The art of connecting

« Valerie Gauthier offers an original, engaging, important, and useful perspective on effective leadership for dynamic times. The book shows how top managers are driving organizational change based increasingly on relational intelligence. It adds to the growing literature that highlights the development of deep leadership traits – not just narrow skillsets. »

David Schmittlein, Dean, MIT Sloan School of Management.

« A wonderful book, admirably lucid, a pleasure to read. Valérie Gauthier’s story of how she has used enjoyable and stimulating exercises to enrich personal and professional life across many different organizations is fascinating. Now I understand why she has herself had such extraordinary success as a leader, international negotiator, sports champion and as an inspiring person. »

Theodore Zeldin, CBE President, Oxford Muse Foundation.

Chapters abstracts


Foreword by Warren Bennis

1. Savoir-Relier: a Sustainable, Sense-Based approach to Leadership

2. The Savoir-Relier Leader: a Portrait

3. Sense and Complexity: the Building Blocks of Savoir-Relier

4. Building Sense by embracing Complexity: a Core Capacity

5. The Savoir-Relier Organization: generating Performance and Sustainable growth

6. The Savoir-Relier Protocol: how it works in Practice

7. Translating Poetry: a Metaphor for Leading in complex times

8. Parting thoughts


Savoir-Relier: a sustainable, sense-based approach to leadership

Recognizing the need to re-examine leadership assumptions, this chapter begins by reviewing three business books that tried to identify factors that underpinned the success of high-performing companies. With the knowledge that the majority of the companies identified had dropped in performance and reputation, this chapter discusses the difference between sense-makers and sense-builders.

Sense-makers, with their perspective based on hindsight and linear relationships, cannot take into account the complexity of our ever-changing world. Sense-builders, however, are receptive to concepts such as the butterfly effect, the black swan theory, feedback loops as well as the concept of desire.

The Savoir-Relier mindset can transform standard oppositional relationships to enable individuals and organizations to embrace complexity. This triangular relationship between structure, freedom and relationality is the first Savoir-Relier protocol. This chapter also introduces the second protocol: the 3Gs of the Savoir-Relier mindset that enable leaders to build strong relationships (genuine, generous and generative).

The Savoir-Relier leader: a portrait

This chapter takes a balanced look at both the benefits and risks of the three attributes of the Savoir-Relier leader introduced in Chapter 1 through the portraits of three leaders of the new generation.

Clara Gaymard, President and CEO of General Electric in France and VP for GE International, represents the first G of “genuine.” Gaymard rejects as false the separation of professional and private life, transposing expertise learned from one area of her life to others. Pascal Cagni, CEO of Apple EMEIA, embodies the second G of “generous,” exemplifying the fact that sustainable growth comes from emotional generosity. Apollonia Poilâne, CEO of France’s premier bakery, exemplifies the last G of “generative.” Apollonia’s story is one of resilience. Using the analogy of jazz improvisation, the generative leader enables collaborative creation thanks to the appreciation for the major role that our senses have in our capacity to apprehend our complex world.

Sense and complexity

This chapter explores the many different definitions and understanding of the word “sense.” A key strength of Savoir-Relier is its ability to embrace sense in all its forms, even if it is less controlled, unexplained or unknown.

Understanding that rational and analytical thinking has blinded us to our senses, Savoir-Relier embraces ambivalence and presents a new way to address complex decision-making processes by using sensory data that is complementary to intellectual capacities. This chapter explores sense as meaning, as well as the primary senses.

This chapter aligns each physical sense to a leadership quality and relational skill: hearing, for example, has the corresponding leadership skill of understanding and the relational skill of empathy. Also exploring sense as rational, objective thought, this chapter presents the ladder of inference that encourages us to become aware – through inquiry and advocacy – of self-perpetuating processes whereby our existing beliefs affect our interpretation of new data.

Building sense by embracing complexity

This chapter presents the third aspect of the Savoir-Relier protocol, the relational circuit, which leverages the dynamic of relationships as a way to build sense and implement change. Using the example of Alcatel-Lucent merger’s cross-cultural challenges, this chapter shows how sense-building is central to the question of corporate identity, specifically in weathering a crisis.

This chapter explores the five steps of the relational circuit. The first step is holistic perception in which one sees the whole picture. In the second step, disjunctive analysis, one zooms in to see the parts. Step three, relational assimilation, includes seeing how the parts relate to one another. Step four of decentering involves writing to project the subject into the new environment. In the last step of sense re-creation, fine-tuning is necessary to ensure that the subject fits in. These five steps can be applied to recruiting an individual to the complex challenges of large-scale implementation.

The Savoir-Relier organization: generating performance and sustainable growth

This chapter moves from the individual dimension of Savoir-Relier to its organizational and social dimensions, it investigates how the Savoir-Relier organization can drive organizational performance by looking at what kind of structure is optimal to foster the Savoir-Relier organization.

This chapter begins by looking at how Kanter’s idea of “institutional logic” separates institutions from companies, emphasizing the need of sense-building within an institution. The companies previously mentioned, GE, Apple and Poilâne, meet Kanter’s criteria since each of the business leaders embody the attributes of the Savoir-Relier leader. Using Pernod Ricard as an example, this chapter introduces the concept of history as both identity builder and driver of purpose, this chapter also investigates diversity as an engine for innovation.

The chapter also discusses the role of brokerage in building sense and relationships. Brokerage, in the Savoir-Relier sense, can be compared to the relational circuit.

The Savoir-Relier protocol: how it works in practice

A Savoir-Relier protocol is a process that is founded on introspection and quality human relations. This chapter investigates the question of how the category of “genuine” can be measured. While not rejecting the usefulness of psychometric testing and personality profiling such as the Myers-Briggs test, the author suggests that such tests do not acknowledge our potential for growth and change, as well as our complexity.

Delineating the differences between the profile and the portrait, the author suggests that the Savoir-Relier protocol’s learning strategy ACE – which stands for analytical, critical and experiential – takes into account what traditional mechanisms do not measure: our complexity and contradictions that change through time. This chapter also presents the four stages of the protocol: perception and stability, developing reliance with self-portraits and conversation, resilience mechanisms drawn from real-life experience, and leadership actions to grow responsibility and sense. The chapter concludes by providing an outline of a four-day Savoir-Relier seminar.

Translating poetry: a metaphor for leading in complex times

This chapter explores how Savoir-Relier can apply to settings other than business, on a more general level as a tool for analysis, comprehension and construction. Using poetry as inspiration for both individual and organizational dimensions of leadership, the author discusses how metaphors have generative potential that permit new ways of thinking and seeing. With examples from Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop, the author presents a discussion of metaphors as cross-domain mapping in conceptual systems. As effective communicators, poets convey voice and power.

Therefore, this chapter includes a discussion of three key factors that subtend positive power mechanisms which can be useful for the Savoir-Relier leader: a combination of action and vision, a careful use of voice and its capacity to express power, and a delicate association of sensibility and structure. The chapter ends with the analogies between poems and organizations, and the four principles of relationality: perception, reliance, resilience, and responsibility.

Parting Thoughts

These parting thoughts reiterate the importance of sense and why it matters: sense enables us to embrace complexity and navigate a complicated world in constant motion. Sense underpins the triangular relationship between structure, freedom and relationality that allows a Savoir-Relier leader to become a poet and translator, building positive relationships thanks to their attention to the world and people around them. Thanks to sense, the Savoir-Relier leader who is also a poet-translator, can be genuine, generous and generative.