An Investor’s Least Favorite Statement – “Oops, Wrong CEO”

Effective leaders must meet challenges and resolve them productively, day after day, for many years. They 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 make a choice?  Given the frequency of CEO turnover, and the frequent cases of CEO failure after long, successful careers in the same place where they became CEO (e.g., Jeffrey Immelt at GE, David Pottruck at Schwab, Doug Ivester at Coke), it’s apparently not that easy. But it can be done, by including an analysis of executives’ readiness to acquire new skills and strategies for coping with complexity and change – in other words, their active coping.

Active Coping is a Style of Approaching Life, Baked into Who You Are

How a person approaches life’s challenges develops as a result of nature and nurture. Some people run from problems, some lash out at others, and some passionately wait and hope that problems (or even opportunities) will just go away.

Active copers, by contrast, are built to be capable and eager to deal with whatever obstacles and opportunities they face. Active coping is being ready and able to adapt creatively and effectively to challenge and change. Active copers continually strive to achieve personal aims and overcome difficulties, rather than passively retreat from or be overwhelmed by frustration. They move towards the problems and opportunities with open hearts and open minds.

In business, unexpected events occur, for which no playbook has been written. Active copers do not lose their footing in such cases, but rather thrive on the opportunity to seek out information about what is happening, rally the right team, and learn as part of the process of steering towards success.

Leaders with other personalities and styles may do as well in circumstances that can be predicted in advance, but active copers are the best people to have in place when the unexpected occurs.

Whereas active copers seek to confront and resolve, passive copers are reactive and avoidant. Passive coping is refusing to tolerate the full tension that a situation imposes, for instance, reacting before the facts are sufficiently understood. 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. In a crisis, passive copers will be prudently hoping that the problem goes away, or trying to do what they did before in vaguely similar circumstances.

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Active Coping – an Attribute of Successful Executives

Leslie S. Pratch - Blue    A clinical psychologist and graduate of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Leslie S. Pratch, PhD, evaluates candidates to determine their ability to perform well as business executives. Dr. Leslie Pratch is also the author of the book LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER? Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014).

In LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER?, Dr. Pratch discusses a key leadership attribute called active coping. She gives several examples of this quality, including the following: “When a person always seems prepared, and quickly recovers from any setback, that is active coping. When a person earns the trust of his friends and colleagues by refusing to take unfair advantage of others, and refuses to let others take advantage of him, that is active coping. When a person has the vision and self-confidence to rise above the ‘business as usual’ when necessary, that is active coping.”

She goes on to define this leadership attribute as follows: “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. 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.”

Seven Traits and Skills Related to Active Coping

Looks Good on Paper pic

Looks Good on Paper
Image: amazon.com

Dr. Leslie S. Pratch holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. With more than 20 years of experience evaluating executive candidates, Dr. Leslie S. Pratch is the author of the book LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER? Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014).

In LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER? Dr. Leslie Pratch describes a concept called “active coping,” which is often predictive of effective leadership:

“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:

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.

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.

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.”

The Four Interconnecting Elements of the Active Coping Stance

Looks Good on Paper pic

Looks Good on Paper
Image: amazon.com

A licensed clinical psychologist, Leslie S. Pratch serves as the president and CEO of Pratch & Company, which utilizes the Active Coping Assessment System to prepare business leaders for assuming higher levels of responsibility within their organizations. Leslie S. Pratch is the author of LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER? Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014), in which she explores the four interconnected elements of the Active Coping stance. These are as follows:

1. Integrity. This element relates to a person’s core values and that individual’s ability to uphold those values through consistency of action.

2. Psychological autonomy. This is defined as one’s ability to resist giving in to external pressures, internal desires, or personal fears.

3. Integrative capacity. This refers to a person’s capacity to absorb information and use it to learn. Integrative capacity means developing tolerance, awareness and comprehension, both of oneself and the wider world.

4. Catalytic coping. The final element measures one’s ability to confront problems, generate solutions to them, and put those solutions into practice.