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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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The Power of Active Coping

The Power of Active Coping

(p.12) (p.13) 1 The Power of Active Coping
Looks Good on Paper?

Leslie S. Pratch

Columbia University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the power of active coping as a structural psychological construct for predicting effective leadership. When hiring executives, how do you know which candidates can meet challenges and resolve them productively, day after day, or constantly adapt to the unforeseen—and who must mobilize, coordinate, and direct others? When they all look good on paper, how do you make a choice? How do you get past the résumé to perceive the person and, most important, predict the performance? How could organizations avoid hiring charismatic yet ultimately value-destroying leaders like Jeff Kindler? These and other questions are addressed by active coping to help organizations avoid the adverse effects of poor leadership. The chapter describes the theory of active coping as it appears in everyday life, with particular emphasis on the four elements of the active coping style: integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, and catalytic coping. It also considers skills and traits associated with active coping, the different dimensions of personality, and the implications of active coping for assessing personality.

Keywords:   active coping, effective leadership, hiring, executives, integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, coping, skills, personality

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 or which an awareness of might help them modify their behavior? I believe that it is possible to make such predictions with a fair degree of accuracy, and this book discusses how I have tried to do that.

An effective leader must meet challenges and resolve them productively, day after day. He or she must constantly adapt to the unforeseen—and must mobilize, coordinate, and direct others. But when hiring executives, how do you know which candidates possess such qualities? When they all look good on paper, how do you (p.14) make a choice? How do you get past the résumé to perceive the person and, most important, predict the performance? to give some specific examples: Who would have predicted from the twenty-year tenure of David Pottruck at Schwab that he would fail so miserably as the handpicked, groomed successor to founder Charles Schwab? Or, similarly, that Doug Ivestor at Coke would fail when he followed the famed CEO Roberto Goizetta? How could organizations avoid hiring charismatic yet ultimately value-destroying leaders like Jeff Kindler, first at McDonalds and then at Pfizer?

An executive’s failure adversely affects many individuals and organizations. the company loses money: Firing an executive may incur legal and severance fees, the cost of recruiting and developing a replacement, and losses from interrupted schedules or abandoned projects. Dismissing a senior executive can cause upheaval and chaos among the company’s employees. It may even affect the board of directors if its members are personally blamed for the executive’s poor decisions. As productivity drops, the effect may trickle down to the company’s clients or suppliers, eventually hurting the surrounding communities. As we have seen in recent years, our economy tightly weaves together many seemingly unconnected business sectors.

Active Coping

As one approach to help organizations avoid the adverse effects of poor leadership, I have continued to develop the theory of active coping. the theory is explained more scientifically in other publications and in the technical companion to chapter 4 (appendix B).1 I also look individually at each element of active coping in chapters 5 through 8. Here, I describe it as it appears in everyday life.

Even if you have never heard the term, you know it when you see it. When a person always seems prepared and quickly recovers from any setback, that is active coping. When a person earns (p.15) the trust of her friends and colleagues by refusing to take unfair advantage of others and refuses to let others take unfair advantage of her, that is active coping. When a person has the vision and self-confidence to rise above “business as usual” when necessary, that is active coping. When a person is open to the people around her, listens to bad as well as good news, and is aware of her own motivations, strengths, and shortcomings, that is active coping.

To many, the word “cope” has connotations of barely scraping by. I use it quite differently, to refer to a sense of mastery, an orientation to life. all human beings encounter difficulties on a daily basis, both internal (to the self) and external. We have intricate internal landscapes filled with drives, values, dreams, and ideals. Some are compatible and some are in conflict. “Coping” is how we reconcile and express these many parts of ourselves, endeavoring to bring into balance our internal needs and the external demands of our environment. Individuals can learn to master themselves and the circumstances that surround them, taking an active coping stance toward the world. Or they can be passive copers, allowing themselves to be defined by their circumstances and enslaved by their personal needs. When circumstances change unpredictably, an individual’s latent weaknesses—or untested strengths—emerge.

We all have to make an effort to achieve our goals. To do so, we usually have to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Some are created by our surroundings, some by other people, and some by who we are. Encountering these obstacles creates stress. When we take action—whether cognitive or behavioral—to reduce that stress, we are coping. Coping is part of the process of adapting to and even changing the environment.

When dealing with stress, a person can respond in one of four ways. the first is to identify the stress and remove it, maintaining—even improving—physical and emotional health. the second is to identify and tolerate the stress without changing it, keeping the status quo but not growing. the third is to defend against the stress by denying it, distorting the perception of it, or reacting (p.16) to it in an unrealistic manner. The fourth is to suffer a complete breakdown in functioning. The first response is active coping. The second response is passive coping. The third response is neurotic, defensive coping. The fourth response accompanies personality disintegration.

What Is Active Coping?

Active coping is the healthiest response to stressful situations and the one most likely to lead to a successful resolution. It is like a car: We can manage to get where we need to go if we are driving an ordinary, inexpensive car, and we can make it through life with a less than optimal coping style. But driving a car with superb engineering is crucial if we are racing in the Indianapolis 500 and will get us farther, faster, with less likelihood of accident or breakdown in other situations. A strong framework of coping does exactly the same thing.

Active coping is the readiness, willingness, and ability to adapt resourcefully and effectively to novel and changing conditions. It is a stable, albeit complex psychological orientation across time and circumstance, a style of functioning, a continuous seeking for the most effective path through life. Think of it as a constant state of being “open for business” that springs from a healthy personality structure. It comes into play in the now, at each moment of decision or challenge.

Individuals who are active copers strive to achieve personal aims and overcome difficulties rather than passively retreat or become overwhelmed. the psychological ammunition that active coping provides is extremely useful when determining the best way to respond to a situation that was not, or could not be, anticipated. active copers feed on experience; they incorporate what they have learned into their psychological systems, making themselves increasingly capable of tolerating uncertainty and devising new (p.17) strategies for growth. When they fail, they learn why and respond more effectively the next time. rather than hide from constructive criticism, they seek it out as useful advice. this openness increases their effectiveness as leaders and, more generally, in life.

Active copers support others and take advantage of opportune moments to share what they have learned. they pass on their experiences not only to help others make similar improvements but to remind themselves of their own life lessons and reinforce their own growth. This tendency to teach and share is what motivates leaders to develop mentoring relationships, helping younger, up-and-coming leaders develop their own modes of active coping.

Whereas active copers seek to confront and resolve challenges, passive copers are reactive and avoidant. Passive coping is an inability to tolerate the full tension of a difficult situation. We have all seen examples of passive coping: the board member who reacts in crisis before the CEO can gather sufficient facts, the manager who lashes out at subordinates to relieve stress, or the friend who hides from tough decisions. Passive coping is retreating from reality, tuning out information, and resisting change. It’s dealing with minor problems in order to avoid confronting the anxiety of major problems. It’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. In business, active copers continue to build their understanding of industry dynamics and disruptive technologies and to anticipate economic changes; passive copers repeat what worked yesterday.

Active copers are not always successful. Any number of unexpected events—injury or illness, economic downturns, divorce, war, the competition, disruptive technologies—may undo good planning and resolute effort. Reality is essentially refractory. It gets in the way of what we want. Even when life does not throw up insurmountable barriers, we can fail. No one copes actively in every situation. We don’t expect perfection of those around us and shouldn’t expect it of ourselves. But knowing that sometimes our coping may falter, we can take steps to prevent it. Shoring up weaknesses is a part of active coping, too.

(p.18) This book is about more than active coping in business, but it focuses on active coping in business leaders. Leaders, by the nature of their position, have to cope not only with their personal goals and frustrations but with the goals and frustrations of their followers and the group as a whole. To be effective and reliable, leaders must be capable of active coping. Leaders must be persistent; good leadership is not merely handling one problem effectively but handling a multitude of problems well and recovering quickly from setbacks with energy and determination to prevail. Leaders must also be flexible, able to adapt resourcefully and rapidly to current and potential crises. these qualities of flexibility, adaptability, creativity, and endurance are fundamental to active coping.

Active coping as an overall style of functioning enables us to meet the demands of the external world as well as our internal needs without letting one overwhelm the other. When we bring the two into harmony, we experience self-esteem, contentment, and happiness. When we adapt to the external world in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves, we get the energy to continue to grow and adapt.

Leaders who possess healthy, integrated personalities can tolerate the tension felt when handling challenges, threats, or conflicts. they can create and implement strategies to overcome challenges, deal with threats, and resolve conflicts. These strategies operate consciously and unconsciously in such a way that brings into balance environmental pressures and individual aspirations, needs, and values. This balancing act is particularly important for leaders because their functioning affects all who are touched by their leadership. A leader must be a whole person with strong active coping in order to meet the responsibilities of leading. Active coping is what we expect from leaders: the readiness and ability to learn, adapt, improvise, mobilize, and overcome conflicts. Leaders who possess these qualities are far more likely to be effective than those who do not.

(p.19) Because leadership has long-term implications, my focus is on making long-term (e.g., three-to ten-year) predictions. I choose to look at coping not as a one-time effort but as a style, a constant state of readiness that supports healthy growth and adaptation over the course of a person’s life. Just as investors evaluate a company to understand its earning potential, I assess an executive or potential executive to predict his or her potential to grow and perform in a specific role.2 Identifying a candidate’s coping style forms the core of my evaluation process but not its full extent. My evaluation process also takes into account the interactions of the executive, the corporate strategy, and the operating environment. Each situation is unique, but knowing the effects of each component with a high degree of detail strengthens the ability to predict whether executives will perform as required.

Four Elements of Active Coping

I developed the psychological model of leadership by studying both the theories behind the concept of active coping and the qualities required for effective leadership.3 I thought about what effective leaders did, felt, and thought; why they behaved as they did; why they made the decisions they made; and why those actions were effective—or not. I condensed these thoughts and theories down to create my personal definition of effective leadership: leadership is effective when it influences the actions of followers toward the achievement of the goals of the group or organization. Working with this definition, I identified four interconnected parts, four elements of the active coping style: integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, and catalytic coping. These elements seemed necessary to engender and sustain effective leadership.4

Integrity depends on the consistency of behavior in accordance with values and ideals.5 Leaders who demonstrate integrity earn the trust of their followers, their superiors, and the community. (p.20) This trust allows them to function more efficiently because they don’t have to spend a long time getting acceptance and approval for each action they take. Lack of integrity causes leaders to act erratically because They are not strongly connected to a secure or consistent system of values. they are unreliable leaders, often favoring their personal whims over the interests of others, and may damage their organizations or communities by their selfish actions.

Psychological autonomy involves the ability to recognize and respect the aims and feelings of others while purposefully striving to achieve a goal or path. It is the ability to make and impose choices on the world—the opposite of groupthink. Psychological autonomy gives a person the freedom to choose the most effective course of action.6 Leaders with high psychological autonomy can respectfully disagree with their followers, their colleagues, and their superiors. They have the confidence to take an unpopular but necessary action and stand firm against doubt and disapproval. Conversely, those with low psychological autonomy capitulate to pressure from their subordinates, peers, and authority figures. they require the safety of consensus.

Integrative capacity is an ingrained ability, developed through practice, to draw together diverse elements of a complex situation into a coherent pattern. It is, literally, the capacity to integrate information from one’s self and surroundings into a new and greater understanding of the tapestry of life.7 Leaders with strong integrative capacity are aware of their emotions and motivations as well as their weaknesses. they have open minds, accepting input from all sources. Then they put together what they know about themselves with the realities of their situations to create a deep understanding of possibilities. Leaders with poor integrative capacity have a narrow focus, ignoring any information that doesn’t fit their limited worldview. They may have little awareness of their own motivations and states of mind and therefore fail to understand the motivations of others. They lack an understanding (p.21) of mutuality. They deal with events one at a time, blind to the connections between them, unable to extrapolate into the future.

Catalytic coping is the ability to invent creative, effective solutions to problems and then carry them out. It is the most overt expression of active coping, the easiest to observe and measure. Leaders strong in catalytic coping always seem to have thought out several options to resolve each problem. If there isn’t an option, they create one. they develop detailed plans and execute them. that does not mean they are rigid; if conditions change and the plan ceases to be effective, catalytic copers immediately rethink their options and adjust the plan. Leaders who lack catalytic coping do not look, think, or plan ahead. If they come up with a plan, it often lacks depth or creativity. they will stick to it whether it suits current conditions or not. they seem lost when faced with difficult or unusual conditions and may fail to take timely action or any action at all.

These are not entirely different factors; they are elements of a whole style of being. If you wonder whether the four elements of active coping carry different weights in predicting leadership effectiveness or general adaptation to life, consider this analogy: are there relative weights for the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, and neurological systems of the body? One could argue that one system is more crucial than another—but the fact is that if any of those systems ceased to operate, the body would die. If any became relatively dysfunctional, such dysfunction would affect the entire body. In the same way, the four elements of active coping rely on one another to function effectively.

Another good analogy is a Greek temple—solid, stable, enduring. the building’s strong pillars support a wide triangular pediment and roof; intact, it can withstand nature’s onslaught for centuries. This iconic structure illustrates well how the elements of active coping are a crucial part of active coping as a whole. Each element—integrity, psychological autonomy, integrative capacity, and catalytic coping—is like a pillar. Each supports the active (p.22)

The Power of Active Coping

Figure 1.1 The Elements of Active Coping

coping “roof,” which covers and encompasses them all. If one pillar is missing, the structure loses stability and strength. If more than two pillars are missing, the structure crumbles. But if all four pillars are in place, the structure will stand firm for many years. I look for this active coping structure when I am trying to identify executive candidates who will stand the test of time in a challenging position.

Speaking directly about coping, the ultimate goal of successful adaptation and growth depends on the operations and interaction of the four elemental functions. Basically, a person has to take in stimuli (from the outer and inner worlds), make reality-oriented sense of those stimuli (integrative capacity), be relatively free to derive possible strategies of response (psychological autonomy), and execute those strategies (catalytic coping) while remaining true to ethical (social and external) and personal (organismic and (p.23) internal) guidelines and needs (integrity and self-esteem). Dysfunctions in any area can generate maladaptive processes and results in the area in question or across areas as other areas try to respond or compensate.

Using another example, with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013’s summer headlines, sports teams optimize functioning when players of all positions perform maximally. any player who plays poorly will cause weaknesses in the team effort and likely impair the team’s chances of winning. The ultimate result will be a function of which team positions are most affected and how the remaining positions react and try to compensate.

When choosing a leader, I believe that the first step is for the board to define in specific, rigorous terms what it will take for a candidate to succeed in the role. I require that my clients specify exactly what they want in a CEO, particularly the specific skills and relationships the company will need most, before conducting a search. What are the unique and specific role requirements for the company and for a successful CEO in the operating environment at that time? Some requirements are just that: requirements that are necessary and irrevocable.

In addition, given today’s increasingly uncertain business environment, a CEO should possess the nonnegotiable qualities of character, including integrity, and a strong record of bringing about large-scale change and customer orientation, as well as business acumen (the ability to diagnose what ails or could potentially ail the company and to envision how to improve it, and the ability to execute needed change and take the company forward).

In short, after rigorously defining the current and potential future business environment, when choosing a leader, four basic criteria should be met. a leader must have the interpersonal skills to lead, the intuitive intelligence to lead, the motivation to lead, and the active coping structure to support the first three criteria. there are plenty of off-the-shelf tools in use today that measure the first two criteria—some accurately, many inaccurately—but few (p.24) that measure the latter two. An in-depth psychological assessment helps get a more accurate measurement of a leader’s motivation and coping. As stated previously, active coping is a crucial psychological component of more observable skills that lead to good performance. It allows a leader to organize and amplify other leadership skills and develop new skills when the situation requires them.

The theory of active coping as I have developed it and its use in predicting leadership represent relatively new thinking in the area of leadership research. As noted earlier in this chapter, I refer to coping as an attitude or style, an overall approach to dealing with life’s challenges, rather than the ability to handle one problem or stressor. this long-term, developmental focus is what makes the construct of active coping so useful in evaluating leaders. Leaders in real-world situations are required to overcome multiple complex and ongoing challenges, often in parallel rather than one at a time, and they are expected to do so for many years while continually improving their performance. Short-term definitions of coping are helpful for certain types of research, but they do not reflect coping style as individuals demonstrate it over the course of their lives.

Skills and Traits Associated with Active Coping

Active coping is an attribute of a healthy personality structure. That means that the “activity” is not always overt and observable; sometimes it takes place internally, in decisions made, visions developed, conflicting drives resolved. an active coping stance, however, often gives rise to certain observable traits and skills. These include the following:

  • Awareness. Active copers are able to see reality, including their own needs, capabilities, and limitations.

  • Courage. active copers are brave. they seek out new experiences; they are not intimidated by challenges.

  • (p.25) Resiliency, toughness, and the ability to learn from experience. Active copers, like all humans, make mistakes. Life is too complicated to anticipate every possible contingency. after a setback, active copers regroup and recover.

  • Energy, fortitude, and the willingness to persevere. Active copers summon their energy and continue to move forward even under the most trying circumstances.

  • Resourcefulness. Active copers invent solutions to problems by creatively pulling together the resources they have at hand or by developing new resources.

  • Decisiveness. Active coping gives a person the fortitude to handle conflicts among competing goals. Making a choice means giving up an alternative. Active copers face that loss and move on.

  • Executing a plan. Active coping involves planning. active copers anticipate, strategize, and weigh the risks of potential actions. Then they act. Active coping combines introspection and action.

It should be immediately apparent that many of these skills and traits overlap. You have to be aware of a problem before you can plan to overcome it. In order to make a good plan, you have to be resourceful. In order to carry it out, you may need courage. Because active coping is a characteristic of the whole person and its elements are not “traits” or “skills” in the narrow, common definition of those terms, you will see this sort of complexity and interconnectedness repeatedly throughout the book as I give real-life examples of active coping. It is one of the reasons That I emphasize the importance of a full assessment of the candidate, the position, and the organization when making predictions.

As adults, we have internalized the rules and structures of our society, but to babies, those rules are entirely external. Babies don’t even know the rules exist until they get old enough to be aware of the constraints placed on them. Toddlers go through the (p.26) “terrible twos” (and threes and fours) because their expression of their internal drives and desires comes into constant opposition from the structure of human society. As children grow up, their parents and authority figures impose the rules and structures of their culture on them, repeating the limitations and explaining the purpose of the appropriate behavior until the children accept the rules and can follow them independently. ’s mother tells her, “No, Susie, don’t grab that toy. Share with your brother.” Susie learns that she gets approval for sharing. She learns to identify with her brother, and she also identifies with her parents in treating her brother as someone to take care of and treat empathically. But the values and ideals that she internalizes were initially experienced as limitations to the gratification of her basic desires by the external environment.

When we internalize society’s rules, they become part of us, no longer something outside working contrary to our desires. We begin to develop a personal identity, where internal and external meet to become “us,” the core of our being. Leaders who are active copers have integrated these conflicting impulses into a healthy, coherent, consistent whole.

The Many Dimensions of Personality

My work rests on four assumptions about personality.

One, personality is fundamentally a theoretical construct, not a concrete object that can be easily measured and discussed in absolutes. We use the concept of personality to explain how people think, feel, and act. We characterize personality in shorthand terms—Simon is warm and empathic; Julie, calculating and aloof—but such characterizations touch only on a few of the many parts that go into the makeup of the whole person. Although personality is conceptually rich and complex, it can be rigorously and scientifically assessed.

(p.27) Two, with the right tools and training, we can predict the effects of personality on decision making.

Three, with concerted effort, often supported by psychotherapy, we can change certain aspects of our personality, but only to a limited degree. Our personalities are a function of our individual histories, especially our childhoods. This restricts the extent to which we are able to reshape ourselves. This limitation does not mean that change is impossible, of course, and in chapters 10 through 12 I look at how you, the reader, can develop your own leadership abilities and enhance your patterns of coping.

Four, our personalities operate at different levels of awareness: conscious, semiconscious, and unconscious. Each level affects how we think, feel, and act in ways that may not be obvious or easily measured.

We can think of personality as an iceberg. Just as the iceberg has different levels of submersion, our personalities have different levels of conscious awareness. What’s above the surface of the ocean is easily visible. This is the conscious level, the part of our personalities over which we have complete control. We can see this obvious level in action. Deep below the ocean’s surface is the unconscious level. That part of the iceberg we cannot see without special training and equipment. In between is the semiconscious level: we can vaguely make out what is just below the waterline. Much of our behavior is driven by what’s below the surface, by the unconscious parts we don’t see or understand. The unconscious influences the conscious just as the submerged part of the iceberg influences the tip above the water’s surface.

Because we are mostly aware of the conscious level, the tip of the iceberg, we feel that we have full control of our actions, but sometimes we discover that we don’t have control. We may do surprising things that may not be in our best interests for reasons we don’t understand. We have deeper motives; we have hidden fears and wishes. The more aware we become of these unconscious dimensions of our personalities, the more likely it is that we (p.28)

The Power of Active Coping

Figure 1.2 The Personality Iceberg

can master them. Getting in touch with our psychological makeup is important if we are to behave with appropriate flexibility and strength, the hallmarks of active coping. The better we cope, the greater our chances of being successful.

Implications for Assessing Personality

Active Coping defined as a structural psychological attribute carries implications for assessing personality. Developmental models stem from a structural psychological approach. As will be discussed in chapter 4, such an approach taps levels of behavior that are difficult to observe. It allows psychologists to measure subtle (p.29) distinctions among superficially similar individuals, adding substantial independent information that can reduce predictive errors in top management selection. The assessment process that I use specifically draws upon multiple facets of a candidate’s public and private history. It measures various levels of psychological functioning from overt to covert, conscious to unconscious, to create a model of the whole person, including coping structure. The depth and coherence of this model adds substantially to the accuracy of predictions. It allows one to see what lies beneath—and its relevance to business leadership.

Coping style, to put it more simply, is a characteristic of personality as a whole. It is not an easily observable, easily measurable trait. Trait-based theories and models attempt to explain and predict an individual’s way of thinking, feeling, acting, and reacting in a certain situation, with its specific characteristics and psychological significance, by combining values from a set of traits. Accounts are framed in terms of one major quality of the person at a time and only secondarily in terms of the relationships among these qualities. this approach characterized both the early trait studies and most of the current research on personality and leadership.8 Pure trait models do not treat psychological functioning as a dynamic process, even when the importance of interactions among personality characteristics is noted.9 A pure trait approach also cannot account for the coincidence of cohesiveness and stability, on the one hand, and creativity and flexibility, on the other, seen in effective leaders.10

The trait approach leaves several questions unanswered. Are these traits indeed different tendencies, or do they reflect an underlying personality (organismic) structure? How do attributes such as self-esteem, self-confidence, sociability, and intelligence relate to other individual characteristics, such as need for achievement, moral responsibility, regulation of affects and impulses, and an overall sense of “identity”? Do deficiencies in the latter undermine the degree to which the former can contribute to a leader’s effectiveness?

(p.30) To focus on traits or sets of knowledge, skills, and abilities without linking these to broader and more latent aspects of the individual’s goal system is to divorce leadership style from issues of personality. Individuals do not function as disjointed collections of parts but as more or less coordinated wholes. Conceptually and empirically, examining each characteristic individually does not capture the full and unique functioning of the whole.

A Structural Psychological Model of Leadership

The model I use is based, as I’ve said, on the construct of “active coping.” active coping makes it possible to integrate and apply different skills or competencies to a changing environment. The utility of a specific competency depends on the situation; however, for leadership across multiple situations what is necessary is a global factor that permits the integration of multiple aspects of experience and self. this integrative capacity increases the possibility of acts of creative leadership. The greater the capacity for active coping, the more likely it becomes that the individual will exhibit the specific skills or high-level competencies that support effective leadership. In this sense, active coping can be seen as the “prime mover” of specific leadership competencies.

The following propositions summarize the particular structural model:

  1. 1. Active coping is a necessary determinant of leadership effectiveness. active coping represents a general underlying factor that contributes to individual adaptation and growth in many areas besides leadership.11 Active coping may represent an individual, generic, adaptive competency involving stress tolerance, affective regulation, and self-direction.

  2. 2. Active coping is not a sufficient determinant of leadership. active coping as a single variable does not predict effective (p.31) leadership; other variables are also important. I am not stating that active coping will predict leadership. I am saying that effective leaders will tend to be active copers. In a pool of one hundred managers equally intelligent as measured by normal measure of IQ and equally motivated to ascend to senior management, individuals who are active copers are more likely to be effective than their passive coping counterparts.

  3. 3. Motivational orientation is a crucial determinant of a leadership style. Active copers who are not motivated to lead are unlikely to become leaders.12 Active copers who have the internal motivation to teach math may well become excellent math teachers.

  4. 4. Successful leadership requires specific skills, abilities, and high-level competencies that operate in a cumulative and substitutable way. Examples include goal setting, sensitivity and empathy, the ability to persuade others to drop their opposition and help, the ability to anticipate problems and invent ways of surmounting them, the ability to overcome bureaucratic resistance to change, and the ability to effect compromise among warring factions.

  5. 5. The situation determines the extent to which a specific style or ability may be useful or necessary. This is the realm of contingency models. For example, a person may be an active coper yet may lack the motivation or knowledge needed to lead effectively in a given situation.

  6. 6. Combining active coping with specific motives and abilities provides a heuristic to explain the development of a leadership style. For example, assuming a base level of high intelligence, we can expect that active copers with high needs for affiliation, power, and a desire to nurture colleagues and subordinates will learn to relate to others with empathy, tact, and persuasiveness. the resulting leadership styles may resemble more participative styles. Conversely, active copers with high needs for achievement and autonomy may develop more authoritarian styles.

(p.32) As it stands, the model is heuristic and suggests aspects of leadership that need further exploration. Chapter 9 presents one test of this model and demonstrates its empirical validity. Psychologists have developed operational strategies to assess the validity of these propositions and are continually examining them empirically. the benefit of the model lies in its power to enhance the abilities of organizations to identify and groom candidates for senior leadership roles.


(1.) See Leslie Pratch and Jordan Jacobowitz, “The Psychology of Leadership in Rapidly Changing Conditions,” Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs (Summer 1997), for the original article delineating the theory and methodology associated with a structural psychological assessment. The article provides the definition of the term “active coping” as used (p.208) by Joel Shanan in the 1950s and 1960s in research he and his colleagues conducted in Israel. His definition differs from mine. I have developed my own construct, presented in this book based on his and others’ thinking.

(2.) I use the term “executive” to refer to the status of any person occupying an executive office in a managerial hierarchy. I also use the term “leader” to refer to individuals who occupy leadership roles, whether or not they are executives.

(4.) There are other elements that are important in some cases but not as important in other, for example, self-esteem. Self-esteem is a reflection of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.

(5.) See Leslie Pratch, “Integrity in Business Executives,” Journal of Private Equity (December 2009): 1–14.

(6.) See Leslie Pratch and Jordan Jacobowitz, “Optimal Psychological Autonomy and Its Implications for Selecting Portfolio CEOs,” Journal of Private Equity (December 2007): 53–70.

(8.) For examples, see Robert J. Ellis, “Self-Monitoring and Leadership Emergence in Groups,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 14 (1988): 681–693; Lori Katz and Seymour Epstein, “Constructive Thinking and Coping with Laboratory-Induced Stress,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61, no. 5 (1991): 789–800; David A. Kenny and Stephen J. Zaccaro, “An Estimate of Variance Due to Traits in Leadership,” Journal of Applied Psychology 68 (1993); Robert G. Lord, C. L. DeVader, and G. M. Alliger, “A Meta-Analysis of the Relation Between Personality Traits and Leadership Perceptions: An Application of Validity Generalization Procedures,” Journal of Applied Psychology 61 (1986): 402–410.

(9.) For instance, see George. O. Klemp and David C. McClelland, “What Characterizes Intelligent Functioning Among Senior Managers?” in Practical Intelligence: Nature and Origin of Competence in the Everyday World, ed. Robert J. Sternberg and Richard. K. Wagner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 31–50; Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1994).

(10.) The five-factor model of John M. Digman, “Personality Structure: Emergence of the Five-Factor Model,” Annual Review of Psychology 4 (1990): 417–440, for instance, is a model of personality traits. It relates to the structure of trait words. At most, it tells us something about human social perception and information processing.

(11.) Numerous studies have revealed correlations between active coping and adaptation in a wide range of settings, such as medical school, adjustment to a new culture, and maintaining mental health under taxing (p.209) conditions (reviewed in Joel Shanan, “Coping Styles and Coping Strategies in Later Life,” in Clinical and Scientific Psychogeriatrics, vol. 1: The Holistic Approaches, ed. Manfred Berenger and Sanfred Finkle [New York: Springer, 1990], 76–111).

(12.) Positive correlations between power and achievement motivations and successful organizational leadership have been reported for many years in a wide variety of settings. See, for example, David C. McClelland, “The Achievement Motive,” in Motivation and Personality: Handbook of Thematic Content Analysis, ed. Charles P. Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 393–400; and David G. Winter, “Leader Appeal, Leader Performance, and the Motive Profiles of Leaders and Followers,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 (1987): 196–202.