 2016. During the second session on Tuesday August 25, from 16:00 till 17:15 we will focus on boards and diversity. Albeit the paper to be discussed is an objective/empirical one, we are keen to discuss the day-to-day issues we face related to boards and diversity, and to give us a reflective platform on ways we could address this topic in the future.
The paper is: “The Influence of Board Diversity, Board Diversity Policies and Practices, and Board Inclusion Behaviors on Nonprofit Governance Practices” (2016), by Kathleen Buse, Ruth Sessler Bernstein and Diana Bilimoria
If you are interested in joining the second session, please fill in the form here.
If you have questions please contact Marilieke Engbers:

Inside the Black Box of Boards’ Decision-Making, First International Conference, May 14-15, 2020

It was with great anticipation that the VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development launched its first international conference, entitled "Inside the black box of boards’ decision making", that took place virtually on May 14 and 15, 2020. Despite the global pandemic, we were excited to receive a great number of proposals and response from scholars and practitioners

Given the relevance and urgency of understanding what actually happens in the boardroom, the lived experience, the conference started off with a powerful keynote speech by Dr. Ann Cunliffe from  FGV-EAESP in Brazil, who gave us an opportunity to shed light on the roles we play as researchers, to obtain clarity on our ontologies and epistemologies in the study of boards, to harness our passions in harvesting and capturing the multi-faceted issues related to board behaviors, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
We were very grateful for the various paper presentations from Australia, Armenia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Latvia, New Zealand, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and the USA, that exposed us to topics ranging from effective boards, leader development, psychological and embodied experiences of boards’ work and strategic and risky decision-making processes.
This is the first of many international conferences that the VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development will endeavor, and it will foster many more opportunities for scholars to share knowledge by building a unique community of knowledge on boards.
We thank each and every participant for their valuable contribution and look forward to many more rich exchanges, research and events in the near future!
For more information about this conference or about the VU Center for Boards and Executive Leadership Development, please contact Prof. dr. Svetlana Khapova (
Scientific Committee
Svetlana Khapova
Marilieke Engbers
Lara Tcholakian
Ernst Graamans
Erik van de Loo
Jaap Winter

05-18 Black Box Big 1

  05-18 Black Box Big 2

Colloquium 9 December

Dear boards and executive leadership scholars and PhD students,
It is our pleasure to invite you to our second PhD colloquium for scholars on Boards and Executive Leadership Development on Monday, 9 December (13:00 – 18:30) at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
During this event we welcome academics, PhD candidates, and executives from different disciplines who are interested in presenting scholarly research on the topics of board and executive leadership development, and to share ideas or work in progress on relevant matters with fellow scholars, faculty members and other PhD students.
The purpose of this event is to strengthen our multidisciplinary research community and create knowledge that can help top management teams and boards to develop and to better lead contemporary organisations. We are interested in building new interdisciplinary board and leadership theories on consciousness, sensemaking, the unsaid, the unknown, emotional trends, board and executive climates, information-processing and faultlines, as well as development and learning. Finally, we are also interested in qualitative, process-based, and reflexive research methodologies.
If you are interested in attending this event, and or want to present ideas, challenges and/or solutions on boards and leadership, please email:
We will soon inform you about the details of this program.
We hope to see you there!
Kind regards,
Vu center for boards and executive leadership development

Inside the black box of boards’ decision making

Board research: An international conference
Inside the black box of boards’ decision making
May 14-15, 2020
School of Business and Economics
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

We are excited to invite submissions for a bi-annual international conference on Boards Research that will take place in Amsterdam on May 14-15, 2020. This research conference brings together researchers from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives who seek to advance the understanding of how the decision-making processes of boards and executive committees shape the future of organizations. A selected number of papers will be invited for a publication in an edited book and/or a Special Issue of a journal. For more information please click here.


For questions / inquiries, please contact Prof. dr. Svetlana Khapova (, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam.

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