Learning > Inspiration

World Speaker series - High Performance Leadership With Dr George Kohlrieser

Dr. George Kohlrieser is a professor of leadership at the International Institute for Management Development (IMO) in Switzerland. He's also a veteran hostage negotiator who's been held at gunpoint a total of four times in his 40-year career.


Speaking at the inaugural lecture of the Lifelong Learning Council's World Speaker Series held earlier this month, hostage negotiation, according to Dr. Kohlrieser, is a leadership skill that requires an insatiable desire to learn.


Over two interactive discussions with local government and business leaders as well as members of the public on April 7 and 8, Dr. Kohlrieser shared how everyone can benefit from this love of learning in their own lives, becoming better leaders and improved versions of themselves - whether at home or in the boardroom.


Just look at the human brain: it's constantly growing new neurons and establishing new neural connections throughout one's life. In other words, it never stops learning.

But to really reap the benefits from the brain's ability to learn, you need to be proactive, said Dr. Kohlrieser. Learning takes effort.

"Your brain needs to change to create new neurons. To do that, you need curiosity, exploration, [and) learning. This is all good for you," he said. Learning is not just academic or about picking up a new skill or craft. It also means making the effort to learn more about yourself and about the people around you. It's about learning to be a better leader, whether that's at home, at school or at work. It's also about learning to overcome the challenges and setbacks you may face in your life.

Dr. Kohlrieser had some words of wisdom to share about how to embrace learning in your personal life, and how that in turn can boost self-leadership and have a tremendously positive impact on the world around you.


"Lifelong learning is fundamental to physical health, mental health and social well-being. It really is essential. Learning never stops. It starts from the moment you're born to the end of your life."



1) Refuse to be a hostage - no matter the circumstance:
To illustrate this point, Dr. Kohlrieser gave the examples of late South African leader Nelson Mandela and Adrianne Haslet-Davis, the ballroom dancer who lost her leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years during apartheid, emerged from prison saying it had been a "learning experience" that had made him a better person. "'I went in a hot-head and came out a cool head,'" Dr. Kohlrieser quoted him as saying.

"She said, 'I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor,"' said Dr. Kohlrieser. "And that's exactly what learning is about - how we [learn to face) the good things and the bad things. We tend to think of learning as academic, but it comes down to the daily way you live your life."


2) Shift your mind's eye to focus on the positive:
The mind's eye is the part of the brain that determines your focus, said Dr. Kohlrieser. What do you focus on? Is it the negative or the positive?

Human beings are hard-wired to focus on the negative. "We are hard­wired for survival, to look out for pain and danger," said Dr. Kohlrieser. But when we are negative, we don't learn as much as we possibly can. We shut our hearts and minds to new experiences and to change.


It's possible, however, to shift one's focus and embrace the positive. It just takes effort to do it.


3) Find a secure base, and be that base for someone else:
A secure base is someone, typically a caretaker like a parent, grandparent, teacher or coach, who can offer support and encouragement - and in turn, help breed an atmosphere of positivity and a drive for learning.


"Secure bases help you overcome fear," said Dr. Kohlrieser. Fear, he added, quoting the author Ralph Waldo Emerson, "defeats more people than any other one thing in the world."

If you don't or have never had one, find a secure base for yourself -- it's never too late. And choose to be a positive secure base for your children to empower them to be lifelong learners and, if you're a leader in the workplace, be one for your employees too.


"Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


4) Focus on the joys of learning, not success:
Focusing too much on success breeds a fear of failure, thus hindering learning and growth. Instead, choose to focus on the joys of learning, and the process of improving and growing one day at a time - and encourage your children and the people around you to do the same.


5) Learning to grieve:
Grief, said Dr. Kohlrieser, holds many people back, preventing them from living their best life.


Allow yourself to grieve a loss and to feel the emotions that accompany it - whether it's for a death or a divorce, or even the loss of a job or the end of a project. "Only when you learn to grieve can you return to gratitude of joy," said Dr. Kohlrieser.


6) Write your own story:
"Are you living your calling? What story are you creating in your life?" asked Dr. Kohlrieser. Do something in your life that you feel is meaningful and purposeful; something you desire he said. It could be a job or a hobby, or something very personal like having children. And if you're a parent, you should help your children find that desire and that calling, teaching them "to have courage and daring to go through the pain of what a calling might bring."


"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Dr. George Kohlrieser spoke about leadership and learning at the Lifelong Learning Council World Speaker series on April 7 and 8 in Singapore. This is the first of 4-parts of highlights for his lecture. In the next edition, we will share Dr Kohlrieser’s advice on how learning can empower people to be more effective business leaders.


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