Secure base leadership

Jul 03 2012 by George Kohlrieser Print This Article

Have you ever been led by someone who cared for you deeply, and dared you to achieve more than you ever thought possible for yourself, your organization, and even society?

The authors are united in the belief that Secure Base Leadership can transform leaders, teams, and organizations. As a Secure Base Leader, you can Care to Dare. Notice that the title reflects the two sides of Secure Base Leadership: caring and daring. You cannot have one without the other.

Secure Base Leaders unleash astonishing potential by building the trust, delivering the change, and inspiring the focus that underpin high performance.

What do we mean by "high performance?" Our definition of high performance is challenging yourself and others to see and achieve what is beyond normal expectation. High performance becomes "robust" or "sustainable" when people remain attached to both people and goals in their pursuit of success.

In our experience of working with high performance leaders, many have strong attachments to goals and have achieved success from a materialistic perspective. However, they may feel a sense of loneliness or lack of fulfillment as, in pursuit of their goals, they have lost or weakened their connection to people.

When the drive to achieve financial goals is not balanced by the bonding to people, there is a danger of many physical, psychological and social consequences that include psychosomatic stress, addiction, burnout, and depression - all of which obviously detract from overall success.

For the purposes of our work in modern organizations, we define, a secure base as: a person, place, goal, or object that provides a sense of protection, safety, and caring and offers a source of inspiration and energy to explore, take risks, and seek challenge.

Note that to our way of thinking, a secure base is someone or something that inspires energy, or perhaps even creates energy, within an individual. With this inspiration and energy, individuals step out of their comfort zones and strive to fulfill their untapped potential.

To understand why we all need secure bases, consider how the human brain works. When an actual or perceived threat to survival emerges, the primal brain will prompt the individual to resist change or avoid risk to protect the self. However, when a person has a secure base, he can turn the focus from pain, danger, fear and loss to a focus on reward, opportunity, gain, and benefit.

While our strongest secure bases often take the form of people, they can also be anything that shuts down the early warning system in the brain and provide us with the energy and inspiration to seek change. The stronger the secure base, the more resilient the person becomes in the face of adverse or stressful circumstances. And because the need for a secure base is rooted deep within the brain, the secure base concept applies universally across all cultures and eras.

People need both people and goals as secure bases. You can only be a secure base for others when you have multiple secure bases yourself.

"Playing to Win," is the secure base leadership approach that combines a high level of caring and a high level of daring. When you Play to Win, you value both relationships and challenge. You push toward benefits instead of being taken hostage by fear.

But many people "Play Not to Lose" as they are afraid to fail rather than playing to win, taking the risk, and pursuing the benefit. Other people "Play to Dominate" by focusing too much on the result and disconnecting from the people around them. And those who are disempowered or disengaged fall into Playing to Avoid.

In choosing to be a Secure Base Leader, you step into a deeply influential position that contributes to the "making" of a man or woman. Although deeply ingrained, other people's self-beliefs can be influenced and, more precisely, can be influenced by you. You choose whether your influence is going to be positive or negative.

You do not become a great leader by yourself. You become a great leader through the influence of the secure bases whose opinions you have chosen to believe. You stand on the shoulders of those people who have influenced you. And you act as a great leader when you use your influence to unleash the positive potential of the people who follow you - when you choose to be a Secure Base Leader and let others stand on your shoulders.

We define Secure Base Leadership as:

the way a leader builds trust and influences others by providing a sense of protection, safety and caring and by providing a source of inspiration that together produce energy for exploration, risk taking and seeking challenge.

From more than sixty interviews with executives from all over the world, as well as from quantitative surveys with more than a thousand executives, we have distilled the nine characteristics that Secure Base Leaders display on a daily basis.

During the interviews, we were fascinated to watch executives realize the who behind the what of their success. People often forget the way their thinking has been influenced, and it can be an emotional and powerful moment when they recognize the people, goals and other entities that have shaped them.


Care to Dare

Adapted from Care to Dare: Unleashing Astonishing Potential Through Secure Base Leadership, by Prof. George Kohlrieser (IMD) with Susan Goldsworthy and Duncan Coombe. The book is published by Wiley, £18.99, hardback.

Our research shows that a primary difference between a successful leader and a failed leader is the presence or absence of secure bases in his or her life. Having secure bases reduces anxiety and fear, and increases trust and risk-taking. In an organization, the secure base may be the boss, peers, colleagues, the corporation itself, the work, or even the product.

Secure Base Leadership is not just a set of skills (the "doing"). It is first and foremost a way of being. But, since leadership is a learned behavior, you can always learn new ways to be a Secure Base Leader.

In fact, that is our greatest hope: that you can be fully human and also accept the full humanity of others. When enough people within an organization care to dare and practice Secure Base Leadership, they humanize the organization itself. Organizations become better places for people to be, where they can feel valued and supported, and where they can feel encouraged and inspired.


About The Author

George Kohlrieser
George Kohlrieser

George Kohlrieser is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD and the creator and director of its flagship High Performance Leadership Program. His is a former hostage negotiator and is also an organizational and clinical psychologist.