Rolf Kuonen on psychology, humility and leadership

Rohan: While it is still Monday in Hawaii, I’m pleased to present a ‘Real Leader’ interview from Frederic Kuonen, a RealAcader from Stanford’11.

Frederic is currently doing his Masters in Banking and Finance at the University of St Gallen, where he also completed his Bachelors in Business Administration. Frederic has had a stint at the in-house consulting department at Credit Suisse. He discovered his passion for entrepreneurship while studying business models of Swiss Social Enterprises and led a market entry project in cooperation with a Swiss e-bike sharing start up.

Frederic is well travelled and spent a semester in Hong Kong. He was also an avid tennis player and was among the top 150 ranked players in Switzerland (i.e. from the land of Roger Federer!). He also has a great sense of humor!

About Rolf

clip_image002[10]Rolf Kuonen, born in 1950, grew up in Leuk, a small town in Switzerland. After spending 6 years in a Catholic residential school he completed his high school with a major in Greek and Latin. He graduated from the University of Fribourg with a licence (Masters) in Psychology and completed a secondary education in Psychotherapy. After his studies, he worked in Switzerland in different therapy centers. Currently, he is the director of a state-owned therapy centre in Visp focusing on youth’s problems in school and life. Through his work, he acquired a broad knowledge about people in different life stages, as he ha treated hundreds of people so far. Additionally, Rolf is very passionate about the 3rd dimension and was a private pilot for several years.

Frederic: I know Rolf because he is my father ;-). I interviewed him because I think he has a different perspective on leadership, as he doesn’t work in a corporate environment. Also, he knows how people think and behave from experience, and I thought it was a great opportunity to understand his ideas of leadership.


Interview transcript

1. What inspires/drives you?

As a psychologist, I’m in contact with people every day. Usually they come with some problem they have in their life, which is sometimes extremely difficult. I cannot give concrete examples, but I’ve had young people who’ve lost both of their parents within two weeks. So, in these situations my job is to stabilize the person and be a safe haven for them. At the same time I will have to encourage the patient to find their own solutions to their problem. So what I do is empower people to use their full potential and thus overcome their difficulties. This is a very rewarding and satisfying feeling.

2. What has/have been the most defining moment (s) of your life so far?

When I was 12 year old, I was sent to a Catholic residential school. This was one of the most defining moments of my life. Even though the education was very good, I lived through a difficult and (often) frustrating period during these 6 years. The main reason was the closed environment in the presence of monks and priests. We were seldom allowed to leave the campus to visit Fribourg (a Swiss city nearby). Also, the values, strongly influenced by Catholicism, were very conservative.

During this period, I discovered a strong drive of freedom and an urge to revolt against the institutionalized authority. For example, we fled from school once in a while, caught a Taxi on the street and went to Fribourg to watch a movie in the cinema. These movies inspired me and we started to produce our own movies, which were very critical of Catholicism. I believe this experience gave me a lot of self-confidence and a strong independence versus institutionalized authorities as well as social obligations. This independence has had a strong influence on my therapy style. After several years of studies, I started developing my own therapy style, which is a combination of different theories, as I don’t believe in one ‘right way’ to do it.

3. What advice would you have for future leaders?

As a director of a therapy centre, I have to be a leader. Like with everything else, I have my own personal leadership style and I try to empower people. It’s the same philosophy as in my therapy. In my opinion, there are three important factors on how to be a leader.

1. Being authentic: For me, this means accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses.

2. Self-responsibility of team-members: I give my team the freedom to find their own solutions and this means I take time for them and support them if necessary. In my experience, when people are given responsibility, they begin to feel that they are taken seriously, which is very motivating. It’s like being a guide with regular control so they stay on the right path to achieve their goals.

3. Humility: While you have to be self-confident, self confidence, for me, means being humble when interacting with team members. Thanks to my experience, I sometimes know better but I don’t have to show that off. Being humble to me means being respectful to my team-members, encouraging their strengths and giving them time to speak up.


I loved the note about being authentic. It’s often forgotten. Thank you Rolf and Frederic.

Real Leaders Team