George Kohlrieser

Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior

George Kohlrieser is Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior. He 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
Care to dare: Unleashing astonishing potential through secure base leadership
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
Hostage at the table: How leaders can overcome conflict, influence others, and raise performance
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
Academic publications
Care to dare: Unleashing astonishing potential through secure base leadership
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
Hostage at the table: How leaders can overcome conflict, influence others, and raise performance
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
Book
Надежная база. Лидерство для руководителей высшего звена [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 1 January 2015
Insight for Executives
10 “people” mistakes leaders make
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 23 January 2023
In times of transition, allow emotions to enter the room
Article
In times of transition, allow emotions to enter the room
Emotions are not often talked about in most organizations and yet they are a significant factor in every decision made. Neuroscience and behavioral economics have clearly demonstrated that we are e...
Published 15 December 2022
Rely on the experts, and admit that you can’t do it all 
Article
Rely on the experts, and admit that you can’t do it all 
Cryptocurrencies, the metaverse, AI – even the most non-technical executives will increasingly have to interact with these new technologies to get their work done. Instead of worrying about appeari...
Published 16 September 2022
The changing requirements of leadership: How to inspire in a post-pandemic world
Article
The changing requirements of leadership: How to inspire in a post-pandemic world
The pressures of remote work, increasing organizational complexity, and a new generation of digitally savvy workers valuing more than just a paycheck have changed the requirements of leadership. Pr...
Published 14 September 2022
The paradox of power: To serve myself or others?
Article
The paradox of power: To serve myself or others?
Leaders must strike the right balance between their own needs and the needs of others.
Published 16 June 2022
Negotiation is a relationship not a transaction
Article
Negotiation is a relationship not a transaction
Respect and empathy for the person sitting on the other side of the table is key if a negotiation is to be a success.
Published 17 March 2022
Develop the skills needed to be an agile, modern leader
Article
Develop the skills needed to be an agile, modern leader
Today’s world calls for agile and collaborative leadership and the good news is that the essential toolkit needed is available to all.
Published 10 January 2022
Go with the flow and focus on developing new talents
Article
Go with the flow and focus on developing new talents
The ability to acquire new skills and knowledge is even more important in the world of fast-changing technology and coronavirus turmoil.
Published 16 December 2021
Awareness, acceptance and action, the keys to personal sustainability
Article
Awareness, acceptance and action, the keys to personal sustainability
Think of sustainability and what comes to mind? For most of us, it’s global warming, preserving ecosystems, or protecting natural resources. How often do we think of personal sustainability or our ...
Published 16 September 2021
Don’t just leave it to others to look after your wellbeing
Article
Don’t just leave it to others to look after your wellbeing
Mental and physical health are equally important. Yet how many of us give the former the attention it deserves? We all understand the importance of looking after our physical health, but it is hard...
Published 17 June 2021
Article
Grief from losing loved ones to COVID-19 will spill into workplaces
The death, human suffering, and loss stemming from COVID-19 is unprecedented in living memory and may have caused unresolved grief. The pandemic is also fuelling personal losses of all kinds—postpo...
Published 7 May 2021
Don’t worry if you lack charisma, inspiring others is the key to success
Article
Don’t worry if you lack charisma, inspiring others is the key to success
An ability is needed to communicate one’s beliefs sincerely to create a feeling of security and trust. It is caring and daring in action. The brain needs to be kept curious and engaged to keep lear...
Published 17 March 2021
Article
Te contamos cuáles son las seis habilidades que utilizan los ejecutivos para resolver conflictos
Conflicts scare you? It is normal. Instinctively, the brain tells us that they are dangerous, so our natural tendency is to fight or flee. However, fear of conflict can turn leaders, managers, and ...
Published 30 December 2020
Article
How to keep up employee morale during a difficult holiday season
A happy workforce is more engaged and productive; workplace wellbeing can boost organizational performance. Bosses should make mental health their business. There are several ways leaders can help ...
Published 24 November 2020
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 9 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 3 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 27 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 10 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
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
Article
Reflecting on your work-life balance
As you break from the office routine this summer, take time to ask yourself ‘have I got the balance right in my life?’ Too often the price of success or its pursuit is a terrible burden on our rela...
Published 7 July 2017
Article
De kracht van woorden
Er bestaat een fundamentele paradox in de scripttheorie tussen vrijheid van keuze en geconditioneerde automatische reacties. In hoeverre zijn onze scriptbesluiten geprogrammeerd in plaats van een b...
Published 1 June 2017
Article
Want to inspire? First develop trust
What leaders have inspired you? Who is the best boss you have ever had? Beneath the inspiration it is likely that there was a strong sense that you could trust that person and that they trusted you...
Published 31 December 2016
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 29 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 24 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 28 February 2015
Article
Seis habilidades para resolver conflictos
Lo cierto es que un conflicto bien manejado lleva implícitos enormes beneficios, tanto para las empresas como para la gente que trabaja en ellas. De hecho, el manejo de conflictos suele ser uno de ...
Published 5 October 2013
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 13 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
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 21 February 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 31 August 2012
Article
Case study: Making allies out of opponents; Santa Teresa addressed social needs
The story. In 2000 and 2003, Alberto Vollmer faced two challenges to his business, Venezuela's Santa Teresa Rum Distillery. Although different from each other, both reflected the country's exceptio...
Published 17 July 2012
Article
Judgement call: Is it a good idea to rescind a resignation?
Published 20 March 2012
Article
Surveys show better performance by companies where staff are involved
We are all aware of the numerous company hardships and collapses in recent years. Often unnoticed, however, is the human story of individual employees and their increasing disconnection from work. ...
Published 29 November 2010
Article
Morale drift: Why employees are feeling more disengaged than ever
We are all aware of the numerous company hardships and collapses in recent years. Often unnoticed, however, is the human story of individual employees and their increasing disconnection from work. ...
Published 25 November 2010
Article
Opportunities for great leaders
Published 19 November 2010
Article
Getting the edge on all the others
Cutting-edge leaders know how to take appropriate risk, inspire trust and create opportunities to foster success for themselves and their teams. Being appointed a leader, however, does not necessar...
Published 26 January 2009
Article
Balance your family and married life with work and career
Published 8 August 2007
Article
Take the pain out of change
Making the benefits of change clear can lead to a smoother transition.
Published 15 May 2007
Article
How to overcome conflict... and never be taken hostage
Do you ever feel trapped or helpless? if so, you are almost certainly a "psychological hostage". We can be "held hostage" by people, situations and even our own emotions. We might be unhappy in a j...
Published 20 February 2007
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 1 January 0001
Unleashing astonishing potential through secure base leadership