Training and development at its very best
George Kohlrieser is a global leadership expert, an award-winning bestselling author, and motivational speaker. In his role as Professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at IMD business school he draws on 40 years of experience as a psychologist and veteran hostage negotiator. Indeed he is acclaimed for introducing the hostage metaphor to leadership development. But what is even more compelling is his deep concern for leaders to live a better life both professionally and personally.
Sunita Sehmi: What brought you to Switzerland?
George Kohlrieser: I was working as a veteran hostage negotiator in the US. I could see through my work as a clinical psychologist the parallels between hostage negotiation and leadership. Peter Lorange, (ex president of IMD), knew of my work and invited me to be a professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at IMD.
Sehmi: What got you into Leadership Development?
Kohlrieser: I started my career working side-by-side with the police department trying to reduce homicides in domestic violence situations. During those years I was held hostage four times. At the same time, I worked in a psychiatric hospital, teaching mental health specialists how to work with chronic schizophrenics. These roles early in my career led me to my deep conviction in the power of emotional bonding and what it can accomplish. Since, I have expanded from the world of clinical psychology and crisis negotiation into the world of executive education and corporate leadership training, founding the flagship High Performance Leadership (HPL) programme at IMD and, shortly afterwards, an Advanced High Performance Leadership (AHPL) programme.
Sehmi: Why is life long learning so important in leadership?
Kohlrieser: In nature if something is not growing it is decaying. There is a parallel here for leadership. When we learn we grow and, quite literally we create new brain cells. So by constantly seeking to learn new things, trying out new experiences, taking risks, and developing a positive mind-set in others, leaders create an environment where they are able to fulfil their potential and also the potential in others.
Sehmi: What is it about the HPL programme at IMD that sets it apart from the rest?
Kohlrieser: The emphasis is on HPL is leading oneself first and foremost and then leading others in organizations. This prominence on leading self and the exploration of personal leadership patterns in an intimate setting creates for many ‘life changing’ and ‘transformational’ experiences.
Sehmi: What are your two books, ‘Hostage at the Table’ and ‘Care to Dare’ about?
Kohlrieser: Conflict is a part of our everyday human behaviour. Too often, however, we believe that conflict is something that must be avoided at all costs; the tendency to suppress conflict can spark a cascade of negative emotions that eventually derail managers, leaders and organizations.
I explain in my book that it is only by openly facing conflict that we can truly address the most difficult business challenges. I reveal how the proven techniques and psychological insights used in hostage negotiation can be applied successfully to any personal or business relationship. Step by step, I outline seven key factors that anyone can use to remove the blocks that stand in the way of resolving tough problems, and I show how business leaders in particular can develop and access the skills they need to create trust and a positive mind-set in their companies.
Care to Dare explains how becoming a Secure Base Leader releases extraordinary potential in yourself and others, freeing you from the fears that hold you back. From extensive interviews and surveys conducted with more than a thousand global senior executives Care to Dare exposes the nine characteristics that Secure Base Leaders display daily. The research shows that a primary difference between a successful leader and a failed leader is the presence or absence of secure bases in his or her life.
Sehmi: What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Kohlrieser: I have three.
The first was from a Catholic priest in 1964 and I have never forgotten it. “You are free, you can choose as you wish to.” As a result this inspired the hostage idea, you can be free even with a weapon to your head.
The second was from the renowned Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer in death and dying, she said, “Always stay inspired. Be inspired even with loss and turn it into something positive. Let your loved ones go with honour.”
The third was from Lieutenant Dan right after the critical life threatening hostage situation, “ I knew you could do it.“ His moving words still impact me today and have allowed me to always trust my instincts.
Sehmi: What’s next for you?
Kohlrieser: My objective is take leadership to the next generation. Very often our HPL participants remark ‘If only I did this programme when I was younger…’ Thus developing a Youth Leadership Programme is my goal. Plus I would like to work with the retired generation on how to stay inspired and impart to others their wisdom.
IMD Business School High Potential
Esalen Youth Leadership Program
Sunita Sehmi is an Executive Coach, Trainer and Consultant. During her 25 years experience her drive has always been to help people to do their best and hence led her to create Walk The Talk. For more information about Walk The Talk please visit her website: www.walkthetalk.ch
Article by Sunita Sehmi