A former hostage negotiator discusses what leadership is about with the IMD MBA class .

When I began to seriously consider the idea of ​​pursuing an international MBA, of course one the first things I did was look at the rankings. Then read reviews, blogs and finally contacted alumni from those business schools on my short list. Many people spoke highly of the institutions they attended. But the first time I spoke with an IMD alumni the feeling was different. He is a person with whom I used to work and study with, and that gave special credit to his words. Beyond the excellent educational quality, he told me his experience was more like a personal transformation, which included self-knowledge development. That truly resonated in me in a completely different way.

Almost 9 months have now gone by, and I can really understand what he meant. I believe that one of the pillars of this transformational experience is Professor George A. Kohlrieser‘s High Performance Leadership course.

Throughout our classes, we were introduced to the different styles of leadership and learned about different approaches to dealing with situations. However, the most interesting and difficult exercise was to look back into our own personal experiences, personality profile and precise events that shaped us in the types of leaders we are today. This was easier said than done, because each of us had to face an individual process to assimilate the concepts on an emotional level. It was, for sure, not always easy to digest what George encouraged us to do.

Some of my personal favorites:

Persistent conflicts drain my energy, so why should I go towards the person with whom I am in constant conflict and establish a dialogue?
“Talking, dialogue and negotiation create genuine, engaging and productive two-way transactions focused on the common goal. You can harness the energy from the fearful situation and redirect it into dialogue. This means talking – and listening – without hostility or aggression”. “Treat the other party as an ally, not an enemy, and find ground for mutual respect, positive regard and cooperation. Being able to separate the person from the problem is a fundamental leadership skill – completely learnable – that makes it possible to avoid responding negatively to personal attacks. Maintaining this awareness makes it possible to focus on real issues and common goals”.

Do people naturally resist change?
“People do not resist change; they resist the pain of change and the fear of the unknown. The neuron system of the brain is hardwired to seek expansion through curiosity, exploration, learning, and change. When leaders are a secure base and trustworthy, followers will trust the leader to guide them through the change.”

This has been and still is a tough year for most of the people in the world. As writer Damian Barr said, “we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat”. Even though this year has been much more challenging and painful than the picture I had in my mind before coming, in many ways I have felt privileged.

The COVID Pandemic took from us many experiences of fun and encounter, pushed us to uncomfortable places and isolated us for several moments. But I always found the support of my wife and the company of true friends I made this year, to get through hard times. To me, they were leaders: a source of energy and inspiration to embrace uncertainty and take necessary risks. I thank them for that.

Javier Valy

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