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Looks Good on Paper?

Looks Good on Paper?: Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance

Leslie S. Pratch
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  • Book Info
    Looks Good on Paper?
    Book Description:

    Leslie S. Pratch is a practicing psychologist who focuses on assessing and coaching executives who occupy or are candidates for top positions in business organizations. In this book, she shares insights from more than twenty years of executive evaluations and offers an empirically based approach to identify executives who will be effective within organizations -- and to flag those who will ultimately fail -- by evaluating aspects of personality and character that are hidden beneath the surface.

    Pratch compares candidates with impressive careers and tries to determine which ones are likely to act with consistently high integrity and exhibit sound, timely judgment when faced with unanticipated business problems. Central to effective leadership is a psychological quality called "active coping," which Pratch defines and explores by referencing case studies, historical figures, and her own scholarly work. This book speaks not only to those in hiring positions and their advisors but more widely to leaders and anyone who wishes to learn more about their own character and the abilities of those around them. She offers knowledge, asks questions, and challenges common perceptions, providing a practical tool for those in business and for general readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53764-3
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior, Business, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Looks good on paper? operates on two levels. It speaks immediately to those who select leaders and to their advisers. Although traditional selection criteria based on past performance and achievements are indispensable, they do not adequately predict how a high-achieving person will handle new, unanticipated crises or, more generally, how anybody will perform in a new leadership role (e.g., as a CEO and not “just” a COO). A depth-psychological analysis, though not fully predictive, can close the gap significantly.Looks Good on Paper?describes a depth-psychological approach to assessment based on psychoanalytic insights and, in particular, how a psychological quality...

  4. Part I: The Theory and Practice of Active Coping

    • 1 The Power of Active Coping
      (pp. 13-32)

      The corporate world is a highly charged, ever-changing crucible. Leaders in it are sorely tested. There are other arenas just as tough—the military and politics, to give two examples. In the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, many of us have been asking the same questions that I have been exploring for years. Is it possible to predict which executives are potential time bombs, to learn to tell a young Warren Buffett from a young, merely competent investment banker? and is it possible to help executives understand how some aspects of their personalities could adversely affect performance at work...

    • 2 Predicting Performance
      (pp. 33-53)

      How does understanding a leader’s coping style aid in executive selection? Consider Abraham Lincoln’s frustrating search for a capable army commander during the Civil War. He had his pick of generals with illustrious West Point backgrounds, and even generals who had shown great bravery and resourcefulness as juniors and senior officers in the Mexican-American War fifteen years earlier.

      General George B. McClellan had a towering reputation going into the Civil War. He was a masterful raiser, organizer, and trainer of armies, and his men were fiercely loyal to him, but he proved a failure leading the Union Army in battle....

    • 3 Coping Styles and Coping Holes
      (pp. 54-62)

      As noted earlier, active coping contributes to healthy personality growth and strong performance. It does this by optimizing an individual’s responses to specific problems and by fostering continuing psychological richness, self-confidence, and resourcefulness. Success and, as we will see in the story of Tim later in this chapter, even failure create a base of experience on which future coping is built. Active copers are not free of all personality flaws, but they face internal obstacles with the same courage and forward momentum with which they face external challenges.

      Passive copers have characteristic tactics they favor. Sometimes those are useful tactics,...

    • 4 What Lies Beneath?
      (pp. 63-79)

      In business, we tend to see mainly the public, external façade. Books about business leaders rarely discuss the significance of executives’ inner lives and the effects that early development and unconscious aspects of decision making—the full and complex structure of character and personality—have on performance at work. Most candidates regard as intrusive anything more than a rather limited examination of their private sides. Although privacy is to be respected, most people would acknowledge that executives’ inner lives can and do affect their decisions at work. Executives who are at home with who they are as human beings will...

    • 5 Integrity
      (pp. 80-108)

      Integrity has several definitions, two of which are crucial to effective leadership. The first, most common definition refers to moral character and honesty. Children learn to value and respect the views and rights of others. The second, also central to my multilevel construct of active coping, refers to the state of being whole or undiminished.¹

      The two definitions are related. As I will show with examples from my work and research, integrity in both senses stems from a structure of values. A person cannot consistently act on those values if that structure of values contains holes. A hole that permits...

    • 6 Psychological Autonomy: Lemmings Need Not Apply
      (pp. 109-121)

      Another crucial element of active coping is psychological autonomy, a vital quality for making decisions that may be unpopular but are right. Psychological autonomy is the shield that enables a mature, healthy person to face life with relative objectivity. It has two sides. One is empathy: I understand and try to have sympathy for the motives of others. The other is independence and self-awareness: I am not a lemming, I am aware of my inner drives, and I try to understand my motives.

      To have psychological autonomy a person must be aware of internal and external pressures that are likely...

    • 7 Integrative Capacity: Seeing Reality with Both Eyes Open
      (pp. 122-135)

      Integrative capacity is the third of the four elements of active coping. It requires many of the same qualities as psychological autonomy and then takes the process a step further. By integrative capacity I mean not just perceiving and balancing inner and outer pressures but processing the incoming information to create an increasingly complex framework of understanding. The first requirement of integrative capacity is to perceive the world around you clearly, as well as the world inside of you. The second part is to tolerate what you observe without denial or a selective “pick-and-choose” outlook. The third part is to...

    • 8 Catalytic Coping
      (pp. 136-144)

      Catalytic coping, the fourth element of the active coping style, is the easiest to observe because it comprises both planning and the execution of the plan. It is creativity and activity in support of a goal. Catalytic coping is a desirable trait in anyone and an essential trait in leaders. Not only does it enable them to overcome obstacles to the group’s goals, but it also demonstrates a confidence that inspires and mobilizes their followers. Leadership is as much about actions as words; leaders who accomplish what they set out to achieve build trust among their followers and superiors. Their...

    • 9 Implications for Female Leaders
      (pp. 145-152)

      On january 1, 2012, Virginia Rometty became the first female CEO of International Business Machines Corp. Articles about her lauded her ability to blend enthusiasm, charisma, clear communication, strategic thinking, and “cool-minded” decision making. But oneNew York Timesstory placed the emphasis on the role self-confidence may have played in her success.¹

      Early in her career, Virginia M. Rometty, I.B.M.’s next chief executive, was offered a big job, but she felt she did not have enough experience. So she told the recruiter she needed time to think about it.

      That night, her husband asked her, “Do you think a...

  5. Part II: Enhancing Your Active Coping

    • 10 Past Is Not Necessarily Prologue: Improving Your Active Coping
      (pp. 155-166)

      This chapter and the two that follow focus on how to develop and strengthen your own coping style. This chapter discusses general considerations in self-assessment. Chapter 11 provides a method for assessing oneself with a view to improving one’s coping. Chapter 12 presents an example of a mature, successful executive who reflected verbally on the elements of active coping this book describes and discussed how he developed active coping.

      A CEO of a wireless networking and telecommunications company once described himself to me as a “scavenger of good ideas.” this vivid self-characterization captures the information acquisitiveness and resourcefulness that we...

    • 11 Self-Assessment for Strengthening Active Coping
      (pp. 167-179)

      Now we come to a concrete framework for developing our psychological strength. The personal development/self-assessment modules outlined apply to the desire to develop yourself, whether you are a musician, an artist, a corporate executive, an entrepreneur, or a professional such as a lawyer. I focus on business executives, but the process applies to anyone seeking to gain the openness to perceive and integrate complexities and the ability to carry out or make another plan to achieve one’s goals whatever the obstacles may be—all in a fashion consistent with one’s values and ideals.

      The personal development portion of a self-assessment...

    • 12 Developing Active Coping: A Success Story
      (pp. 180-186)

      One executive whom I have known since 1998 makes a case for active coping as a developmental process.¹ This executive grew up in a blue-collar small town, the only child of a first-generation immigrant family. His parents, aunts, and uncles did not speak English. Sixty-three years after his birth, he is approaching the pinnacle of his career, having served as CFO of two Fortune 500 Companies, as CFO and partner at an international private equity firm, and on multiple boards.

      What allowed him to allow that success to occur—beyond the fact that he is bright, charismatic, and forceful? What...

  6. 13 Conclusion
    (pp. 187-190)

    Looks good on paper?presents one model to understand personality as a whole, a model that takes into account unconscious forces and developmental history. I argue that it is possible to predict, at least much of the time, how an executive is likely to cope with unexpected complexities and changes. The book presents a method, corresponding to the model, for assessing personality structure and dynamics.

    Central to my approach is an attempt to examine what I have called a person’s active coping style, though this alone does not necessarily predict leadership potential successfully. Intelligence, motivation, and the context—the culture...

  7. Appendix A: Technical Companion to Chapter 3
    (pp. 191-196)
  8. Appendix B: Technical Companion to Chapter 4
    (pp. 197-206)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 207-220)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-228)
  11. Index
    (pp. 229-242)