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Swiss Army Knife

Brain circuits

Are you a “Swiss knife” leader? Take this test to find out

IbyIMD+ Published 24 June 2022 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

The heightened uncertainty characterizing the global competitive landscape has changed the types of leaders needed to guide teams through the ever-changing business landscape. In times of crisis, “Swiss knife” leaders stand out as being particularly useful.

What is a Swiss knife leader?

A Swiss army knife is an extremely useful tool in all sorts of unpredictable situations, making it a huge asset when you are on an unpredictable journey. Like the attachments on a Swiss army knife, Swiss knife leaders have a wide stretch zone and a variety of tools at their disposal to support others and have a wide stretch zone. They are agile and ambidextrous and know when to switch to achieve maximum impact.

We have developed a test you can use to determine if you are a Swiss knife leader. Ask yourself how often you do the following things and give yourself a score from one to five. on the following scale:

          1 – rarely

          2 – infrequently

          3 – regularly

          4 – frequently

          5 – almost always


Align and engage

  • How often do you recognize that your team members perceive threats and opportunities in the environment?
  • How often do you ensure your team members are fully committed to your company’s mission ready to hit your team’s goals, even in a changing environment?

Communicate and keep focus

  • How often do you communicate strategic priorities in simple but powerful words, using shop floor language?
  • How often do you ensure your team members prioritize and avoid irrational behaviors that make them lose focus?

Play offense and defense

  • How often do you scan the environment to identify opportunities that could lead to a strategic leap longer term?
  • How often do you do a deep dive to identify and take critical actions that can help your company in the short-term during times of crisis?

Manage yourself and your family

  • How often do you manage your mental and physical health as a strategic leader?
  • How often do you ensure you have sufficient time and energy reserved for your family?

Show empathy and compassion

  • How often do you demonstrate empathy for those who are suffering the most?
  • How often do you take actions to show compassion and ask regularly what you can do for others?

If your answers were mostly 4 and 5, congratulations! You’re a Swiss knife leader. If not, don’t worry – you now have a road map for where to improve.


Further reading: 

Toolkit for strategic leading through a crisis by Sameh Abadir and Niccolò Pisani


Sameh Abadir

Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD

Sameh Abadir is Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD. He advises companies on negotiations and runs negotiation workshops in English, French and Arabic. He has recently directed custom programs for Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Jerónimo Martins, ArcelorMittal, and Merck, and he is Director of IMD’s Crisis Management online program. He was Co-Director of IMD’s signature program Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) and Co-Director of IMD’s Negotiating for Value Creation (NVC) open programs.

Niccolo Pisani - IMD Professor

Niccolò Pisani

IMD Professor of Strategy and International Business

Niccolò Pisani is Professor of Strategy and International Business at IMD. His award-winning research has appeared in the world’s leading academic journals and extensively covered in the media. His work has been featured in both Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review. He has also written several popular case studies that are distributed on a global scale. He also co-directs the International Growth Strategies program.


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