Manfred Kets de Vries

Companies are a lot like cars, says Manfred Kets de Vries, one of the world’s leading management gurus and a top expert on leadership. They don’t run themselves – except downhill – and they need people to make them work. And not just any people, but the right ones.

The effectiveness of employees, particularly individuals in leadership positions, determines how the organizational “machine” performs. What differentiates truly great organizations, stresses Kets de Vries, the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD, are the attitudes of its people. A highly regarded expert on organizational leadership, he’s on a mission to create the kinds of companies that bring out the best in everyone, leading to increased productivity, higher retention, greater creativity, reduced organizational stress, greater work satisfaction, and more fulfilling lives.

Straddling the worlds of management, psychology and economics, Kets de Vries brings a unique and robust perspective to leadership and the dynamics of individual and organizational change. Drawing from deep knowledge and expertise gained over decades of working with C-suite executives, his entertaining and informative presentations show that winning organizations are those where people can reach their maximum potential: a coaching culture prevails, employees possess a solid dose of emotional intelligence, and employees at all levels feel empowered to have courageous conversations. Kets de Vries calls these authentizotic organizations, or places of work where people feel at their best. He further explains that if we are to understand the dynamics of leadership, teams, and organizational culture, we must be willing to go beyond the directly observable. Leaders must have “night vision,” the ability to help individuals and organizations transform by paying attention to a number of company characteristics: internal social dynamics, the intricate playing field between leaders and followers, and the unconscious and out-of-awareness processes and structures that influence the behavior of individuals and teams. It’s in authentizotic organizations where people find meaning in their work, enjoy the people they work with, have pride in what they’re doing, and trust those they work for and with.

Kets de Vries is a pioneer in leadership group coaching, using it as an experiential training ground for developing more effective leaders. He’s perfected his model over the last 20 years of customizing and delivering programs to top-level executives; it’s a proven process whereby people are nudged to reinvent themselves. Today, it’s successfully applied all over the world, in organizations as diverse as Accenture, BP, Deutsche Bank, Ericsson, GE Capital, Goldman Sachs, Heineken, KPMG, Lego, Lufthansa, McKinsey, Nokia, Novo Nordisk, Shell, Unilever and Volvo Car Corporation.

In introducing the leadership group coaching methodology to INSEAD (facilitated by having been the founding-director of INSEAD’s Global Leadership Center and INSEAD’s master’s program on change management) Kets de Vries has helped change the culture of the institution and the nature of its programs. The ultimate goal of his intervention technique has been to make organizations and their leaders more effective and more humane. To further enable this orientation to individual and organizational change, he is also the Chairman of the Kets de Vries Institute (KDVI), a strategic leadership development consulting firm. He is very much focused on teaching decision makers how to improve their performance by knowing themselves and acting on that knowledge more effectively—and how to use that knowledge to create better places to work.

By putting humans at the center of his work, Kets de Vries’ presentations and consulting explore and make accessible the interface between management theory, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, executive coaching, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. His many areas of expertise range from C-suite team building, executive coaching, leadership (the bright and dark side) and entrepreneurship, to change management and organizational development, career dynamics, talent and cross-cultural management and succession planning.

Kets de Vries captures his provocative and prescriptive insights in writing, too. He is a best-selling author, co-author or editor of more than 50 books that zero in on the psychological realities that determine – and influence – human and organizational behavior. These titles include: “The Leadership Mystique” (2001), “The Leader on the Couch” (2006), “The Hedgehog Effect” (2011),  “Mindful Leadership Coaching,” and “Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership” (2018).  His latest book is tentatively titled, “Being a CEO Whisperer: Meditations on Leaders, Life and Change.”

In addition, Kets de Vries has published more than 400 academic papers as chapters in books and as articles. He has also written approximately 100 case studies, including seven that received the Best Case of the Year award. He is a regular writer for numerous magazines and his work has been featured in top-tier publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Fortune, BusinessWeek, The Economist, and Financial Times. He also frequently contributes blogs to INSEAD Knowledge and the Harvard Business Review.

A member of 17 editorial boards and elected a Fellow of the Academy of Management, Kets de Vries is also a founding member of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations (ISPSO), which has honored him as a lifetime member. His other honors and awards are many, including being the first non-U.S. recipient of the International Leadership Association Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to leadership research and development (being considered one of the world’s founding professionals in the development of leadership as a field and discipline); he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Germany for his advancement of executive education; the American Psychological Association honored him with the Harry and Miriam Levinson Award for his contributions to organizational consultation; he received the Freud Memorial Award for his work to further the interface between management and psychoanalysis; and he is the first beneficiary of the INSEAD Dominique Héau Award for “Inspiring Educational Excellence.” Kets de Vries also received two honorary doctorates. As an educator and consultant, Kets de Vries has worked in more than 50 countries.