George Kohlrieser High Performance Leadership Takeaways 4-6


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.

On November 3, 2022, Professor George Kohlrieser from IMD, Lausanne, presented the Turner X-Over High Performance Leadership: Leading Strategy Execution. Jacques Pijl wrote a series of blogs about this. This is the first in a series of three.

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 4-6. More on Takeaways 1-3. More on Takeaways 7-9.

From my experience as a father, I know that being predictable is a prerequisite for my children’s psychological safety. Children dare to venture further when they feel secure with their primary caregiver. Similarly, teams dare to push the envelope when their leader is a secure base and lets them know they care. And that includes the way you talk to them. Language matters, respect matters. And so does an ability to come up with one-liners that express a core truth that can help them become their best selves, what’s known in Transactional Analysis as ‘bull’s eye transactions’. Let’s take a closer look at principles 4 and 5: Leader as Secure Base and The Power of Language.

Takeaway 4:

Leader as Secure Base

  1. Being predictable is not boring, but a prerequisite for psychological safety, which is key in leadership.
  2. People need to know their boss cares about them.

Takeaway 5:

The Power of Language

  1. Language matters, words matter.
  2. Secure bases come in the form of people and goals. Being consciously aware of your secure bases will help you keep focused and in balance.
  3. A secure base is like a trampoline that catches you when you fall and helps you bounce back to higher levels.
  4. As a leader, understand and be clear on the impact you have as a secure base.
  5. Know and reflect on your own secure bases.
  6. Secure bases give you the security to be who you are, to be your best, to give more, to push yourself towards goals.
  7. Seek support and feedback from your secure bases; they are anchors and a safe haven.


Let’s zoom in on Takeaway 5.a.: Language matters, words matter.

“Psychological safety is an extension of secure base. The definition of psychological safety is this: It’s a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. You feel safe and this shuts down the brain’s orientation to look for danger. The brain hates pain, but high performers teach themselves to go through the pain for the benefit. And psychological safety helps make that possible, to shut down the brain’s overreaction to pain. Google was the real leader in studying psychological safety and did a lot of research. Their finding was that psychological safety is key to a high-performing team—it’s that simple. Looking at what came out of the ‘Care to Dare’ research, we identified nine characteristics of leaders who provide psychological safety:

  1. Remain calm and composed even in stressful situations. Too many leaders pass their stress, their conflict, their anxiety on to others. You have to be able to contain that and hold it within yourself and still remain emotionally available and authentic.
  2. Direct the Mind’s Eye towards the positive, not the negative.
  3. Emotional reliable and available. This means to be able to show emotions: emotional availability is essential for bonding.
  4. Accept and value the individual; they can accept disagreement as opposed to demanding agreement. We live in a society where, if you don’t agree with me, you are against me. The whole idea behind acceptance is: I can listen to any perception, I can listen to any kind of garbage, but I don’t have to agree with it. We have to distinguish between ‘agreeing’ and ‘listening and accepting’ a particular concept. This is what hostage negotiators are trained to do: we can accept junk, conspiracy theories, paranoia, but we don’t necessarily have to agree with it.
  5. See potential in the individual. They’re talent hunters.
  6. Create bull’s eye transactions’ like ‘Nothing is impossible, ‘The gunshot sets you free.’ These are these single-sentence statements that get wired in the brain and when you’re a leader you have to be able to give those to people: ‘I believe in you.’
  7. Use listening and inquiry and dialogue as opposed to telling people how they should think.
  8. Encourage opportunities to take risk and stretch oneself. If you’re not daring, you’re not a full secure base leader.
  9. Motivate by intrinsic motivation as opposed to just extrinsic. Extrinsic being career, bonus and so forth. A secure base leader will help promote the idea that you are doing something meaningful and valuable and you find value in just doing the very act of what you’re doing.” – George Kohlrieser PhD, IMD Lausanne

Another life lesson George’s X-over session reinforced was the importance of ‘turning conflict into a constructive solution’. He emphasized that as leaders we shouldn’t be afraid of conflict, we shouldn’t let it rot under the table because it makes us uncomfortable. We need to deal with it head-on, but respectfully and caringly. Find out the pain point and then try to see eye to eye. You can agree to disagree, as long as you can keep working on your common goal. It’s all part of being a secure base. Let’s take a closer look at takeaway 6: Conflict Resolution

Takeaway 6:

Conflict Resolution

  1. Don’t disengage from conflict, normalize it, don’t dramatize it.
  2. Turn conflict into a constructive solution.
  3. Conflicts are like fish: if left under the table they start to rot.
  4. Conflict is unavoidable. If dealt with in a positive manner, it can lead to stronger bonds.
  5. Avoiding a conflict only leads to further problems and escalation.


Let’s zoom in on takeaway 6.e.: Avoiding a conflict only leads to further problems and escalation.

“Let’s return to the whole idea of talking. How do we talk, how do we dialogue and how do we negotiate? This becomes the model for understanding conflict and difficult conversations. It starts with a definition of conflict. First of all conflict is good. It’s good, because it’s based on difference, and difference is good. If we were all the same, it would be a pretty boring world. A team that is heterogeneous—with different ideas, different personalities, etcetera—is always going to outperform a homogeneous team. So the root is difference.

Conflict can be very destructive, but that’s in the way it is used. It starts out with difference and that’s positive. It becomes negative only with tension, emotionality and disagreement, and polarization between two or more people or groups, but only where bonding is broken or lacking. We can have a big difference, but if we maintain the bond, we don’t truly have a conflict. Or we can have a small difference, break the bond and it can become a huge conflict. The key is in the ability to create and maintain the bond.

We need to understand that if every conflict were like a fish and that fish was under the table, it would be a pretty smelly mess. So what you as a leader have to do, is identify those fish that are under the table and put them on the table, go through the bloody, smelly mess of cleaning them, for the great fish dinner at the end of the day.

But you have to like dealing with conflict; or at least, be able to not be afraid of conflict, not disengage from conflict, but to enter into it and use good techniques to help resolve the differences. If we understand the whole idea of bonding, then we can see that conflict really is triggered by the broken bonding. Often grief is part of that, so remember to maintain the bond and turn an enemy or an adversary into an ally.”

– George Kohlrieser PhD, IMD Lausanne

More on Takeaways 1-3. 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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