Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries
INSEAD | INSEAD

Doctor of Business Administration

About

393
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Citations since 2016
202 Research Items
2630 Citations
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Introduction
Skills and Expertise

Publications

Publications (393)
Chapter
One day, I received a FaceTime call from a business acquaintance asking me if I would be willing to help a family business to put some order in their affairs. The issue he presented was that they needed some help straightening out the governance of their family business. Afterward, thinking over our conversation, I wondered what had not been said d...
Chapter
To many, John seemed to have high ethical values and to be a true role model. He was a star student: disciplined, hardworking, and very achievement oriented. He was also active outside his schoolwork, his boy scout activities a prime example. As time went by, he graduated from the Ivy League college of his choice and joined an investment bank. When...
Chapter
Recently, when I visited one of my clients, he told me the following story. A month previously, one of his colleagues showed up for work looking extremely distressed. Everyone felt he was acting strangely. As soon as he reached his office, he began to empty his desk. In the process, he gave several small, beautiful art objects that decorated his of...
Chapter
As a psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, executive coach, and consultant, I work to help my clients cope more effectively with problems that interfere with their emotional and physical health. I want them to make the changes that are needed to improve their quality of life. These are typically everyday challenges, such as mapping out their career, bein...
Chapter
While ostensibly discussing business issues, many of the executives I deal with go off the rails—if that’s the right term to use. At some point, they begin talking about problems much closer to home, basically, their relationship with their partner. Whenever someone in one of my seminars starts to talk about relationship problems, the other partici...
Chapter
Not so long ago, I had a meeting with an executive who wondered if I could help with what he described as a very simple leadership issue in his company. I asked him, “If it is so simple, why bother, and why me?” He responded that it’s sometimes useful to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at an issue. He had done some research and reckoned I would be...
Chapter
The whole world had been waiting for something to happen—the “something” being a vaccine against the coronavirus. Without a vaccine, life could never return to normal. Since its almost miraculous arrival, we have come to realize that it has been a game changer. However, while we were waiting for it, we were all like the characters in Samuel Becket’...
Chapter
Leonard, the chairman of a global consumer product company, was wondering what to do with the two co-CEOs running the company. Originally, it had seemed a great idea to have two highly complementary individuals run the company after the unexpected resignation of their predecessor for health reasons. The reality, however, was a failed dyad character...
Chapter
Serge was in two minds about the case, Steve, a business acquaintance, was putting to him. Steve wanted him to help settle a dispute involving Steve’s father, Bernard, who was determined to sue his own brother over a property they jointly owned. Steve explained to Serge that his father was notorious for suing everyone within sight—including family...
Chapter
In the twenty-first century, the opening line of Harry Nilsson’s song, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” is truer than ever. Many of us experience loneliness no matter how many people we are with, and no matter how close we are to them. Loneliness is the most central and inevitable challenge of all human experiences. It is an eleme...
Chapter
What an earful I got when I asked Peter, an old acquaintance, how he was doing. Straightaway, he started an endless lament about everything that was wrong in his life, starting with work, his relationship with his wife, and a long list of other grievances. Given the energy he put into it, it felt like complaining had become his major pastime. After...
Chapter
Paul, one of the executives participating in the C-suite seminar at INSEAD that I have been running for a very long time, wanted to talk to me. He confided that he had enrolled in my program because he was feeling lost. Having taken a long, hard look at his life, everything seemed meaningless. On the surface, he appeared to be a very successful bus...
Chapter
Recently, I was looking at a painting by Bruegel the Younger, sometimes called “The Dance of St. John or St. Vitus.” It portrays a strange social phenomenon that took place in Europe between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, a dancing “plague,” a curse St. Vitus supposedly put on people leading a sinful life. His curse made people behave ve...
Chapter
Many years ago, I was asked by the CEO of a conglomerate to sit in on one of their executive meetings to observe their team dynamics. What surprised me during the meeting was that they spent a remarkable amount of time discussing various issues, but that no decisions were made. When I commented on this to the CEO, he said, “The decisions are for to...
Chapter
Do we get the leaders we deserve? I hope not, but sometimes I wonder. The coronavirus pandemic has been the most serious crisis we have experienced since World War II. As things stand, we need competent leaders more than ever. But looking at the present leadership landscape worldwide is not exactly encouraging. In too many instances, there is a lac...
Chapter
While looking at disquieting news stories of women being abused and locked up by powerful men, I was reminded of the terrifying fairy tale Bluebeard. This French folktale, its most famous version written by Charles Perrault, was first published in 1697 in Histoires ou contes du temps passé (Stories or tales from past times). The tone of this bloodt...
Chapter
Recently, I spoke to a CEO who expressed shock about the level of trust in his organization. He had commissioned a survey on his organization’s health. One of the questions was about the willingness of his people to speak up. To the great surprise of the CEO and the members of his executive team, more than 80 percent of the people who worked in his...
Chapter
“Dirk, what’s happening to you? Why do you look so down? Is something wrong?” I was talking to the CEO of a bank, whom I knew quite well, and who, after a short silence, replied with an avalanche of words. Clearly, he needed to get a lot off his chest. He told me that he has been feeling exhausted for some time. When I asked about his work, he said...
Chapter
Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, tells how adverse north winds blew his ship off course, and he and his men ended up in the land of the lotus-eaters. The inhabitants ate lotus flowers, which put them in a state of drug-induced forgetfulness. Members of Odysseus’ crew who ate the flowers became similarly oblivious. They forgot th...
Chapter
Many of us have read the classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo by the French author Alexandre Dumas. It is the story of Edmond Dantès, a simple, honorable sailor, who is betrayed by people he thinks are his friends but turn out to be envious of his accomplishments. One of them is his best friend, who is after Dantès’ girlfriend. Framed for an off...
Chapter
Simon had been really looking forward to retirement. The constant pressure that came with his job had been getting to him. Too many meetings, too much travel, too much of everything. But retirement didn't pan out like he'd hoped. He missed the activities that came with working. He missed being in the middle of things. This chapter addresses the que...
Chapter
Interestingly, knowing the corrupting influence of power, it’s surprising that most of these citizens who advocate democratic ideas, work in organizations where they have very little influence over their work. Corporate democracy is direly lacking. Democracy in organizations tends to be the exception not the rule. This chapter discusses not only th...
Chapter
As a student of leadership, when I look at the state of the world, particularly at political leadership, I don’t get a warm feeling. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan locks up journalists who disagree with him. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s claim to fame is to shoot to kill alleged drug pushers. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro is infamous...
Book
Geschreven in een tijd van wereldwijde pandemie, waarin we gedwongen zijn om eeuwenoude existentiële vragen onder ogen te zien: Waarom zijn we hier? Quo Vadis? Het thema is buitengewoon relevant voor leiders, managers en iedereen die betekenis en authenticiteit in zijn werk en leven wil brengen. Manfred Kets de Vries betoogt dat we deze fundamentel...
Book
Op dit kritieke punt in de geschiedenis van de mensheid zullen leiders die bedreven zijn in magisch denken onze problemen niet oplossen. Het creëren van alternatieve realiteiten is niet het antwoord. We hebben een heel ander soort leiders nodig die de roep om regressie kunnen weerstaan en wiens visie stevig in de realiteit is verankerd. We hebben l...
Article
Full-text available
Multisource feedback is important for leadership development and effectiveness. An important asset of such feedback is that it provides information about the self-other agreement between leaders and observers. Self-other agreement relates to several positive individual, dyadic, and organizational outcomes. Given the increasingly intercultural conte...
Chapter
Once upon a time, at the edge of a dark forest in a faraway land, there was a large pile of wood. But if you imagine it was nothing more than a pile of wood, how wrong you would be. For upon looking carefully, deep down in a quiet corner, beneath some dead branches, you would spy a little web, so small that upon first sight you could have easily mi...
Chapter
After this strange, somewhat surrealistic exposition about male–female relationships, effective leadership and meaning—all seen through the eyes of a spider—I would like to end this book of essays by reminding the reader once more of the disastrous consequences of leader incompetence. Over the years, numerous historians, sociologists, and psycholog...
Chapter
It is with great joy and heartfelt satisfaction that I am finally witnessing the idea of “leaders for life” gaining real traction in our world and I have to say I’m over the moon about it. I must admit I was worried for a while, thinking that this concept had become a thing of the past. But on seeing so many contemporary leaders—among them Xi Jinpi...
Chapter
In the olden days, in yet another country that was far, far away, there was a queen who was known by all her subjects for her stubbornness. All the citizens of the country were familiar with her mantra: “No, I won’t, and you can’t make me!” They all knew that once she had made up her mind, there was no way she would change it. But having a queen wh...
Chapter
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, when kings still ruled the earth, there lived a hard man named Old Drum, who had five children. In spite of his many children, however, only one son became the apple of his eye. The other children didn’t give him much pleasure. But the son who was singled out was looked at by his father as the person who w...
Chapter
Recently, once again, I saw Triumph of the Will, the infamous Nazi propaganda movie directed by Leni Riefenstahl, the famous German film director and Nazi sympathizer. The film remains well known for its striking visuals, showing some of the most enduring images of the leaders of the Nazi regime. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in the me...
Chapter
Full-text available
Once upon a time, in another faraway land where people still had a sense of wonder, there lived a man called Bolsonaro who was known far and wide because of his vitriolic language. On every occasion, he would make the most outrageous, disturbing statements. Whatever the topic would be, his comments were always full of hatred. Listening to him, ther...
Article
Full-text available
As the world is changing, organisations are changing with it: matrix structures, flat hierarchies, virtual work, and teamwork are becoming the norm. Therefore, the ability of working successfully with others has become increasingly important and effective teamwork is essential to make these new complex organisational structures work. However, as th...
Chapter
Our first breath is the beginning of our journey towards death, something that is very difficult to accept, and as a consequence we consider death the enemy. But is that the right attitude to take? Doesn’t being alive become more precious precisely because of our inevitable death? Doesn’t death teach us the value of time? Doesn’t death create “dead...
Chapter
Working longer and longer hours trying to get his latest start-up up and running, Ted was at rock bottom, questioning the fundamentals of his existence, something to which he had never given much thought. What am I doing with my life? Does it have any purpose? Is there anything I can look forward to? These questions were brought on by his feeling o...
Chapter
Given the limited time we have on earth to look for meaning, it is inevitable that the concept of happiness comes to the fore. What makes our lives worth living? Is it a life filled with happiness or a life filled with meaning? Or should it be both? Many people think that happiness is a signifier of meaning. And true enough, there appears to be a h...
Chapter
Finding meaning isn’t a luxury. Leading a life of meaning will make a great difference to our quality of life. There are few things more important for our mental health (see Chap. 7). Finding meaning plays a crucial role in healthy development and the way we cope with life’s challenges. In other words, meaning in life is strongly correlated to psyc...
Chapter
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in our life are the day we’re born and the day we find out why.” Of course, this begs the question of what we are going to do with ourselves during the interim. Throughout this book, I have suggested that what makes a human life meaningful is not merely living a life but also reflecting on living a...
Chapter
Biologically, death can be defined as the permanent cessation of all vital functions. For animals, we imagine that the ending comes as a surprise. But that’s not the case for the human animal. As I have mentioned before, due to the advanced development of our brains, we have the ability to plan ahead. We have the “gift”—if that is the right word to...
Chapter
Turning once again to Ted, whose dilemma I began this book with—we saw how his existential angst gave him the motivation to figure out what gave meaning to his life and what was really important to him. It was Ted’s experience of nothingness that led him to question the meaning of his existence. His challenge was how to go from nothingness to somet...
Chapter
Humans are unique in that they must learn to live and adapt to the consciousness of their own finiteness. Human behavior has always been influenced by the specter of death and life’s impermanence. Throughout recorded history, awareness of our mortality and the fear of death have been universal psychological quandaries for the human race. For many p...
Chapter
The juxtaposition of meaning and death is portrayed well in a famous Zen koan. Like Tolstoy’s novella, it is full of symbolism about how we can live life meaningfully.
Chapter
Psychology has always been the science of behavior and mind. With this in mind, meaning, viewed as a psychological concept, has always played an important role in our understanding of human behavior. No wonder that psychologists are preoccupied with questions like: Who am I? Why do I (and people in general) behave the way I (they) do? What motivate...
Chapter
In the context of death, philosophers have spent countless hours considering the concept of meaning, including the “meaning of meaning.” They have tried to arrive at some kind of coherent understanding of what meaning is, how it is made, and how we can find it. They have also pondered the question whether the meaning of life is internal, inherent i...
Chapter
In Roman mythology, Janus was a king of Latium (a region of central Italy), who had his palace on the Janiculum, a hill on the western bank of the River Tiber. He was proudly venerated as a uniquely Roman god, not one adopted from the Greek pantheon. The Romans pictured him as having two faces, one looking forward, the other looking back, so that h...
Chapter
One of the participants in my leadership workshop (I’ll call him Peter) was experiencing some form of existential anxiety and questioning the meaning of his existence. Too many changes were happening simultaneously and contributing to his low state of mind. The first change was the death of his father, with whom he had many unresolved issues. Peter...
Chapter
Let me tell you about David. For a long time, he had been on quite a high. Everything in his behavior indicated that he liked the smell of success, and in particular, he liked to be the center of attention. I remember him telling me how pleased he was to be named businessman of the year. But what had really put him in the public eye was when his pi...
Chapter
My interest in the lives of executives goes back a long way. CEOs in particular, have always fascinated me. You might ask, why? Why do I study CEOs? Why don’t I focus on other people? Is it that I’m attracted to power? Do I get vicarious satisfaction from dealing with powerful people? I’ve no hesitation in stating that power isn’t the reason. Power...
Chapter
My skepticism about self-appointed miracle workers doesn’t mean that people in the helping profession can’t make a difference. On the contrary, if we forget about magic, they can be extremely helpful. I know from personal experience that if you want to make changes to your life, it is always better not to do it alone. Helpers, in the form of well-t...
Chapter
Recently, Patricia, the CFO of a large industrial enterprise, asked to meet me. I decided to see her for lunch, when she took the opportunity to complain non-stop about her CEO. She explained that while he had held regular meetings with his top team at the start of his tenure, these meetings were now rare. According to Patricia, her boss now spent...
Chapter
The following story was told by an executive who had come to me for advice. The XYZ Company had a vacancy for a new sales director. In due course, facilitated by a headhunting firm, the number of candidates was narrowed down to two. Given the company’s ambitious expansion program, most people who had met the two final candidates were convinced that...
Chapter
As I stress throughout this book, the journey to understanding your inner theater is not easily undertaken alone. You will need some guidance, and for that you need a guide who can be genuinely helpful and steer you in the right direction. Unfortunately, that’s not easy either. The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “A guide, on finding a man...
Chapter
Full-text available
Somehow, many of us have a fantasy that wellness will help us to live longer. It may be one of the reasons for all the contemporary brouhaha about wellness. But haven’t we always had difficulty facing the fact of our own mortality? Can we really accept that our existence on this planet is only limited? Just think about Woody Allen’s statement: “I a...
Chapter
“John, can you tell me what gets you out of bed in the morning? What makes you feel alive? What drives you?” What followed these fairly intrusive questions was a long silence. Obviously, John found it difficult to respond. Eventually, after some prompting, he came up with a number of rather clichéd answers. His inner drivers remained a mystery, how...
Chapter
Humankind’s history is full of stories about the disastrous consequences of greed. But in spite of these cautionary tales, when it comes to greedy behavior, it appears we never learn. We aren’t always good at controlling the greediness that lurks inside us. Why do we behave like this? Can we break the vicious cycle of greediness? Most importantly,...
Chapter
Full-text available
I have always been intrigued by this song, performed by Groucho Marx in the film Horse Feathers. The film seems a bit dated nowadays, but the lyrics capture the spirit of our times. I live in the center of Paris, and I only had to go around the corner from my apartment to witness the Gilets jaunes (Yellow Jersey) protests in France every Saturday f...
Chapter
Each company has its own “culture,” by which I mean the way the company is run, the values and ethics that will define the company, what is and what isn’t appropriate and/or acceptable behavior at work. Basically, organizational culture defines how you work together in your organization. A healthy culture comes from a combination of lived core valu...
Chapter
I have always had concerns about organizational health—not just how organizations are designed, the appropriateness of an organization’s strategy, structure, and other processes—but also, and in particular, the wellbeing of its employees. A major goal in my life is to create healthy organizations with people who feel good in whatever they are doing...
Chapter
It must be clear by now that I see my major role in life is to guide my clients when they decide to make changes to their lives. Hopefully, these will be changes for the better. I have had the good fortune to be present on many occasions when the people I worked with became unstuck and I helped them to reach a tipping point—the crucial moment in ti...
Chapter
In my experience, there is a fine line between stubbornness and persistence. I have learned from personal experience that, at times, being stubborn was the only way that I could turn what I thought was a good idea into reality. It was stubbornness that made me persevere. It was stubbornness that helped me to stand my ground when everyone else was t...
Chapter
After settling himself in an easy chair in my office, Dirk told me he was puzzled about something that had just happened. He had asked Nancy (a recently hired senior executive), to come to his office to discuss their future working relationship, nothing more. When he mentioned that she might want to deal more proactively with a number of the compan...
Chapter
Why anyone would be attracted to a cult has always puzzled me. To me, cults only evoke uncomfortable associations—for example, the Manson family, Heaven’s Gate, or Jonestown. Cults also remind me of the Hare Krishna movement, and other esoteric eastern religious groups. Beyond these religious groups, there is a lot of cult-like behavior within poli...
Chapter
These disturbing childhood memories have been a major catalyst for my desire to work with C-suite executives and my interest in leadership education. How can leaders be prevented from going astray? How can they be made thoughtful? These questions motivated me to create a somewhat unusual leadership seminar at INSEAD, the world’s premier global busi...
Chapter
As a helping professional, I often have to deal with the topic of regret. I recognize there will always be situations where we will not get closure but nevertheless, it is better to move on. It is better to look forward with hope than to look back with regret. For some people, however, their only regrets are the opportunities they didn’t take. What...
Chapter
The dismal Gallup figures about job engagement I cited in Chap. 26 provide ample reason to be concerned about wellness in organizational life. And we are right to be troubled by lack of engagement—it is extremely costly for organizations to have demotivated employees. When people are demotivated, they will not give their best. So, as a countermeasu...
Chapter
When I asked Robert how he was doing, his immediate response was that he was upset. He didn’t know what to think about his current situation. He was still trying to get a grip on his disappointment. How could this have happened to him? How could he have misjudged the situation so badly? He felt angry, sad, and betrayed. Mostly, he was deeply disapp...
Chapter
Death anxiety has been referred to as a fear of nonexistence or nonbeing. Although we might be conscious of the fact of death, and even imagine we are prepared for it, we are always shocked when death threatens us, or when someone dear to us dies. Although at a rational level we know that death is part of the cycle of life, at an irrational level,...
Chapter
Regression is an unconscious, emotional defense mechanism in which we revert to behaving the way we used to an earlier stage of our development. As a coping mechanism, regression is an attempt to return to a time when we felt safer than we do in our current state. We felt safe because we were taken care of. Regression can be harmless and subtle, bu...
Chapter
When I guide my clients in their personal journey, I aim to bring some structure into the process. When they tell their stories, I encourage them to explore the intrapersonal dimension of their lives. I want them to say something about their emotions, motivations, beliefs, attitudes, the way they make decisions, and how they set goals. I also want...
Chapter
I have found many conceptual models helpful guides my interventions. When I work with executives, however, I have always tried to be non-ideological. I’ve seen too often how ideology can kill creativity and I’ve learned from experience that creative work always happens at the boundary of different fields. So, when helping people change, I will do a...
Chapter
Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a small village, deep in the mountains of a faraway land, there lived a master potter. He was renowned far and wide for his craftsmanship. Nobody in the land was able to make pottery like him. Never had there been a person who possessed such artistic genius. It made him a living treasure. Because of his remarkab...
Chapter
In this chapter, I’d like to build on my comment (in Chap. 22) that our greatest challenge today is to create societies governed by shared responsibility and reciprocity. In 1887, the sociologist and philosopher Ferdinand Tönnies published Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Community and Society), in which he drew a distinction between the two societal...
Book
“In this deeply personal book, Manfred Kets de Vries reflects on his lifelong engagement with issues around leadership of organizations and change. Clearly written, brimming with insight—the arguments frank but very sophisticated—this book once again shows why Kets de Vries is widely regarded as our foremost thinker on the psychology of leadership....
Book
Written at a time of global pandemic, when we have been forced to confront age-old existential questions—Why are we here? Where are we going?—perhaps for the first time, Quo Vadis? is extraordinarily relevant to leaders, managers and anyone who wants to bring meaning and authenticity into their work and life. Manfred Kets de Vries argues that we ne...
Book
The recent proliferation of populist movements worldwide — along with the often dangerous, demagogic leaders that accompany them — have prompted questions about the underlying conditions that give rise to such troubling developments. Leadership Unhinged: Essays on the Ugly, the Bad and the Weird examines what is going on at a deeper level, both col...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose The authors investigated how personality traits are associated with workplace technostress (perception of stressors related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Design/methodology/approach The authors collected 95 self-rated and 336 observer-rated questionnaires using the personality audit and a shortened versio...
Chapter
Let’s admit it, deep down we are all suckers for fairy tales. We like the kinds of stories where princes or princesses get their beloved. Stories like Cinderella or the Sleeping Beauty are very much part of our collective unconscious. The fact that millions of people all over the world were glued to their television sets observing the fairy tale-li...
Chapter
Andrew was an enigma. His behavior was untraditional, to say the least. It was difficult to figure out what he was all about – whether he was serious, or just clowning around. You never knew what to expect from him. Some thought he was a real pain in the neck. Many felt his mocking behavior and bad jokes were over the top.
Chapter
During one of my workshops on the psychodynamics of leadership I met a senior banker named Tina. Our conversations revealed someone at a crossroads in life, although Tina wasn’t conscious that she had several possible paths to choose from. She had little interest in her work. It had become routine – a drain on her energy. She couldn’t remember the...
Chapter
I’m not questioning your relationship with your father. I’m talking about digital addiction disorder. Recently, I ran a workshop and one of the participants (I’ll call her Anne) had to excuse herself regularly to leave the room. I assumed she had a weak bladder or an upset stomach but I later found out that she was suffering from D.A.D. In layman’s...
Chapter
Greg, a high-level executive at a large financial institution, enjoyed the attention, rank, status, control, and recognition that came with the job. Rubbing shoulders with other high-status people gave him a high. He liked it when people deferred to him and wanted to please him. He loved being at the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in D...
Chapter
Everyone was scared of Derek, a senior VP in an engineering firm. His temper tantrums were legendary. When he felt crossed, he would publicly castigate whoever got in his way. His tendency toward extreme micro-management made him insufferable. And if this behaviour wasn’t enough, he kept taking credit for other people’s work, which created huge res...
Chapter
The day after he became the CEO of his company, Davis had a dream in which he was walking on a beach and discovered a bottle. He took out the cork and out sprung a genie, who told Davis he could make one wish in exchange for releasing her from her imprisonment. Davis knew exactly what he would wish – not riches, fame, or a long life, but something...
Chapter
Ronald was very pleased with himself. Once again, he had pulled a fast one. And as had happened many times before, he had gotten away with it.

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