Brian, 30 (vice president of finance for Asian operations)
Introduction: Brian demonstrates congruency in active coping across levels of measures and in almost all situations. Unconsciously, he feels guilty about being successful and disavows his ambition. Although he strives to be successful, he becomes uncertain in situations that stimulate his competitive strivings. At such times, he can be overly circumspect in making decisions and may not move swiftly enough to prevent being exploited. These competitive situations are the only times when he demonstrates passive coping. Because he is generally an active coper and his good mental health, his shortcomings are extremely amenable to change. With increasing maturity, Brian may well outgrow his anxiety. But in the meantime, he should be mentored to respond in an appropriately assertive way.
Active Coping Assessment: Brian is highly motivated to succeed and can be trusted to do the right thing. His integrity and values are beyond reproach. He pushes himself hard and expects similar dedication from those around him. Brian is well organized, paces himself well, and tolerates sustained pressure. In stressful situations, as revealed by the semi-projective and projective measures (and confirmed by Brian and his work colleagues), he remains calm and deliberate without sacrificing a sense of urgency. He is confident that all problems have solutions, and prefers to see tasks through to a conclusion. At times, however, the projective tests indicate that his conscientiousness can be excessive, causing him to devote more effort and resources to problems that others would consider reasonable.
Nevertheless, his judgment is generally sound. The psychological tests demonstrate that he sees the big picture as well as the details. He approaches problems in an orderly and analytical fashion. His thinking can be as abstract or practical as situations require. Cognitively, Brian’s style is cautious and deliberate. His decision-making is thoughtful and logical. Aware of the limits of his expertise and knowledge, he does not move forward until he has a full understanding of likely consequences. Once he is confident he is doing the right thing, however, he is not afraid to act.
Brian, in fact, possesses an exceptional willingness to act under stressful conditions. He easily takes the initiative and urges others to follow his lead. Peers and subordinates trust his leadership and defer to it. His humor is warm and affectionate, giving him a natural ability to ease tensions in groups. As confirmed by the projective techniques, he picks up on non-verbal cues and emotional nuances that words and actions may not otherwise convey. During disagreements, he is able to maintain a human connection with opponents, which permits him to advance his position without belittling others or needing to be hostile or aggressive. Brian meets all of the psychological requirements of leadership.
Brian is also, however, a near-ideal subordinate. Although he prefers to resolve issues on his own, his cautious cognitive style inclines him to seek guidance from senior, more experienced executives. He has the self-confidence to accept direction without feeling diminished.
Brian is a basically trusting individual. Still somewhat naïve, he does not yet recognize early enough when others are dishonest or manipulative. His cautious style requires he slow decisions down to his own timetable. He prefers to examine a problem from every angle and mull over his response before acting. Since many circumstances do not permit the luxury of delay, Brian needs to learn to act more quickly. While he usually knows what to do, he delays to make himself feel comfortable. He must learn to trust his judgment more so that he does act quickly when appropriate.
Brian delays acting because he feels guilty about his ambition. The semi-projective and projective tests reveal that this delay is related to a sense of guilt about his ambition. He fears that his competitive striving may destroy relationships that are sustaining to him. This causes him to dwell on problems and accept more than his share of responsibility for failures and mistakes. Indeed, he overextends himself, taking the world’s troubles to heart. Moreover, when events do not unfold as expected, he becomes frightened and worried. He finds himself too tightly wound, unable to relax or sleep, and has difficulty concentrating on matters other than work. Brian’s core problem is his severe conscience. On the one hand it fosters his consistent integrity and pursuit of success. On the other hand, it imposes on him responsibility for matters beyond his control. To meet these self imposed obligations, he overextends himself. He is unable to resist an inner voice of authority that compels him to take on more responsibility than is reasonable to accept – passively capitulating to these demands rather than actively and autonomously determining when enough is enough. His sensitivity and wish to be helpful make him vulnerable to exploitation, as he is unable to act quickly enough to cut off those who will take advantage. He may not be tough enough in situations that require punishment, discipline, or standing up to manipulators. The unconscious guilt trigged by these situations results in a passive coping response.
Recommendations: Brian is well suited for the management of a start-up and could even be a potential CEO. He has an intense wish to master new challenges. If the company or its largest shareholders make the effort to groom him by exposing him to increasingly important financial and operating responsibilities, his achievement orientation will repay the investment many times over.
That being said, Brian is young and inexperienced. Therefore, his ambitions need to be more focused. Brian would benefit greatly from mentoring. Ideally, this person will not feel threatened by Brian’s increasing success. He will have the confidence to share his experience with Brian while exercising a light touch regarding advice as Brian works to reach his own conclusions. The company’s largest shareholders continue to make investments in other ventures, including start-ups. They need to take an active role in helping Brian mature so that when the right opportunity presents itself, they can position him as CEO of a start-up.
Brian needs to learn to tolerate that he cannot do everything; that some things are simply beyond his control. When things go wrong, he tends to feel guilty. This guilt distorts his understanding of what is actually occurring, a temporary reversion into passive coping. At such times, Brian’s strength – his conscientiousness – becomes a liability because it clouds his judgment. His mentor can help refocus his judgment by pointing out where he is not to blame. This will make him more hard-nosed and realistic in his appreciation of others’ actions and their motives. He needs to develop a degree of skepticism about his rivals and peers and to take more assertive, even aggressive, stand when necessary. His mentor can help develop and hone his ability to read other’s motivations and interests and respond more appropriately.
Brian is exceptionally well suited for the stress of running a company. For the time being, until he gains confidence, Brian would benefit from several years’ grooming before stepping into the role of chief executive.