The Leader at the back of the room

 In Business, Inspirational speaker, Leadership, Motivational Speaker, Purpose

A blog from Sébastien Sasseville, leadership speaker, author, athlete.

Christoph Stolle is the head of the Latin American region for Grünenthal. This pharmaceutical operates in the therapeutic field of pain and has sales of $2 billion per year. During the preparatory meeting prior to my keynote speech for his top 100 managers, we were discussing the challenges facing the company.

Certainly, the recent restructuring and impending changes had caused turmoil. However, a solid plan had been put in place and a recent internal survey indicated widespread confidence in the strategy and the future. Yet, Christoph wanted more.

Understanding the vision of the company is easy.
What I want is for my leaders to have a deep emotional connection with this vision.”

A few weeks later, at the meeting held in Mexico City, one of the executives delivers a presentation on the new strategy.  In conclusion, he speaks about his motivations and his personal connection with chronic pain.  He becomes emotional. In front of his peers, senior executives in a big company, he tries to hold back tears as silence fills the room.

That is when thunderous applause is heard from the back of the room.  The one applauding is Christoph Stolle.  Inspired by their leader, the rest of the audience applauds.  The presenter now stands proud because of his team’s support.

It was not only a touching moment but also one filled with lessons.  Here is what we can learn from Christoph’s leadership:

  1. To maximize engagement, ensure that your employees have a deep emotional connection to the vision. By applauding, Christoph reinforces his wish, which in my opinion is also a strategy for success: this emotional connection is a powerful fuel that transforms itself into a competitive advantage and a differentiator.
  2. Create a psychologically secure environment. Executive or not, we deliver our best work in environments that are psychologically secure. This means that we can be ourselves at work, that we do not have to fear failure, and that we can share our ideas without fear of judgment, etc. (the list is long). Several studies show that psychological security in a company increases engagement which translates into a direct increase in performance*.
  3. Encourage and celebrate authenticity. Leadership is a behaviour, not a title. Christoph encourages authenticity, vulnerability and humility from senior executives. By embodying these leadership traits, each manager can then build trust and engagement with their respective teams.

I have the pleasure of attending and participating in approximately fifty meetings every year.  Very often, senior executives are seated at the front, near the stage.  Not this time.  I noticed that Christoph spent the entire three-day meeting standing at the back of the room.

Without fail, he observed the audience, watching every reaction.  He scrutinized their eyes in a deeply invested way, showing true love for his managers, the company and its vision.  Christoph wanted to ensure he fully understood the doubts and the dissatisfactions as well as the successes, in order to, of course, address them.

Christoph, the leader at the back of the room, was in a position of service.

Thank you Christoph

Sébastien Sasseville helps leaders in large enterprises to lead with purpose and intention. He works with performing organizations that have reached base camp, but are looking to transform, so as to dictate rhythm, stay at the forefront and get to the top.
Sébastien’s story embodies resilience and transformation. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 22 years of age, he reached the top of Mount Everest, ran across Canada, and completed the mythical Sahara Marathon as well as several Ironman triathlons.
From Mount Everest to the Sahara, Sébastien provides large organizations with the state of mind and the strategies to maintain optimal performance in rapidly changing environments. To know more about Sébastien’s message and his inspiring talks, visit





* Idris, Dollard, and Tuckey. Psychosocial Safety Climate as a Management Tool for Employee Engagement and Performance: A multilevel Analysis. International Journal of Stress Management. 2015. Vol. 22, No. 2, 183-206.



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