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Brain circuits

How leaders can become secure bases

Published 4 October 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

One of the most critical aspects of strong leadership, especially as we navigate in and out of times of crisis, is providing a secure base to those around you. People need to feel safe before they take risks, so to help people unleash their full potential you must first make them feel secure – even in an uncertain world.

How to do it

Engage the “person effect”: This means you must remain calm, composed, and grounded. For people to feel secure around you, you must project a state of calm.

Accept and value the individual: This must come from an authentic place, so you need to view people through a non-judgmental lens and believe in their value. Accepting what someone says is different than agreeing with it, a distinction you must keep in mind.

Be emotionally available and accessible: Bonding is essential to be an effective leader. Therefore, leaders must be open to being available to bond and build trust through empathy and through the world of human emotion, not just rationality. The cold, hard-hearted, detached command and control leader model is a thing of the past. Leaders are emotional beings dealing with employees who are emotional beings, as behavior economics has proven so well. Leaders still need to have appropriate boundaries, but this doesn’t involve a lack of empathy.

See the potential in the individual: This is very closely related to accepting the value of the individual. There is no person without some potential. If you see some hidden talent, communicate it. This gives them space to see it in themselves.

Use listening, dialogue, and inquiry: Be curious about people. Find out what they think, what are their mindsets, values, ideas, views, emotions, and perceptions. Dialogue is about discovering a greater truth by talking and thinking together. Listening and asking questions are essential.

Direct the mind’s eye and focus on the positive: Be of the mindset of “playing to win” rather than “playing not to lose”. Leaders must inspire even in times of failure and loss. Being negative is not inspiring – it is demotivating and destructive. Change negativity by focusing on benefits and not the pain.

Encourage risk and provide opportunities and challenges to stretch: Secure base leaders encourage taking risks, exploring, being curious, driving change, seeking new opportunities, and even rewarding some failures. Take a chance on people and encourage them to take chances themselves – this is how people develop.

 Inspire through intrinsic motivation: Research has revealed that people are far more motivated by things like meaning and purpose, learning, individual growth, and contributing to something worthwhile, than external motivations such as bonuses or promotions. Internal motivators will outshine the external in long-term success.

Being a secure base leader will not only help steer colleagues through times of crisis, but will also inspire and give protection as a fundamental base for innovation and creative problem-solving, something that benefits every business. A secure base leader is caring as a basis for daring.



George Kohlrieser

George Kohlrieser

Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at IMD

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD and Director of the High Performance Leadership program. He serves as a consultant to several global companies including Accenture, Amer Sports, Borealis, Cisco, Coca-Cola, HP, Hitachi, IBM, IFC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Morgan Stanley, Motorola, NASA, Navis, Nestlé, Nokia, Pictet, Rio Tinto, Roche, Santander, Swarovski, Sara Lee, Tetra Pak, Toyota, and UBS.


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