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development > listening post

The

art of

savoir-relier
32 > QATAR TODAY >AUGUST 2015

In the new age of leadership, it is imperative


that leaders be genuine, generous and
generative. Helping them in this new,
transparent and intuitively top-down
leadership role is a new philosophy which
aims at improving the quality of all relations,
says its creator, Dr Valrie Gauthier, Associate
Professor at HEC Paris. By Sindhu Nair

Picture this management class in


progress: around 40 students attending the
HEC Leadership Certificate course in Paris
are in a demo kitchen within the campus,
all set to prepare and then serve lunch for
60 VIP guests. The valuable lessons learnt
are not gastronomic doctrines, though it is
tacit that the food served has to meet the
set high-quality standards, but to teach
students to bond during an hour of crisis
and find solutions as a team. If this sounds
far from the convention in management
schools, then it is typical of what Dr Valrie
Gauthier, Associate Professor at HEC Paris,
has set out to achieve.
The results of such intense exercises
are already coming in, say Gauthier, with
students reporting that in just six weeks of
the programme, they have come closer to
each other and bonded more strongly and
effectively than they ever did with students
with whom they have spent almost four
years on campus.
The reason: savoir-relier, the quality
of relations that they are forging in those
intensive,
demanding
environments,
encourages increased trust levels and a
sense of openness which inspires better
engagement. The effect of this sense of
working together is relevant not just
in small groups but also in companies,
in executive roles, and in crisis-hit
management companies, according to
Gauthier, who is in the process of spreading
the message of this unique methodology
through her book, Leading with Sense: The
Intuitive Power of Savoir-Relier.
Drawing from her expertise in linguistics

and poetic translation, as well as leadership


and cross-cultural relationships, Gauthier
has built relational communication and
leadership development programmes in
schools and in companies under this new
concept. Gauthier is continuing with the
data collecting and analysis process that is
involved in the next stage of the programme
and to date she has the complete trust
of the people who have so far undergone
this exercise (1,600 people from different
nationalities) and vouch for it. They feel
more confident, more self-aware, ready to
move forward in their capacities to lead
their organisations, she says.
But what exactly is savoir-relier?
Savoir-relier comes from the French words
meaning to know and to link/rely on,
says Gauthier. It is the art of connecting
people together, maintaining high-quality
relationships, and linking ideas to create
meaning and taking the world forward.
It results in better communication
through positive, sensible and active
listening to understand our environment
and see the people we work with for who
they really are, with their own ideas, their
own self and sense of purpose, without
judging them, elaborates Gauthier.
If that sounds too optimistic, Gauthier
is not done with all the paybacks. Savoirrelier can be applied to all disciplines where
human relationships are important. It is a
skill and a philosophy, but also a process.
It is a management method that enables
better team leadership and encourages
relationships between people in spite of

SAVOIR-RELIER ROLE MODELS

"LOral, and more


specifically their
chairman and CEO
Jean-Paul Agon,
have supported my
book and the savoirrelier philosophy,
appreciating the
way this approach
generates a genuine
group identity. The
business under his
watch continues to
go from strength to
strength."

QATAR TODAY > AUGUST 2015 > 33

development > listening post

"Clara Gaymard,
President of GE
France and VP of GE
International, is also
a good example. In
my book I explain
how she has
developed incredible
savoir-relier abilities,
both personally and
professionally."

34 > QATAR TODAY >AUGUST 2015

their differences of opinion.


Savoir-relier thus allows us to create
sense (meaning) while being more sensible
(attentive and vigilant towards others and
yourself ), she says. To a sceptic, all this
does seem quite impossible, with leaders
moving away from the traditional inspiring
figure to more of a figurehead, who only
takes credit for the work executed by his
team. So which leader uses this method?
Someone who is people-oriented, who
actually listens and talks to every employee,
identifies key issues and solves it bottoms
up. But do we have such leaders? Gauthier
is optimistic. She uses examples of such
leaders. Pernod-Ricard was the first
supporter of savoir-relier. The PernodRicard directors immediately identified
with this management method and wanted
me to work with them to incorporate
savoir-relier into the company, she says.
Pernod-Ricard developed internationally
and experienced strong external growth
through mergers and acquisitions. The
group was remarkable in its ability to unite
and establish rich and diverse interpersonal
relationships. This later helped HEC
to develop the HEC Paris-Pernod-

Ricard Chair, and to create a Leadership


certificate.
In Middle Eastern cultures where it
takes years before one develops close
relationships with the nationals, especially
Qataris, practicing savoir-relier might not
be as easy as it seems, though Gauthier
counters by saying that these principles can
be applied worldwide.
L'Oral, Procter & Gamble and LVMH are
some of the companies that have benefitted
from this approach of open leadership that
has helped managers build something new,
something likely to generate value and
meaning over the long term, using a more
collaborative model.
Savoir-relier places relationships and
human diversity at the service of innovation
and collective performance, says Gauthier.
This new philosophy is a trademark,
owned of course by the creator, Gauthier,
whose first article on this principle was
penned way back in 1994. The final step
towards spreading the message is the
publishing of her book. It is becoming
a new area of research in the field of
leadership, she says.
Replicating this in Qatar (where HEC

There is no recipe to be a
good leader. Leadership is not
a technique: it is a state of being
that translates into acts; it is in her
or his acts of leadership that the
leader exists.
already has a branch campus) in the near
future would be next to impossible given
the time frame it takes to put the whole
programme in place, she says. I have my
hands full now and I need to recruit more
people who will take this forward in the way
I envisage.
Gauthier put to use the principles
early on when she was asked to become
dean of the HEC MBA programme
from 2002 to 2010 at a time when it was
dramatically failing with demoralised
teachers and students. By listening to
and understanding the problems of both
the students and the teachers in order
to find effective solutions, Dr Gauthier
redesigned the MBA curriculum and
restructured it with a view toward future
societal and educational shifts. Under her,
the programme underwent a fundamental
transformation that placed the HEC
MBA among the top MBA programmes
worldwide (FT MBA ranking - 18th in 2011
vs 67th in 2002).
Gauthier goes deeper into the savoirrelier principles and points to the three
main pillars, the three Gs: genuine,
generous and generative. These three
Gs are essential in creating leaders of
tomorrow, she says.
These three ingredients are essential
for building strong, positive relationships
between people and things, she says.
To be genuine, you have to start by being
yourself, being transparent and sincere.
It requires work and a mixture of selfconfidence and humility. To be generous,
you must be trustful of and attentive to
others. A generous attitude leads to the
creation of an open, kind and tolerant
atmosphere where people from different
cultures can work together its a way of
uniting people. Together, genuineness
and generosity create the conditions for
generative leadership that encourages
action, creativity, innovation and a strong
sense of a shared mission.

Does that mean that someone who has


attained the savoir-relier principles will
naturally take on a leadership role?
Gauthier believes that anyone can
become a leader; a fire fighter can show
leadership skills to make his team work
together. There is no recipe to be a good
leader. Leadership is not a technique: it is
a state of being that translates into acts; it
is in her or his acts of leadership that the
leader exists, she asserts.
Although savoir-relier may turn out to
be intuitive among certain people who have
better awareness of their senses, it needs
constant practice and determination. It
forces you to use your intuition, which is
difficult to do because its less reassuring
than using an analytical thought process,
she says. The reason that there is more
trust is because there is candidness within
the interactions that have to be practiced
with the group. The savoir-relier website,
which encourages the same boundary-less
communication as the first step, is difficult
to take when there is always a layer of
doubt before you reveal all your failings to
a stranger. Gauthier explains, One of the
flaws of our corporations, a flaw which also
contributes to leadership failure in politics,
is that we are judgmental, overly critical
and distrustful. When we judge, we are
not being respectful. With savoir-relier, I
advocate discernment, more openness and
greater respect for the full results.
Leadership needs to be reinvented and
to help design new jobs, new businesses and
new environments where collaboration,
attention to others, co-construction are
keys to sustainable growth. Consideration
for others and for our planet is what will
make for good leadership and a better
world tomorrow. Values exemplified in the
savoir-relier approach are clearly the way
forward in training the next generations
of leaders, the genuine, generous and
generative leaders who will help transform
our world, she says

"Pascal Cagni,
CEO of Apples
European business
from 2000 to 2012,
also demonstrates
the three Gs. Not
only did he foster
an entrepreneurial
environment, but
Apples revenue in
his region increased
from $1.3 billion in
2000 to almost $40
billion in 2012."

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