Manhattan, inc. , August 1989
A new breed of psychologists is teaching how to be a winner on Wall Street
A new breed of psychologists is teaching how to be a winner on Wall Street
Manhattan, inc. , August 1989
His secretary didn’t miss a comma as the visitor strode by her desk, pausing briefly to see whether the executive was alone. She traded a knowing glance with the secretary across the aisle. He was right on time for his weekly appointment.
He was a tall, pleasant-looking man wearing a gray pin-striped suit and a distinguished mane of white hair. There was a scent of pipe smoke about him. The executive looked up when he saw him, and smiled as he pumped his hand. The door closed, locked with a click. All calls were held.
The executive’s office is a large corner room on the building’s top floor, elegantly decorated with a plush carpet, discreet lighting, and walls of polished wood paneling covered by dozens of plaques in recognition of executive leadership. On his desk sits a screen blinking with prices for currency, stocks, and bonds, the console surrounded by gold pens and engraved paperweights.
The market had been rife with takeover rumors all week, and the executive was tired and worried. His firm’s stock was fluctuating wildly. He hadn’t slept soundly in weeks and felt as if his blood pressure were going through the roof. He couldn’t get his CEO to listen to him; in fact, lately their strategy sessions were ending up in shouting matches.
Thee white-haired man looked him in the eye. Was the executive being more aggressive than assertive? Perhaps the CEO felt he wasn’t performing as well as his peers, wasn’t a good team player? “Let’s visualize,” he instructed.
The executive loosened his tie, pushed away from his desk, and leaned back in his chair. The two talked through an imaginary meeting with the CEO in detail, from the temperature of the room to the the sweat on the back of his neck.
When the executive opened his eyes, he felt more confident, sure that his next encounter would be a success. He had a grip on the situation. The next time he saw his CEO, he’d take the offensive, be persuasive instead of passive. The two men shook hands. It was nince o’clock sharp. As the executive greeted a stream of people just arriving at work, he glanced after the white-haired man and wondered how many more executives like himself he would be helping that day.
Who was that stranger?
Seated in a chilly medieval dÃ©cor of the Harvard Club’s cathedral-like reading room, Douglass Lind looks every bit as poised and self-assured as his well-heeled clients-some of whom no doubt surround him, reading the Financial Times through pipe- and cigar-sweetened air, the incense of American capitalism. A ruddy, solid man of Swedish descent, his thick white hair, viselike handshake, and avuncular tone exude enough confidence to bolster an executive fighting a takeover bid by Carl Icahn. “The first thing I do when I’m hired is ask to see the 10-K,” booms Lind after a long day of hand-holding with CEOs. “That way I know what’s really going on.”
Lind is one of a new breed. He is an executive coach. More than a shrink but less than a financial analyst, he offers clients both comfort and advice. Some think what he sells would make Sigmund Freud turn over in his grave. For $250 an hour he’ll help youâ€¦ help your id, your ego, and your bottom line.
A few years ago, a numher of therapists noticed their Wall Street patients spent as much time discussing business problems as personal ones. Where there is a compulsion there is also a market: what if they could combine the sensitivity of a therapist, the business acumen of an accountant, and the enthusiasm of a trainer? Voila! Meet your executive coach-a confidant for hire who knows his way around a spreadsheet. Less a science of mind than a market creation, executive coaching is the businessman’s therapy of choice.
Lind is president of the TriSource Group, Inc., a consortium of shrinks offering personal therapy management consulting, and a modem hybrid of the two-executive coaching. Founded in 1985 by four therapists with experience in business, TriSource is on the cutting edge of executive coaching, the latest psychofad to sweep the financial community. It has approximately seventy affiliated therapists and counts IBM, American National Can, W.R. Grace, Pitney Bowes, and the US Army among its clients. In 1988 it billed over $1 million.
Lind, a native of Minneapolis was raised a devout Presbyterian and found his calling early. He attended Harvard and sat with rapt attention during Reinhold Niebuhr’s lectures. From there he went to Union Theological Seminary, working full-time to pay his tuition. “My goal at seminary was to be a parish minister but also to be a tentmaker,” Lind says. “The apostle Paul served the church but made his money making tents,” he says. “I thought the population I was best able to serve was the educated business and professional class.”
After divinity school, Lind spent a number of years as a fund-raising consultant, running national church campaigns. “It was management experience selling an intangible, basically giving someone the opportunity to part with his money,” says Lind. Lind worked as an associate minister, then was soon made head minister of a New Rochelle church, and began to train as an analyst. A self-described “young, fast-track guy,” Lind left his ministry and moved to a larger, more demanding parish in posh Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Naturally, Fairfield County would be the birthplace of executive coaching. The approach was first conceived by a friend of Lind’s, a therapist whose background was in advertising; he was also an accomplished athlete whose prowess created what was to become TriSource’s training ethic: “When Jimmy Connors hired Pancho Segura and started winning consistently, a revolution was born,” effuses the TriSource brochure. “Today, almost all world-class tennis players have a coachâ€¦ Having a coach, therefore, does not diminish a champion. It can actualize one,” it promises.
Executive coaching, a glamorous offshoot of therapy, was made for the eighties-the decade that gave narcissism a good name. Dr. Wilbert Sykes, CEO of TriSource, came to the group by way of his own elite practice. Sykes remembers the epiphany he had about his patients: he was sitting around one Sunday watching television “when, in the course of a few hours, four of my patients appeared on TV,” he says. After talking to Lind about the pressures on power professionals, the two agreed to create a treatment for the success syndrome they had just diagnosed.
“A lot of executives advance by specialization,” explains Sykes. “When they are promoted and expected to perform new tasks, like managing people, their training is inadequate,” he says. “We help them understand and then acquire what is missing without their being mortified.”
A shrink on Wall Street is like a child in a candy store. A community where appearance and reality is hopelessly and profitably confused, where winks and nods send millions of dollars hurtling at one intangible “product” and away from another. “Market psychology” is more than oxymoronic, it’s tautological.
Then came the crash, and things got worse. One doctor recalls coming to the New York Stock Exchange floor that October day when he was called to save a trader who passed out from fear and sheer exhaustion. Blue in the face, the trader lay beneath the clock where purchases were recorded, his frantic colleagues stepping over his unconscious body. If they had given him a thought, they might have realized that things were out of control.
Doctors and therapists have developed different methods to temper the sanity factor that fluctuates along with the Standard & Poor’s 500. Peddlers of psychology have changed their strategy, offering macho coaching rather than touchy-feely therapy; goal-oriented counseling instead of long-term analysis. Executive coaching is, in essence, the triumphant marriage of positive thinking and management science over the bleak fifty-minute hour spent replaying infantile rage.
Wall Street has met an onslaught of gurus selling visions of stress-free techno-nirvana to make life in business more sane-or, with the right coach, more profitable. Psychology has collided with the bottom line. Now there’s a service to help you get your ego pumped up, while getting a leg up on the competition. It’s the advantage you can’t see because it’s all in the mind. And Wall Street has gone for it like a hot tender offer.
While most coaches do therapy not all therapists coach; the borderline between the two disciplines is difficult to discern. Therapists blush coyly when asked if they coach. Coaches squirm at the suggestion that coaching is merely therapy by other means. “The major difference between coaching and therapy is the extent to which the external problem is a legitimate part of the process,” reasons Dr. Sykes. But who’s to say which problems are more real-the ones that show up on the spread sheet, or the ones that don’t?
But a little therapy never hurt anyone. “People need psychotherapy more than ever before,” says DR. Mari Terzaghi, a prominent midtown analyst. “With the breakdown of the family, rampant drug abuse, the inhuman hours and levels of tension, therapy is not a frivolous benefit, it’s a necessity,” she laments.
While some executives have always snuck off to their exclusive Park Avenue shrinks, many still fear therapy is a sign of weakness, something that will come back to haunt them come promotion time-or downsizing time. “In corporate America, getting therapy may well be a black mark,” says Dr. John Guinan of the Wall Street Counseling Center. “Having emotional problems is believed to be an invitation to getting yourself on the next layoff list.” Just because you’re getting your head examined doesn’t mean you want to give your boss an excuse to lop it off.
Dr. Sandra Cohen sits comfortably in her brown, overstuffed leather chair, just to one side of a sprawling couch. It is covered by a dark throw reminiscent of the one in Freud’s Vienna office. The room is dimly lit, its floor hidden by a huge oriental rug, its walls covered by sculpted, dark mahogany bookshelves filled with ominous tomes. The pale blue standard edition of Freud’s collected works sits prominently behind her. A graduate of Harvard Medical School and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the bastion of the orthodox psychoanalytic method, Cohen is an affable woman with wavy, dirty-blond hair. Her manner is thoughtful and deliberate, her evenly paced speech quickening when making a point, often posed as a question. She wears a white blouse and a billowy gray skirt, an outfit whose determined understatedness seems to say, “Let nothing impede the pschoanalytic process.”
Cohen says her corporate patients engage her in a harrowing battle of wits, to decide whether she is smart enough to help them. “Being intelligent is almost everything, and there is a testing they put me through,” she explains. “The books help,” she says smiling, gesturing around at her library.
Most of Cohen’s patients are high-level executives, bankers, and lawyers whose jobs require they spend a great deal of time playing highly specialized roles. “People are very anxious about personal relationships because they are scares of any activity in which they’ll be revealed,” she says. She believes many who consistently work inhuman hours do so because they are reluctant to leave the safety and familiarity of the place that gives them their identity. Their martyrdom is more a sign of a fragile ego than an overflowing in box. “Nobody treats them as importantly when they’re in the office. They worry that maybe people won’t take their calls if they’re at home,” she explains.
Such highly motivated executives often were alienated as children because they were much smarter than everyone else, and spend the rest of their lives proving themselves to those who snubbed them. “Now they are going to have their revenge, they are going to make people love them and punish those who didn’t care,” says Dr. Cohen. “But they are often disappointed because they are surrounded by people as unable to express personal feelings as they are.”
The Gift Complex
The crash, insider trading, and the movie Wall Street combined to muddy the public’s image of finance as the haven of honorable men making only the good old-fashioned way. While most shrinks agree ethics is not an issue keeping financiers awake at night, the public’s less than sterling perception of them is an issue that comes up often in therapy. “I had some patients who were demoralized because they saw unethical people making more money than they were. It made them wonder what they were doingâ€¦ There was tremendous glee when people got caught,” says one therapist.
The hypercompetitive atmosphere of the Street after the crash has only exacerbated the tremendous paranoia within financial institutions. “The existing distrust between executives and managers has grown worse since the crash,” syas one shrink associated with a prominent investment house. “The paranoid side of the industry went wild because nobody would buy. Account executives don’t know what to sell because they can’t predict the market, and exposing their clients to undue risk is something they feel terrible about. They call less, they can’t understand hearing how much money they’ve lost. It’s a terrible cycle, and I help them break out of it,” he says.
Believe it or not, with the huge salaries hotshot investment bankers are drawing comes a modicum of guilt. Not enough to warrant full-scale treatment, or even its own official syndrome, but enough to take up a few sessions. “My patients love making $600,000, but they are absolutely guilty because they feel like they are wearing the emperor’s new clothes,” says one therapist. “Where does a thirty-two-year-old get off earning so much money because he knows a tiny niche of the auto industry? They know there’s something immoral about that.”
Women on the street are particularly vulnerable to the industry’s emotional fallout. High among post crash symptoms is what therapists call “identity crash.” Aside from the catastrophic financial loss people on Wall Street experienced in October, they suddenly realized how much their self-images were tied to their paychecks. “When people in finance look in the mirror,” muses one shrink, “all they see are columns with figures.”
One woman investment banker who lost her $175,000 job had a recurring nightmare that she had lost her wallet. In the dream, her therapist recounts, “the wallet was returned to her. But then she found that although her money was there, her credit cards and driver’s license were missing. She still had plenty of money but had completely lost her identity,” explains her therapist.
While professionally committed to uphold ethical neutrality for fifty-minute stints, Wall Street therapists often have a highly jaundiced view of their patients’ lives. “In many ways the crash was a non-event,” offered one downtown therapist, “it finally gave my patients something real to worry about.”
One particularly miserable investment banker found his sleep became fitful and filled with disturbing images. “He began having recurring dreams in which a stray deer was scurrying around the financial district carefully trying to make its way up the steps leading to a building [like the Federal Reserve],” recalls his shrink, a Park Avenue therapist. It turned out he had grown up in a rural area, with lots of open land where he used to hunt and fish with his father. “The deer, of coarse, was himself, and he felt like an organism very much out of his element in New York. He soon left,” he adds.
The Pleasure Principle
If Henry Kissinger is right that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, Wall Street is a virtual sexual cornucopia with indexes and futures replacing oysters and ginseng. Business is very sexual for people in finance, the surging excitement obliterating the possibility of intimacy. One patient who is married to a financial analyst says she feels degraded because when they have sex he compares it to making a huge deal. “To him money is very sexy, and when he is with his wife he talks about money, which is orgasmic to him,” says her midtown therapist. “Contrary to what she thinks, it is the biggest compliment he could pay her,” she adds.
Other shrinks believe many of their patients’ problems arise because those who work on Wall Street are programmed to extend skills that get them ahead on the trading floor to the rest of their lives. “People are dominated by a transactional mentality where colleagues are a means to an end, and you are only as good as your last deal,” says Dr. Bonnie Jacobson, director of the New York Institute for Psychological Change. “This exquisite need to control is really a fear of losing control and not knowing what might happen,” she explains.
Some therapists have developed entire jargon-filled vocabularies specially for their patients in finance. “I tell them they have to spend some control to earn more,” says Dr. Mari Terzaghi, whose practice is made up of many high-finance types. “It is like any other long-term investment, but investors in therapy have as much trouble thinking in the long term as investors in the market.”
Dr. Terzaghi describes a female broker’s attempt to wield in the bedroom the absolute control she has on the trading floor. She has two lovers and is always playing one off against the other. “That way she has all the power and neither one has a claim to her,” according to Terzaghi. But her desire for control goes further. “When she is with one of them and he has orgasm, she won’t allow herself to, and then she feels his penis dwindle in her, and the fantasy is that she now has the penis.”
Therapists report that patients often try to seduce therapists much in the same way they influence clients. A bizarre dance of offers and denials begins with one trying to win over the other, to secure his indebtedness and iradicate any feelings of inferiority. “They try to seduce you into wanting something from them, and then God help you if you want even a paper clip, anything,” says a prominent East Side analyst.
One therapist recalls a wealthy investment banker involved in mergers and acquisitions who spent a number of sessions talking about a big deal he was working on. In one session he got very specific, detailing the dates and prices a tender offer would be announced. When he came in the next week he asked the therapist how much he made on the information. The doctor replied in mock indignation that he had not made a cent. “I think it was his first acquaintance with someone who couldn’t exploit him. He was very disappointed because his sense of power came from being able to spread the wealth and have people owe him,” explained the therapist. “He probably thought I was crazy, but at least he knew I had his best interests in mind.”
The executive coach also has his client’s interests in mind, but he might appreciate the value of a good stock tip. He might even have a few of his own. The executive coach molds himself to his player’s needs and speaks the language of his game-be it the baseline or the bottom line. Coaching is about tuning and toning, taking a winner and making him even better. Executive coaches take their place in the growing self-improvement industry next to fitness counselors, stress-reduction instructors, and biofeedback experts. But executive coaching stands apart, and slightly above, other treatments-it’s the one coordinating the rest.
The first thing to know about executive coaching is that couches are for sitting-not lying-on. Also, coaches wear suits, never sweats. You don’t even have to go to them because they come to your office. Or your limo, your jet, your helicopter. When a coach takes a meeting, it’s usually “no go.” “The clients are playing the game,” says Doug Lind, “and your job is to watch and tell them when their backhand isn’t working. Would it make sense to coach a tennis player off the court?” Executive coaches might be in the only profession, apart from the oldest, still making house calls.
“When I walk into a client’s office, the first thing I ask them for is their watch, so I can tell what time it is,” lectures Lind, explaining his technique. “I ask them to go through their history identifying critical influences, people from whom they’ve learned, pivotal points in their career. I don’t want a resume; I want their life story.”
A coach is always playing catch-up. A jack-of-all-trades, he is taught the specifics of an industry by the client. What he’s selling isn’t expertise in any particular field, it is expertise as such. The coach is the executive’s executive, a visionary for a CEO whose bulb has temporarily dimmed. Like Socrates, he pleads ignorance, depending on the player to educate him, a pedagogic twist integral to coaching’s success. Unlike Socrates, coaches accept payment for their services. Lots of it.
Because he is a personal rather than a team coach, Lind looks out only for his player. This is not group therapy or an encounter session. It’s a workout, one-on-one. “Frequently, I won’t meet anyone else in the organization, so what I know of my client’s experiences is interpreted through his eyes and imagination only,” Lind says. He tells of being smuggled into board meetings incognito as a mere consultant, observing the other players, memorizing game plans, and analyzing dynamics. This gives the coach a better idea of what his player is up against, like scouting an opponent the week before a big game. If it sounds like corporate spying, it shouldn’t. Four out of five times, the company pays the coach. The perk of a company car pales in comparison.
“My job is to do what therapeutic training prepared me for, and that is to separate the wheat from the chaff,” Lind explains, using one of the theological references that pepper his speech. Not content just to help a player make a touchdown, the coach needs to know what his philosophy of football is. “I am looking for patterns so I can understand the way they approach life,” explains Lind, sounding more like Joseph Campbell than Joe Paterno. See the CEO, know the CEO, be the CEO.
At a time when most businessmen think of psychoanalysts as quacks, and therapists are only slightly less disreputable, coaches have had few problems gaining entrance to corporate America. When some people first come to coaching, they don’t want people to know,” says Lind. “But after a while they want to tell everybody in the world.”
Executive coaches pitch their services to the Monday-morning athlete who understands that even the best player benefits from a solid pat on the ass and a little encouragement. Forget resistance, transference, or that nasty Oedipal struggle-executive coaching helps eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. “Evening out the peaks and valleys,” in the words of coach Sykes. And please, executives are “players,” never “patients.”
Coaching is always a positive experience. “The underlying assumption is that the executive is not “ill,’ but a highly valued member of the company,” says Marilyn Puder-York, an experienced coach whose Battery Park City office is near her corporate clients. While players often see therapists in addition to their coaches, a coach is more likely involved in crisis-intervention than â€“prevention. Changing behavior rather than questioning its basis, coaches such as Puder-York see their role as “minimizing conflict between an executive’s personality, style, and talents, and the achievement of the company’s business plan.” While the separation between problems of life and work is sketchy, a coach must at least try to make a distinction. “If somebody is in the middle of a crisis at work, they don’t need you to tell them they have personal problems,” Puder-York explains.
Lind recalls how one client embroiled in corporate “guerrilla warfare” described him: “I was his trainer in his corner. I’d towel him off, throw some cold water over him, and suggest he use his left a bit more. Then the bell would ring, and he’d go back in and get beat up and bloodied, and come staggering back to me.”
A coach’s scope of expertise is, well, underdefined. Like aspirin, there doesn’t seem to be much they aren’t good for. In one case an executive coach acted as a backup for a headhunter. “They placed someone and were afraid it would be tough for him to be successful in that position so we coached him to ensure he would,” Lind explains. Other times coaches are hired guns for delivering bad news. The corporate equivalent of tough love. “I tell people things nobody else in the company will,” announces Lind with grim satisfaction.
Coaches also pitch in at strategy sessions. A client faced with a competitive challenge asked Lind for help: the chairman had given two division heads of a biotechnology company similar assignments, setting them up against each other to test their mettle. A promotion was ahead for the victor. Lind waxes militaristic when describing their maneuvers, lecturing like George C. Scott at the beginning of Patton. “It was a helluva scene, each of them trying to get the chairman’s attention, trying to squeeze the other guy out,” he recalls. “It took fourteen months, and my job was to coach my guy out of this morass. We would meet once a week and talk on the phone a few times a day. We communicated by computer so he could write me messages at three a.m.”
Finally, Lind’s player emerged victorious, was promoted to division president, and learned “how to expose the other guy by letting him hang himself.” “It was a matter of teaching him to bull-fight rather than bull-wrestle,” General Lind growls with a broad smile.
Like a sports coach, the executive coach has been there before and knows what the competition is like. He is often the only adviser you can trust. And he’s disposable too. “Any time the client wants to get rid of me, he just pushes a button and I’m gone,” admits Lind. “I’m another employee, but I bring objectivity and loyalty that full-time employees sometimes lack,” he adds.
Lind tells of the CEO of a major high-tech manufacturing company in the throes of a hostile takeover by a foreign competitor. He was a bundle of nerves, up late into the night for weeks on end, desperately trying to keep the company independent. The takeover was a personal affront, a challenge to his competence. Lind was coaching him when the company went into play, teaching him to be assertive rather than aggressive, “kicking butt to get him into the chairman’s office.” Now he had real problems.
“He used me to reality-test at the end of the day. At one or two in the morning, when all the investment bankers and lawyers had left, he’d call and say, “What am I going to do?'” Lind recalls. “We would go through strategies, review alternatives, anything to give him perspective.” Lind describes his role as being an “observing-organizing ego” that helped his client see the big picture. “We were one step back, watching tapes of the game,” coach Lind remembers. The company was eventually rescued by a white knight, but the coach was again needed to help the executive adjust to his new position.
One shouldn’t get the impression, however, that executive coaches are just therapists on a Sunday afternoon sporting romp. All TriSource coaches have some actual business experience. As Lind says, “A coach who doesn’t understand finance is in deep doo-doo.” While there is no established coaching literature, each coach has particular images and techniques to help the executive through. Lind waxes eloquent musing over magic images that send CEOs’ hearts aflutter. “I use the example of the way hawks find a jet stream; it’s called kettling,” Lind intones. “They fly in the shape of a kettle looking for the stream, and when they find it they ride for five or six hundred miles.”
Lind uses a string of visual metaphors to help executives understand their privileged positions. “The task of the CEO beyond all else is to see the whole pictureâ€¦ you stand in a place where you can see all of it, move it where it ought to go, and help the rest see what you see.”
And where is the coach during all this? Above the player, as the theological references might suggest? On the sidelines, following the sports metaphor? No, coaching is much too interactive for that. “I go stand next to him,” Lind says.
Perhaps the most innovative and subtle service the executive coach sells is a promise not to be too impressed by the client. “When you are dealing with a person who is very powerful and wealthy, it brings out all sorts of countertransference problems,” says Dr. Sykes, lapsing into the language of psychoanalysis. In therapy, the feelings of the therapist toward his patient must not affect the process. This is also true for the coach. “It is a special sort of person who doesn’t feel awed by power, and our clients need a person who doesn’t just become a yes man,” says Sykes resolutely. “We aren’t turned into head nodders.”
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