Peter, 46 (vice president of finance for North American operations)
Introduction: Peter has a very healthy personality. With appropriate coaching, he can modify the inconsistencies in what is a generally active coping style. Although he describes himself as an assertive leader willing to confront conflict, the materials elicited by the projective techniques indicate t hat he cannot tolerate conflict. At times when he is required to take an assertive, autonomous stand as a leader, he may make concessions or withdraw from debate. He is aware of his heavy dependency on others. Fortunately, he has both the potential and the desire to learn to recognize when he feels threatened by conflict. This awareness will enable him to counter his inclination to withdraw or concede that would otherwise keep him from realizing his leadership aspirations.
Active Coping Assessment: Well educated and extremely experienced, Peter came to the company with an impressive resume. He previously was the CFO for a division of a Fortune 100 industrial corporation whose revenues are larger than the total revenues of his present employer. He is conscientious, hard working, loyal, and trustworthy, and expects others to have these qualities. For someone who has succeeded in companies known for tough-minded management, Peter is genuinely warm and caring.
Peter is the consummate team player, self-effacing about his own achievements while being intensely competitive regarding the group’s. These qualities are reflected in his self-description, what colleagues say about him, and how he responded to the semi-projective and projective tests. His leadership style works best in groups, where he will assert himself to steer others to consensus. Colleagues sense his commitment to their well-being and are often willing to yield to his persuasive powers, confident that he is not misleading or exploiting them. A conciliator who seeks points of agreement, he is extremely well suited for the collaborative work characteristic of upper-level management. Peter is a politician in the best sense of the word.
His approach is not without its drawbacks. His cooperative behavior is a way of avoiding conflicts focused on personal confrontation. He possesses a great fear of conflict, thereby inhibiting or limiting his active coping capacity in confrontational situations. Although he described himself as able to confront poor performance and stand up for favored projects and proposals, his responses on the semi-projective and projective tests were incongruent with this self-description. Fundamentally consultative in outlook, Peter is uncomfortable making unilateral decisions. Moreover, when confronted by a person whose position is non-negotiable, he is more likely to concede than tolerate an impasse or breakdown in negotiations. Also, when he has to draw the line and control others, he may not exercise his power to its fullest. At such times, he will disappoint subordinates who expect him to behave more authoritatively.
Peter lacks the psychological autonomy needed to act independently of the group. Throughout his life, his strategy has been to blend in rather than stand out. He is willing to sacrifice aspects of his desires or ambitions in order to ensure harmony within the group. He is not aware of this sacrifice. His defining characteristic is his dependence on others, which, while a source of strength, also can be a liability. It serves him well when situations require building consensus and teamwork. It serves him less well when the action he must take requires him to tolerate divisiveness, lack of agreement, or bruised feelings. He values the goodwill and respect of his colleagues too much to be a truly decisive leader. He is limited when the role requires him to take a firm stance, push his ideas against opposition, or hold other accountable.
Recommendations: Given Peter’s tremendous capacity to cope with many varieties of protracted stress, combined with his experience, intelligence, and education, he is well suited to handle the demands of senior management. His Achilles’ heel is interpersonal conflict. His leadership style requires him to sidestep situations that lead to conflict. With subordinates he can be too easily conciliatory and nurturing when the more appropriate behavior is to instruct or reprimand. Too often, when confronted by unpleasant conflict, he withdraws from the situation, unable to bring his other psychological strengths to bear to implement the obvious solution.
While this has the potential to be a very debilitating weakness, it is also amenable to change. Peter understands that his career is at risk of plateauing if he does not provide the leadership needed. He would benefit from coaching by a mentor who is not an immediate part of his management group. Such a mentor would require him to maintain a firm stand or make an unpopular decision. This mentor would support him in situations of conflict so that he can think clearly and take charge. Confronted by his vulnerabilities, Peter can and will surmount them.
For Peter to be a successful CEO, his collegial style of leadership would require a strong board of directors and a cohesive and supportive team of managers. Absent these conditions, for example, in a venture that requires placing large bets on unproven strategies or technologies, where disagreements over matters of corporate direction may be vehement, Peter’s style is less well suited, for he may yield to his tendency to cope passively. Peter may will be happier (and more effective) in a larger, more traditional corporate environment. Although his stability, experience, and mature leadership would give investors confidence in the depth of a new venture’s management, he is himself unlikely to be comfortable as a CEO.