George Kohlrieser

Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior

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George Kohlrieser is an organizational and clinical psychologist, hostage negotiator, award-winning author, consultant, conference speaker, and media commentator. His research, teaching, and consulting activities focus on high-performance leadership, high-performance teamwork, conflict management, change management, dialogue and negotiation, coaching, stress management, work-life balance, and personal and professional development.

In his work, he draws on various scientific disciplines such as attachment theory, brain science, cognitive science, social neuroscience, and performance studies. He is best known for his use of the hostage metaphor as applied to leadership development and his secure base leadership concept and its impact on high performance.

A hallmark of high-performance leaders is the ability to influence others through all levels and types of communication. High-performing leaders are able to unite diverse team members by building common goals, and even shared emotions, by engaging in powerful and effective dialogue.

Kohlrieser completed his doctorate at Ohio State University, where he wrote his dissertation on cardiovascular recovery of law enforcement leaders following high-stress situations. His research has made significant contributions to understanding the role of self-mastery and social dialogue in helping leaders sustain high performance.

After becoming a licensed psychologist, he worked with the police department of Dayton, Ohio to reduce homicides in domestic violence situations, and was held hostage himself four times during this period. He then started to teach hostage negotiation techniques at the Dayton Police Academy and worked at a psychiatric hospital, teaching mental health professionals how to work with chronic schizophrenics. These roles early in his career led him to his deep conviction in the power of emotional bonding and what it can accomplish. He has since worked with the police, the military, and humanitarian organizations in hotspots such as Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Croatia, as well as with police departments and police academies around the world. He has taught crisis management and hostage negotiation to the FBI, the Los Angeles Police and Sheriff’s Departments, the Senior Command Academy in France, and the Dutch and German Police Academies.

Kohlrieser now uses this experience in the world of executive education and corporate leadership training, focusing on how to resolve conflicts through dialogue and communicate with stakeholders, politicians, investors, community members, and protestors – particularly when these people are adversarial, aggressive, or emotional.

He believes that high-performing leaders need to be able to use hostage negotiation techniques in any personal or business relationship to ensure they are never a hostage to anyone, unleash potential by turning losses into sources of inspiration, and influence others through words, dialogue, and negotiation.

At IMD, Kohlrieser is the Founder and Director of the flagship High Performance Leadership (HPL) program, an intense six-day IMD program for experienced senior leaders, and the Advanced High Performance Leadership (AHPL) program for former HPL participants. He also directs the Inspirational Leadership online program, which was awarded a Gold Medal for the best advance in unique learning technology by research firm Brandon Hall.

He works with a wide range of organizations on high performance leadership and teamwork, conflict and change management, dialogue, negotiations, and stress management, and has advised Accenture, Amer Sports, Borealis, Cisco, Coca-Cola, HP, Hitachi, IBM, IFC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Mondelez, Morgan Stanley, Motorola, NASA, Navis, Nestlé, Nokia, Pictet, Rio Tinto, Roche, Santander, Swarovski, Sara Lee, Tetra Pak, Toyota, UBS, and many others.

Kohlrieser has won numerous personal and program awards during his career, and his 2006 best-selling book Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance was named Best Business Book of the year by French business leaders association Dirigeants Commerciaux de France and Best Management Book of the year by German business bookseller Managementbuch.de. His second book, Care to Dare: Unleashing Astonishing Potential through Secure Base Leadership, was listed among Soundview’s best business books of the year in 2013.

He frequently speaks at management and professional conferences around the world including the World Business Forum, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations. He has been a speaker at TEDx talks in both New York and Lausanne, and he appears regularly on global business content hub WOBI, where he recently delivered a two-day masterclass on the psychology of negotiation.

A notable media commentator on issues related to leadership, conflict, aggression management, and hostage negotiation, he also had his own highly acclaimed radio call-in talk show in the US for over 10 years and has appeared on the BBC, CNN, ABC and CBS. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the Financial Times, Forbes and other leading newspapers and magazines.

He is also Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and was recently named Honorary Professor at Amity University Uttar Pradesh in India. He has held adjunct faculty member positions at Union Graduate School in Antioch, Ohio, the Fielding Institute in San Francisco, and Zagreb University in Croatia, and is past president of the International Transactional Analysis Association and a former advisory board member of the NeuroLeadership Institute. He is a member of the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF).

Selected publications
Article
The hidden perils of unresolved grief
Chances are, there’s a hidden attendee on your team’s Zoom meetings right now—a shadowy presence that’s holding back one or more of your colleagues, fostering self-doubt, causing them to dwell on f...
Published 10 September 2020
Article
Embrace conflict: Put the fish on the table
Effective conflict management starts with the leader. The key is to openly face an issue and negotiate a mutual gain. By identifying conflicts early you can resolve them before they escalate. It i...
Published 20 September 2017
Book
Care to dare: Unleashing astonishing potential through secure base leadership
Have you ever been led by someone who cared for you like family, and dared you to achieve more than you ever thought possible for yourself, your organization, and even society? Award-winning author...
Published 4 September 2012
Book
Hostage at the table: How leaders can overcome conflict, influence others, and raise performance
In this book, the author explains that it is only by openly facing conflict that we can truly progress through the most difficult business challenges. He reveals how the proven techniques and psych...
Published 16 June 2006
Unleashing astonishing potential through secure base leadership
Care to Dare
Programs
On campus
Orchestrating Winning Performance

Reset for sustainable and inclusive growth

IMD's signature program, OWP, brings you the latest business trends, thought leadership and insights to revitalize your business, drive innovation and lead you forward. Fully customizable schedule. For executives and teams.

Location: Lausanne Length: 5 days Fee: CHF 10,900 Next start: 26 June 2023
On campus
High Performance Leadership

Listen. Influence. Impact.

Eager to focus on your leadership potential, your vision and the bigger impact you can make? Experience the training successful business leaders use to consistently achieve great results.​

Location: Lausanne Length: 6 days Fee: CHF 14,900 Next start: 5 February 2023
Online
Inspirational Leadership

Maximize your leadership potential

Lead yourself and others to sustained success and adopt a 'play to win' mindset to breathe new life into your team's performance.

Location: Online Length: 8 weeks Fee: CHF 2,950 Next start: 24 October 2022
Advanced High Performance Leadership

A unique next step for HPL alumni

Enables you as an HPL alumnus to step back and reflect, refocus and renew, so you become a more effective leader of yourself and others. ​

Location: Gstaad, Switzerland Length: 5 days Fee: CHF 9,500 Next start: 14 November 2022
Insight for Executives
Article
The hidden perils of unresolved grief
Chances are, there’s a hidden attendee on your team’s Zoom meetings right now—a shadowy presence that’s holding back one or more of your colleagues, fostering self-doubt, causing them to dwell on f...
Published 10 September 2020
How not to be a hostage to COVID-19: Episode 3
Video
How not to be a hostage to COVID-19: Episode 3
Managing emotions under times of threat, uncertainty and stress
Published 8 April 2020
How not to be a hostage to COVID-19: Episode 2
Video
How not to be a hostage to COVID-19: Episode 2
Being a secure base in times of threat and uncertainty
Published 2 April 2020
How not to be a hostage to COVID-19: Episode 1
Video
How not to be a hostage to COVID-19: Episode 1
Leading in Turbulent Times. This is an episode in the miniseries How not to be a hostage to COVID-19. Psychologist George Kohlrieser, IMD Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour, bring...
Published 26 March 2020
The importance of the person effect on your leadership
Article
The importance of the person effect on your leadership
Jackie has an important message to communicate. She needs to generate buy-in from the group. She delivers what she thinks is a compelling message. The response is rather tepid at best. Colleagues l...
Published 9 August 2018
How to manage conflict: Six essentials
Article
How to manage conflict: Six essentials
Dealing effectively with conflict enables a company to leverage the richness of diverse perspectives for innovative outcomes. Disputes, disagreements and diverse points of view about strategy and i...
Published 9 April 2018
5 Leadership styles in a nutshell
Article
5 Leadership styles in a nutshell
Daniel Goleman’s work on leadership styles is well-known, and I introduce them in my High Performance Leadership Program for Senior Executives and my online based program Learning Leadership. Here ...
Published 28 June 2016
What do your words say?
Article
What do your words say?
Using words effectively is what a high performance leader must do every day. Words are one of your greatest tools to lead. They are the key to building, maintaining and ending relationships with ot...
Published 23 June 2016
Atera NYC (B): Food war declared
Case Study
Atera NYC (B): Food war declared
Atera Restaurant, New York City, February 2015. Jodi Richard closed the door behind her with a ton of questions. She had just come out of the final meeting with Matthew Lightner, the executive chef...
Published 12 June 2016
Atera NYC (A): Turbulent times in the kitchen
Case Study
Atera NYC (A): Turbulent times in the kitchen
Atera Restaurant, New York City, February 2015. Jodi Richard closed the door behind her with a ton of questions. She had just come out of the final meeting with Matthew Lightner, the executive chef...
Published 12 June 2016
Resilient leadership: Navigating the pressures of modern working life
Article
Resilient leadership: Navigating the pressures of modern working life
Resilience is the human capacity to meet adversity, setbacks and trauma, and then recover from them in order to live life fully. Resilient leaders have the ability to sustain their energy level und...
Published 27 February 2015
Care to dare to unleash astonishing
employee potential
Article
Care to dare to unleash astonishing employee potential
Most people leave their jobs because of their relationship with their direct boss. Leaders who do not care or feel compassion for their staff cannot understand why or what losses their employees ar...
Published 12 March 2013
Article
6 ways to encourage staff to take risks
To motivate employees, one must harness their fears and encourage them to take prudent risks.¦That’s tough to do when people feel immobilized, overworked or cynical.¦Strong leaders create a safe, s...
Published 1 March 2013
Article
Lead with your heart, not just your head
Have you noticed that in dangerous jobs, good bosses tend to have deep bonds with their workers? Whether it's a captain and crew on a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea, a platoon commander and hi...
Published 16 November 2012
It shouldn't be lonely at the top
Article
It shouldn't be lonely at the top
The traditional image of business leaders positions them at the top of an organizational pyramid. They are visionaries who create distance between themselves and others, experts who are isolated fr...
Published 30 August 2012
10
Article
10 "people" mistakes leaders make
Much of today’s leadership writing focuses on what high performing leaders should do. Certainly, that material helps from a theoretical and aspirational point of view. Yet what really haunts leader...
Published 21 June 2012
Care to Dare
Book
Care to Dare
Have you ever been led by someone who cared for you like family, and dared you to achieve more than you ever thought possible for yourself, your organization, and even society? Award-winning author...
Published 14 June 2012
Playing to win: Leadership and sustainability at ESB Electric Utility
Case Study
Playing to win: Leadership and sustainability at ESB Electric Utility
In 2007, the Irish electric utility, Electricity Supply Board (ESB) – 95% publicly owned-, contributed 15% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. It owned the largest point sources of the country’s...
Published 4 July 2010
Hostage at the Table
Book
Hostage at the Table
In this book, the author explains that it is only by openly facing conflict that we can truly progress through the most difficult business challenges. He reveals how the proven techniques and psych...
Published 19 June 2006