Leadership is the ability to see the future before it happens: IMD Professor

VINAY KAMATH APUURVA SRIDHARAN Chennai | Updated on January 09, 2018

George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour, IMD Lausanne

The ability to connect to people, the management team, the organisation’s goals and being able to touch customers, are all ingredients that a high performance leader needs today. And, add to that the ability to see round the corner or the future in some way before it actually happens is the stuff of leadership, says George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at the top Swiss B-school, IMD in Lausanne.

“The whole idea of the ‘hero’ leader is pretty much dead. Leaders depend on high-performing teams; how they attract talented people and let them do the best they can do,” he explains in an interview to BusinessLine.

The biggest challenge leadership faces today is in dealing with relentless change, which is deeper than one realises. “We also face a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty, politically, socially, economically. It’s hard to predict what is actually going to happen. So, in organisations, a leader has to be able to provide some sense of security in an insecure world. I don’t think people expect leaders to be magicians, but they do expect them to be trustworthy and also communicate that ‘I am interested in you’, that this is not a self-serving process for me as a leader or the organisation,” he elaborates.

At IMD, Kohlrieser says, leadership at high performance levels is for one to reach the maximum potential by always learning and expanding so that they are doing the very best in a consistent way. “You can be high performing and not reach a dramatic outcome but it can bring out the best in other people. Or, you can achieve dramatic outcomes. It could be ROI or other kinds of objective measures. Engagement is most important; if employees are engaged, they are likely to get more quality and better quantity in performance,” he says.

Kohlrieser, who is in Chennai to conduct a workshop on leadership on behalf of the Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA) for senior management, lays great emphasis on CEOs bonding with the people in an organisation. “The Board can hire someone to give them the best advice on strategy, but they can’t hire someone to lead the people. They have to do that themselves. So leading people involves understanding what motivates. I think a real differentiator of the high-performing leader is not the ability to create a great strategy but the ability to inspire people,” he says.

A veteran hostage negotiator as well as a psychologist, the IMD Professor draws analogies between a physically-held hostage and holding one’s mind hostage.

“The essence of being a hostage is to be powerless. If I hold a weapon or scissors to your head or body, you feel powerless. What is your emotional response? If you don’t have a physical weapon, but you feel powerless, it produces an equivalent result,” he explains, adding that people should free their minds from being held hostage.

Kohlrieser stresses a lot on values, beliefs and purpose, an ethic he ingrained from his years as a farm boy in the rural outback in Ohio in the US and several years in a seminary where he was training to be a priest, before he took to the world of academia and consulting.

While he dips into philosophy and psychology a lot to make his point, he says his focus in on understanding people, even though strategy is important for an organisation. “I love strategy and it is very important. I talk strategy with my colleagues at IMD. But my focus is on understanding the person effect. Why does one leader get a positive response and another does a similar thing and get a negative response? Why are some leaders able to influence people positively and others provoke negative responses. And studying that becomes important.”

Published on August 31, 2017

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