The Value of Leadership “Marked by Humility and Intuition”

HEC Paris associate professor Valérie Gauthier has developed a management approach she calls “savoir-relier” to help managers build relationships and encourage diversity.

Valérie Gauthier’s management approach of savoir-relier helps managers build relationships between different and even antagonistic entities to encourage diversity and innovation.

Image courtesy of HEC Paris.

Where does irrational and erratic managerial behavior come from?

One source is the “tension between the need for agility to move in this fast-paced and changing world, and the quest for purpose, direction, and meaning,” writes Valérie Gauthier, MIT Sloan visiting associate professor and an associate professor at HEC Paris. “Leaders must accept that they are unable to control everything.”

Business schools, she writes in an essay on “Teaching savoir-relier or ‘relational intelligence’,” need to “help aspiring managers strike a better balance between the rational and the sensitive.” Schools also must train established managers “to combine analytical and intuitive ways of thinking.” She writes:

I’ve developed a management approach called savoir-relier(TM), roughly translated as relational intelligence. Savior-relier is defined as the capacity and resolve to build sensible, positive, and trustworthy relationships between entities — people, ideas, jobs, cultures, generations — that are inherently different, opposite or antagonistic. Unlike egocentric, charismatic leadership models, savoir-relier is a category of leadership that is marked by humility and intuition.

Gauthier cites Ben Verwaayen, the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, as a model for this type of leadership style. Verwaayen “has an impressive ability to build alliances within different parts of the company to connect ideas and bring out innovative initiatives from individuals across the organization,” she writes.

Managers can learn to lead with savoir-relier through a three-step training process, she says. “The savoir-relier method involves an in-depth introspective self-portrait, interpersonal exercises including work on reliance, resilience and sense, and the creation of a leadership action plan to bring this newfound understanding into day-to-day decision making.”

Gauthier was associate dean of the HEC MBA Program from 2002 to 2010. While there, she redesigned the MBA curriculum and restructured the program. Under her tenure, the school’s international MBA ranking rose from 67th to 18th in the Financial Times ranking from 2002 to 2011, and from 44th to 9th in the Economist ranking from 2006 to 2010.

Gauthier is writing a book about her approach, Sense Leadership. She also wrote a chapter about savior-relier in the French-language book Les Sept Clés du Leadership (Edition L’Archipel, 2010).