Executive coach: 'Finance is an amoral world, bordering on the immoral'
|June 21st, 2012, 08:56 PM||#1 (permalink)|
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Executive coach: 'Finance is an amoral world, bordering on the immoral'
A psychologist compares the 'twisted minds' of some executives to those of paedophiles he has tried to treat in the past
This blog suffers from an inevitable selection bias, as it can only feature those people in finance who agree to be interviewed. Hence, a second category of interviews with people who come into close contact with the kind of bankers who are unlikely to talk to me. Such as this elegantly dressed man in his early 40s. A psychologist by training, he has been working as an 'executive coach' for the past few years. He orders a coffee, then a glass of red wine.
"In two decades as a psychologist I have encountered perhaps half a dozen people in whom I could not detect at least something positive, if only a sliver. The psychopaths are a really rare breed. But they seduce the rest.
"I am sure your readers are familiar with psychological research comparing the personality traits of prison populations with those of successful managers. It found remarkable similarities; they are narcissistic, egocentric, manipulative The research has been replicated over at least 12 different populations and the findings are consistent. Criminals and CEOs are remarkably similar.
"We're moving slightly beyond my field of expertise but a question I often ask myself is: who are the owners of those major banks and corporations who figured out that if they want to make so much money, they need to get a psychopath in who will then turn the entire organisation into a ruthless money-making soul-destroying machine? That's pretty clever, isn't it? To find a psychopath to do that for you?
"In youth psychology there's a well-known phenomenon regarding collective self-harming. You have a shelter that's housing, say, 50 boys. All of a sudden and apparently out of nowhere, they all start mutilating themselves. A wave. It's only natural for outsiders to assume that something must be very wrong with that shelter. However, research and experience demonstrate that all you need to do is find the one person who started it. Isolate him from the group and lo and behold, the wave stops and everything goes back to normal.
"Individuals have very powerful influence over groups, and it makes you wonder about banks and financial firms; what if they were like the shelter, and you need to find that one switch, that one person, to turn a whole group around?
"I am an optimist, humans are good animals, we have a tendency to get distracted and be led astray. As for this financial crisis, well, it's only a crisis. That's right, psychologists consider a crisis as simply one point in a cycle of growth; it's when the patient is about to make a breakthrough, and evolve.
"This is what's intriguing about the current financial crisis so far Where are the thought leaders indicating the path to a new phase in our economic evolution? Who will augur in the growth moment from this crisis? I don't see new ideas coming to the fore.
"My clients are predominantly working in finance, aged somewhere between 32 and 47. They are the cum laude crowd who were always at the head of the pack. All of a sudden and to their astonishment, they find themselves being overtaken by less talented people; it's office politics and they don't know how to play it.
"Firms are pyramids, and a lot of talented people in their late 30s get shunted out. It's a typical bottleneck and my clients come to learn how to navigate it.
"Mid-30s is also when people are just before their mid-life crisis. They have more or less found out who they are, they can sort of see the limit of their potential, and it leads to disenchantment, disillusionment. 'I will not become the next Richard Branson', they realise. "At the same time they see that all good intentions aside, the world is tough place, and you need to be tough to survive and succeed. This is the age when you see people suddenly become serious. They have lost their innocence.
"My clients are from all over the world and they've come to London to fight. This is the top of the top, over here, and the fighting can be ruthless. My clients are the slightly more creative ones, not the standard pin stripe/porte manteau types.
"You asked me earlier what kind of animal the executive coach might be. Maybe it's a salmon, naturally inclined to swim upstream, against the current.
"I have worked in many areas of counselling, including at the very bottom of society; from illiterate heroin prostitutes to bankers. Differences? Bankers and others in the corporate world have extremely high intelligence. They think very much in transactional terms; how can this guy help me get what I want? My first consult is free, and when there's a click between us, I can see them smell a profit. They decide, if I pay this guy his fee, he will help me make much more money myself.
"They have little time so when I work with bankers I am less suggestive. I take charge of the process, lead them to where I think they should go.
"About a quarter of my clients are corporate but not finance. Is there a difference? They are all incredibly tough and everyone says their motivation is money. But when you drill down into what's driving people in the corporate world, other motives come to the surface. With people in finance, it really is money, I find.
"Finance is an amoral world, bordering on the immoral. Take the financial transaction tax. The idea: there is horrific poverty so let's levy a tiny tax and use it to alleviate that. But when I suggest to my clients this might be a good idea, I practically get lynched. No way, they say. They want to pay as little tax as possible, and that's it.
"As I said, amoral bordering on the immoral. Take the PPI mis-selling where essentially banks sold people insurance that was worthless. They get caught and the banks have to pay people their money back. Next thing you know, banks hire incredibly expensive 'consultants' to find ways to pay as little as possible.
"It's almost a perversion. The CEOs such as Fred Goodwin and Jamie Dimon and the like. They present themselves as to the outside world as posh and erudite and sophisticated; as supermen. But they are just like you and me, with similar needs and fears. We shouldn't fall for their spiel.
"What would shock readers most when they saw what I see? Let me think. How so many brilliant, arrogant, super-talented young people get abused, sucked dry, burned out and then tossed aside by corporations and banks. In the early days of capitalism it seems the game was to exploit the less gifted; miners, factory workers etc. Today it's about taking advantage of talent. People are used, then discarded. Especially these days with the crisis. Fear rules supreme. You can get fired any moment, five minutes and you're gone. Corporations fan out over universities making all these promises. But very few people make it to 'the boardroom'. That's the key concept for everyone, 'the boardroom'.
"One of the chief causes of stress is boredom. Now, those people on the trading floor, they may go through hours and hours with nothing to do. Another cause of stress is when the level of control you have over your own life is very low. Banks are managed very badly, in fact they are over-managed. Imagine you have lots of bosses and every week you're told to do your job differently. It can drive people nuts.
"For psychologists like me the world of finance is very interesting, if only in purely clinical terms. You're a CEO and you pay yourself £8m. Now, look at the kind of organisation you need to put in place in order to make that amount It's almost dirty.
"It gets more interesting still when your company has failed on a range of issues, and at the end of the year you still pay yourself those £8m. There's an outcry but you say: 'it's in my contract'. Now, take a step back, how has that £8m become so important to you that you can't even see why you shouldn't get them? Apparently your need for the money is so strong you stop registering the anger you provoke.
"Those CEOs and managing directors at banks with their millions They deserve our pity, really. They are the victims of their own twisted minds. And it will bring them down. Whether you are a paedophile or pervert or control freak or psychopath; sooner or later a twisted mind will turn on itself.
"For many years I worked with paedophiles. It is simply astonishing how vulpine, how cunning these people have become. The same with hard drug addicts; their brain seems to have taken on a life of its own, and developed into something so clever, so entirely focused on satisfying their needs. For those brains, lying and cheating become acceptable, normal even.
"When we treated them, or tried to, the key was to make them realise that they created victims, that people suffered because of them. One thing that struck me about this group of patients we'd call them 'clients' was how they seemed to derive immense pleasure from surreptitiously screwing people over, then getting away with it. At the same time they seemed to have a deep urge to get caught.
"The biggest misunderstanding about the people I work with? That they are going to solve this.
"The truth is, there is no system, there is no 'they'. There are just individuals."
Executive coach: 'Finance is an amoral world, bordering on the immoral' | Joris Luyendijk | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk