George Kohlrieser High Performance Leadership Takeaways 1-3


Turner organizes a series of exclusive crossover events for clients and partners. Leading speakers share their latest insights from the fields of psychology, ethics, behavioral science, theology, leadership and artificial intelligence. Our goal is to provoke thought, to inspire and to expand your horizon, because we recognize that strategy execution is multidisciplinary. We need leaders and professionals who can combine knowledge and approaches from different fields.

The personal is professional. George Kohlrieser profoundly transformed my perspective on leadership, as I wrote in my previous blog. And I’m not alone. George’s teachings have influenced thousands of leaders across the globe over the last decades. From him I learned that the personal is professional. Turner clients and collegues got to experience the same during his Turner X-over session on high-performance leadership in strategy execution. The 9 key takeaways:

  1. Never be Held Hostage
  2. Cycle of Bonding
  3. Leading from the Mind’s Eye
  4. Leader as Secure Base
  5. The Power of Language
  6. Conflict Resolution
  7. Power of Dialogue
  8. High Impact Negotiation
  9. Managing Emotions

In this blog I will zoom in on takeaway 1-3. More on takeaways 4-6. More on takeaways 7-9.

What resonated particularly strongly with me is the idea that as a leader, you always bring yourself to the table: you need to know yourself and have processed your own grief in order to be a good leader. If you get stuck in your own past, in the losses you’ve experienced, you won’t be able to effectively lead others. So let’s take a closer look at what George has to say about takeaway 1: Never be held hostage

Takeaway 1:

Never be held hostage

  1. Know thyself, deal with grief. Try to see the meaning, and even the benefit, of grief. If not, you make yourself and others miserable.
  2. It is easy to hold yourself hostage through your own self-limiting beliefs or by accepting other people’s labels.
  3. Loss is a large driver of behavior, even more so than benefit.
  4. Emotions are not meant to be held.
  5. Never stop learning.
  6. For some people the future is no more than a memory of the past. You can overwrite it and rewire your brain.
  7. Emotional blackmail from negative ‘self-talk’ or from others can kill creativity, performance, motivation and self-esteem.
  8. Look for signals of being a ‘hostage’: such as blaming, over-defending, feeling trapped or victimized.
  9. Take responsibility for your actions and refuse to be a victim of circumstances.


Let’s zoom in on takeaway 1.a.:
Know thyself, deal with grief. Try to see the meaning, and even the benefit, of grief. If not, you make yourself and others miserable.
Grief is the process to be able to come back and reconnect again. We need grief. It’s part of the human experience. Grief is basically these stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Emotions: anger, fear, sadness – that’s all part of letting go
  3. Mental acceptance, the mindset change
  4. Emotional acceptance
  5. Reattachment, reconnection or connection to a new target
  6. Forgiveness
  7. Gratitude

Gratitude means that you come back to the experience of the joy of life, or in the case of work, to the joy of work. People who don’t enjoy their work are disconnected, they’re disengaged, they’re in negative states. What is the grief that’s feeding that? What is the loss? They’re victims, or they lost the joy of work. And then there are people who are passionate. They love their work. They find the joy in work. They’ve been able to get over their losses.

There are people who lose a job and never get over that. They feel criticized or betrayed and they never get over it. That’s a very dangerous position. We all have to be able to go through that grief process, to come back to the full joy of work and the full of joy of life. That’s why loss is such a critical part of leadership and understanding the bonding cycle. The whole question is, for you as a leader, how are you going through that and then how are you helping others? This brings us back to Drucker’s definition that you as a leader have to be helping people go through their leadership journey, not just use them as a robot who’s producing results for you.

 The reason this is so important, is that it affects the energy. Grief affects the energy and affects the bonding behavior. As leaders you first of all have to know if you’re carrying grief. Many are carrying grief and they don’t realize it. And they’re hostage to that. It’s affecting them in one way or another. The second thing is, you have to learn to be comfortable talking about human pain, being able to talk about loss, in language that you find acceptable.

Leaders have to learn first of all what the pain point is. This comes from hostage negotiation. You have to create a bond and then you have to hear the loss behind that. What is the pain point? Most leaders are not comfortable talking about pain points, which takes us back to the grief, which takes us back to how the brain is working. Some people will make their decision based on up to 80% the losses they’ve had in the past, the losses they will have, or the losses experienced in the present.’ – George Kohlrieser PhD, IMD Lausanne

One of the things that I was struck by is that the old cliché—’first impressions matter’—is so true. This is not about outward appearances, though, it’s about the instant psychological effect you have on others! As a leader, you need to be aware of how you come across, and, if necessary, learn to modify this effect. Let’s take a closer look takeaway 2: Cycle of Bonding.

Takeaway 2:

Cycle of Attachment

  1. Bonding is necessary but doesn’t mean you have to like someone. Deal with it.
  2. Know what split-second effect you have on others. Ask people you trust to tell you what effect you have.
  3. Keep on bonding, while keeping people on their toes and accountable.
  4. You can establish bonds with people even if you don’t like them, as long as you have a common goal.
  5. Resilience is the ability to go through the bonding cycle and re-bond quickly.
  6. Leadership success is based on the ability to develop positive bonds.
  7. Spend time bonding with team members; this will pay off when conflicts arise.
  8. Creating bonds is a key success factor for a leader.
  9. Be able to say ‘no’ while maintaining the bond.
  10. Your past bonding experiences influence the way you deal with others.


Let’s zoom in on takeaway 2.b.: Know what split-second effect you have on others. Ask people you trust to tell you what effect you have.

“The person effect is the unique way we come across in connecting with others, positive or negative. It opens up the whole arena of triggers. We all know the feeling of meeting somebody and immediately feeling defensive. You don’t trust the person. Or you meet somebody else and you immediately trust them. Your defenses go down. And with some people you meet, you’re not sure, you’re a little defensive and then you get to know the person and they’re not a bad person. Much of this is unconscious.

Every leader has a person effect. And you have to know what your person effect is, because it’s going to be important to understand how others are feeling about you. Do you produce psychological safety? Some leaders are toxic in the way they present themselves. They don’t smile and it looks like they’re always upset. Or they have a frown, or they have a smile that’s artificial, not authentic. So we have to know what our person effect is to be able to understand how we as a leader come across. About the only way to know your person effect is to get feedback from someone who will not sugarcoat, who will be honest about how you come across.” – George Kohlrieser PhD, IMD Lausanne

Another insight I gleaned from this X-over session was that being nice is not the same as being kind. As George explained, ‘nice’ is glib, it’s people-pleasing, while ‘kind’ is authentic and empathic, but without skirting the truth. This is exactly what makes someone a good leader: the ability to be kind but firm. Let’s take a closer look at takeaway 3: Leading from the Mind’s Eye.

Takeaway 3:

Leading from the Mind’s eye

a. What you focus on determines the results.
b. No one is change-averse, they are just scared of the unknown.
c. Being nice is not the same as being kind. Being nice is a form of lying. Being kind includes confronting people.
d. Dare (= risk, challenge, explore) and care (= security, protection, comfort). Caring is not the same a rescuing. Hold people accountable.
e. Playing to win brings out the best in people.
f. Your state of mind fundamentally determines results.
g. You can choose your state at any given moment in time.
h. Develop a radar for the right questions.


Let’s zoom in on takeaway 3.c.: Being nice is not the same as being kind. Being nice is a form of lying. Being kind includes confronting people.

“We don’t need more nice leaders; we need kind leaders. Nice is not saying the truth: you may be having an emotion, but you’re just being nice. Kindness means that you’re able to be honest. You can be kind and give tough feedback. Authenticity and psychological safety are built around teams being able to openly talk how they experience working together, and that includes the emotions.

Dan Goldman’s book Destructive Emotions is part of that whole foundation of research that argues there is no such thing as a truly negative emotion. It’s in the expression. It’s in how you behave with that emotion, how it controls the state, how it affects the state.

So in general, being able to be honest about your emotions and being able to label them accurately is key. And that includes yourself. You have to be able to say, ‘look I’m angry about what happened, I’ve talked to you several times about coming to those meetings on time and you always have an excuse why you’re not there’. Or ‘It scares me what you’re doing, that’s a risk that should not be taken with your team’. And then you need to ask other people, ‘Are you angry?’, to give them room to say ‘Yes I’m angry’. Or ‘Are you scared?’ ‘Yes, I’m scared’.” George Kohlrieser PhD, IMD Lausanne

More on takeaways 4-6. More on takeaways 7-9.

This blog was written based on professor George Kohlrieser’s condensed High Performance Leadership program at Turner ‘s X-over session on Strategy Execution on November 3, 2022

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