Mauricio, 37 (vice president of finance for European operations)
Introduction: Mauricio is unlikely to overcome the psychological issues that undermine his achieving his career ambitions. On the surface, he is charming and easily able to seduce interviewers into seeing him as the powerful figure he claims to be. Although extremely talented and exceptionally bright, he does not have the underlying confidence in his competencies that would give him the psychological autonomy to pursue initiatives without seeking support from superiors. He copes actively only when he receives the positive regard of authority figures. Absent such symbolic demonstrations, he passively blames those who represent authority for his lack of satisfaction or success at work.
In short, he comes across well on self-report measures. It is on the deeper levels of behavior that his deeply ingrained passive dependence on external sources of esteem, predominantly superiors’ approval and status symbols, are evident. This passivity and lack of autonomy is discordant with the active coping he demonstrates on self-report measures.
Active Coping Assessment: Extroverted and expansive, Mauricio maintains an essentially aesthetic orientation to life and work. He derives enormous satisfaction from new experiences and stimulating situations. While he is a hard worker and can be disciplined and systematic, he dislikes routine and seeks to avoid it. His ability to improvise is exceptional, and he is comfortable with uncertainty and change. Earlier in his career, Mauricio was on track to become partner at a Big Five accounting firm. Hoping, however, to combine is skills in finance with an interest in long-range business development and corporate strategy, he left public accounting to join his present employer.
Mauricio excels at nurturing relationships. His ability to minister to the perceived need and desires of powerful superiors lies at the very heart of his success. He devotes considerable attention to relations with senior executives of large corporate customers, financial institutions, and large shareholders, government officials, as well as those at competing divisions within his own company. This social dexterity, combined with his strategic sense, makes him a capable negotiator. He is exceptionally able at explaining his position in ways that take into account the other person’s perspective and needs. Attuned to what his listener wants to hear, he is facile at changing his self-presentation. These qualities make him a successful rainmaker.
Mauricio is adroit at reading other people because he works for their approval. He has a strong desire to be the center of attention. He strives to succeed in order to be admired and respected by superiors. Almost exclusively oriented towards pleasing superiors, he can be very high-handed with peers and subordinates. He rarely consults others and includes them only as absolutely necessary for his own success. Confident that his solutions are the right ones, willing and able to implement them, he is indifferent to what colleagues think. He sees them as objects he can manipulate in his quest to advance himself.
Other measures indicate the unconsciously, Mauricio believes he is unworthy of being loved. To compensate, he continually demonstrates his competency at work. Through achievement, he earns the esteem of his seniors, which, in turn, makes him feel valued in ways he cannot find in himself. As inadequate as he feels, success at work fuels a propensity to think he can achieve what others do not think he can, and that he is permitted to cut corners and bend rules when others may not. At the same time, he has a nagging suspicion that his sense of entitlement is unrealistic and unmerited.
To convince himself that he is in fact powerful, he relies on external symbols to represent his basic sense of self. The best external symbols are material – money and what (lots of) money can buy. Without them, he lacks confidence that he can take charge effectively. Less visible symbols, such as power and position within the company, are valuable to him only to the extent they allow him to play a starring role.
Desperate to be a star, he frequently acts as a prima donna. He exercises his skill at connecting socially with others primarily to provide himself with an audience. As much as he requires the approval of authority figures, at the deepest levels of his psyche, he regards them as weak and bungling – as less competent than he. If they disappoint him – and they inevitably will – he will abandon them and look for replacements. He makes his contempt evident towards superiors he does not respect. Because colleagues are never friends or even allies, he has no one to turn to when he does fail. His peers perceive him far more accurately than do his superiors and tolerate him only as long as he delivers results.
More than is typical of executives in larger corporations, Mauricio is sooner or later likely to quit or be fired. The moment he does not receive the approval and rewards he desperately wants, he is likely to leave in a huff. Because he has so few allies to protect him, he risks being fired for the kinds of setbacks or failures that better-liked executives would survive. As he goes from company to company in a series of high-level lateral moves to escape his sense of injury and disappointment, Mauricio will plateau in his career.
Recommendations: Mauricio is too self-centered and insecure to be an effective leader. He is unwilling to be a loyal team player because he sees authority figures as bungling and prone to disappoint him. At the same time, he is equally indifferent to leading others or creating an environment in which others can succeed. As charming, even seductive in his appeal as Mauricio is, investors must be on guard so that they do not harbor false expectations t hat he will magically rise above who he truly is. If he were to join a start-up venture, the most investors could expect of him is that he be a member of senior management with important responsibilities that he will discharge with great skill and success. But they must remember that he requires considerable handholding. Incapable of being mentored, incapable of leading, he can only be managed.
The easiest way to manage Mauricio is for colleagues and investors to treat him as someone special. He is extremely susceptible to flattery. The more praised and respected he feels, the more flexible he will be in what he will do for the company. He will work extremely hard if he gets from his superiors the symbolic recognition he craves. When he asks for feedback on his performance, his superiors must remember that what he is really asking for is reassurance to counteract his wavering self-esteem as well as calling attention to a performance that is going very well.
Mauricio’s problems call for a stronger, more corrective response than most executives are able or willing to give. The psychological issues that drive his behavior are deep-seated. For him to resolve them, he needs psychotherapy. His problems are not amenable to coaching or mentoring. An empathic therapist could give him the admiration he requires, which would enable him to focus on external matters rather than internal issues of self-esteem.
Mauricio is a wild card. Directors and investors should be wary of his seductive appeal and harbor no false hopes that he can provide the kind of leadership a new venture would need. He can be given important responsibilities that do not require leadership.