Thursday, November 11, 2010

Leaders Need a Good Coach, Not a Shrink

Actually, Steven Tobak seems to believe that leaders need a good shrink, not a coach. Links here and here. I am happy to correct his rather strange idea.

As you may know, therapists have been having difficulty competing against coaches, whether they be life coaches, relationship coaches, or executive coaches.

For reasons that escape me, Tobak seems to find this to be a bad thing. So, he is trying to market psychotherapy to people who know exactly what it is and what it does and who do not want to have anything to do with it.

After examining the bad behavior of executives who are either psychopaths or philanderers-- without noting that the two are not really the same-- Tobak seems to suggest that criminal executives would have done better to go into therapy than to seek out an executive coach.

I have no idea how he knows that these criminal executives availed themselves of the services of coaches. Or that they did not see a therapist.

And I cannot imagine where he got the idea that executives call on coaches to help them control their criminal impulses.

Tobak does not really define what kind of therapy he is talking about. I assume that he favors introspective insight-oriented psychotherapy. If he were talking about one of the variants of cognitive therapy or solution-focused therapy, then he would be referring to something that is akin to coaching.

Therapy has been around for quite some time now. It has been tried and tested by many people for many different conditions. It is fully accepted by our culture; there is no great stigma to consulting with a therapist.

By now, most Americans have had an experience with therapy or know someone who has. They have concluded, based on experience, that therapy is largely ineffective.

Even if therapy worked with some happy few patients, no one believes that it can have any salutary effect on narcissistic sociopaths and psychopaths.

No one who is even minimally informed about therapy would suggest that a criminal will be cured if he discovers the childhood traumas that set him on the road to crime.

Besides, people who are fundamentally dishonest are going to lie to their therapists, anyway.

None of which prevents Tobak from diagnosing these criminal executives-- people like Jeff Skilling, Bernie Ebbers, Dennis Kozlowski, Richard Scrushy, et al-- as suffering from personality disorders.

In the same article he says that they are suffering from arrogance and greed, which are not personality flaws, but are character flaws.

I appreciate that therapists are trying to drum up more business, but still, having character flaws does not make you sick and does not point to a personality disorder.

People make mistakes. Sometimes they make grievous mistakes. That does not make them sick. It means that they are suffering from moral failings.

Let’s understand the difference between character and personality. Character involves how you behave toward others. You may or may not be responsible, reliable, trustworthy, honest, honorable, disciplined, loyal, and generous: these are character traits.

It is certainly fair to say that a narcissistic psychopath is lacking in good character.

Yet, he may still have a pleasant, even an engaging personality. He may be gregarious, charming, sweet, and cheerful, but that does not mean that you can trust him. His personality says little if anything about his character.

Be that as it may, all of the executive-level criminals Tobak cites are of the masculine persuasion. The same applies to a second group of men that Tobak seems to want to lump with the first: philanderers like Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, and Tiger Woods. He might have added Bill Clinton and Mark Sanford.

Of course, there is a difference between embezzling corporate funds and cheating on your wife. Running a Ponzi scheme is not the same as getting involved in an orgy. Falling in love with a woman who is not your wife is not the same as having sex with a bevy of beauteous groupies.

Of the men Tobak identifies as philanderers, the only man who we know underwent therapy was Tiger Woods. The result of his therapy: he got divorced, lost his family, and forgot how to play golf.

One doubts that his example will lead too many executives to run straight to the couch.

Besides, why does Tobak select out a group of corporate criminals, add on a group of philanderers, and then generalize to all corporate executives? This feels like an exercise in sloppy thinking.

Though Tobak does not mention this point, it is more likely that a therapist will be a woman and more likely that a coach will be a man.

One cannot read Tobak without suspecting that he believes that these men will be cured of their testosterone-driven behaviors if only they get in closer touch with their feminine side. In certain segments of the culture, this passes as an article of faith. It is plausible that Tobak has absorbed it, even unwittingly.

Yet, no man in America today has not heard that he needs to become more sensitive, to get over his aggressive and competitive behavior. The culture scolds men for being men. It does so through sensitivity training, many forms of therapy, talk shows and the movies of the week.

Some men have reacted by becoming more sensitive and caring… more metrosexual, if you will. Others, however, have reacted by becoming more defiantly manly, more aggressive and more competitive… even to the point of testing the limits of legality.

When you advise people to go into therapy, you have to consider that these same people have been saturated with what the therapy culture counts as correct thinking. This means that therapy might be the problem more than the solution.

As for the men who have cheated on their spouses, we should notice that these men are not the kinds of corporate criminals who are currently occupying various penitentiaries across the nation. Tiger Woods excepted, they are all politicians.

A trendy psychiatric classification might lure you into thinking that an embezzler should be linked with an athlete who has a few too many groupies, but no one gets fired or arrested for acting like an alpha male.

Corporate executives who have been done in by their amorous dalliances usually fall afoul of insider trading or conflict of interest rules. It’s one thing to have a mistress; quite another to share inside information with her.

Before consigning corporate executives to the world of psychiatric dysfunction, one must recognize that most of them, the vast majority, are high-functioning individuals.

They did not rise to the summit of the corporate hierarchy by consuming themselves with mental anguish or by getting in touch with their feminine side.

Most of them know that for the most part, therapy will not provide them with the kind of guidance they need when faced with difficult leadership or management issues.

Most therapists do not know very much about the business world. Reality is not taught in psychology or psychiatry graduate programs. Their bailiwick is the world of feelings and fantasies, cognitive function and dreams.

When executives seek out coaches, they are looking for people who have had business experience, who can grasp the essentials of their problem, and who can offer helpful and directed counsel.

It is fair to say that some therapists are, by virtue of experience, savvy about certain types of business. As I see it, these professionals work more as coaches than as therapists.

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