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

Leslie Pratch

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231168366

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231168366.001.0001

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Conclusion

Conclusion

Chapter:
(p.187) 13 Conclusion
Source:
Looks Good on Paper?
Author(s):

Leslie S. Pratch

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231168366.003.0014

Abstract and Keywords

This book presents an approach to understanding personality structure and dynamics. Central to this approach is an attempt to examine a person's active coping style, even as this alone does not necessarily predict leadership potential successfully. It tries to probe and understand the whole person, not just what is inside, and not just what looks good on paper. The book has demonstrated how this method can add significant information in assessing executives who have already met the normal criteria for being considered for senior leadership roles. It has also described the four interrelated elements of the active coping style that are crucial to predicting effective leadership: integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, and catalytic coping. To illustrate and explain these elements and their interrelations, the book has provided examples of executives as well as well-known leaders from history.

Keywords:   personality, active coping, business executives, effective leadership, integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, catalytic coping

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 of the organization and the broader culture within which that organization is embedded—are also very important. But they are not the whole story. The approach I illustrate in this book tries to examine and understand the whole person, not just what’s inside, and not just what looks good on paper.

Part I focuses on how this method can add significant information in assessing executives who have already met the normal (p.188) criteria for being considered for senior leadership roles, principally based on their experience and the reports of people with whom they have worked. It describes the four interrelated elements of the active coping style that are crucial to predicting leadership: integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, and catalytic coping. To illustrate and explain these elements of active coping and their interrelations, I have drawn principally on examples of executives I have assessed and to some extent on examples of well-known leaders from history.

Part II suggests that it is possible, up to a point, to conduct and profit from a self-assessment, particularly if one has the help of a mentor, who could be a trusted friend, a relative, or even a therapist. Not everyone will benefit fully, or at all, from a self-assessment—or from a professional in-depth assessment. Chapter 11 discusses the issues this raises both generally and with examples of how individuals changed or failed to change long after their formative years, analyzing them by reference to particular elements of active coping. The following chapter presents a short how-to guide for a twenty-week self-assessment. Part II concludes with the story of a man who came from humble origins and rose to great success. The lesson of his story is a lesson in the vitality and resiliency of the self as it grows and continues to grow and learn from experience.

In closing, some caveats. Most of my direct experience has been with white American men being considered for leadership positions in American businesses. Chapter 10 tries to examine the implications for women aspiring to leadership roles. I point out, for example, that for men to be effective leaders, it appears that they are free to be either agentic (aggressive, exhibitionistic, domineering, and the like) or communal (nurturing, playful, and open to aesthetic experiences), at least in appropriate situations. For a woman to be an effective leader she too must be able to act in an agentic fashion when necessary, but she is much better off if she is not perceived as having an agentic style. This may be changing (p.189) as more women move into the higher ranks of American corporations and American political life and as a younger generation comes of age.

Still, how the assessment system described in this book would work on assessing women for leadership positions is an open question. More generally, as I have mentioned, with a few exceptions I have not assessed business leaders abroad, including Americans who are going to work abroad. To be successful, an aspiring CEO’s personality and talents must jive with the culture of the organization he is to lead and the business climate in which it is or will be operating. What defeated George Fisher (who was so successful at Motorola) at Kodak was ultimately Kodak’s culture. Cultural values, educational systems, business practices, and gender perceptions and relations are different in Europe and from country to country within Europe. Even table manners (the “lack” of which does not help, to say the least) are different in a few but very noticeable ways between the United States and Europe.

With the development of an international business world with a global market and international business corporations large and small, I hope that this book will stimulate new research in how widely my methods apply and how they should be adjusted where they apply at all. But I hope even more that the analysis in this book, the descriptions of the four elements of the active coping style, the illustrative life stories, and the self-assessment suggestions in part II will resonate with readers, whether they are executives, artists, or young adults in the process of forming an identity, encourage them to probe more deeply into their own psyches, and inspire greater insight into their own and others’ actions. (p.190)