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To Get Ahead, Understand What Makes Biz Minds Tick

Published: December 16, 2011 Full Article


Want results from people? Get inside their heads. How to figure out what makes them tick:

Change the approach

When a newly hired chief financial officer wasn’t clicking with the CEO, executive coach Christine Comaford was called in to help. Talk about a communication gap. “That CEO wasn’t even hearing what the CFO was saying,” she told IBD.

Instead of stewing that the chief didn’t get him, the finance man needed to understand the top dog’s mindset. “How can we step out of who we are and into who they are?” Comaford said.

Find the upside. “Usually we think that narcissists are always bad.” So says Albrecht Enders, a professor at IMD, a Swiss business school. Turns out a self-important personality can be an asset for firms facing change.

“Narcissists think they can create the future,” Enders said.

Along with colleagues at Penn State and Erlangen-Nuremberg universities, Enders studied 78 leaders of U.S. pharmaceutical firms. The most daring were driven by their own interests.

Mine their talents. Is radical restructuring necessary to boost business? Egomaniacs may be uniquely suited for the task. “They are less empathetic,” Enders said.

Observe the caveat. “We’re not saying narcissism is a recipe for success,” Enders said. An ego-inflated CEO is good only if he knows where he’s going. Some don’t.

Try reverse psychology. When an employee’s hard drive crashed, losing six months of work, SIB Development & Consulting CEO Dan Schneider didn’t rant or scream.

Instead, he sprang for treats for his staffers, who do expense accounting and find fixed-cost reductions for clients.

Schneider says the ice cream break brought his employees together and elevated their spirits.

The team recovered the hard drive, and a company tradition was born — impromptu parties for those who err. “Things are always going to go wrong. It’s not the end of the world,” Schneider said. “I want a PMA — positive mental attitude — type of environment.”

Draw them out. Schneider is so interested in employee input on his leadership — the good, bad and ugly — he tells hesitant workers to create anonymous email accounts to broach touchy subjects.

Dangle that carrot. To boost employee retention, Schneider writes a $50,000 check for each new hire, and postdates it for five years after the employee’s first day.

“Everyone’s check is hanging up in the office,” he said. “It gives them something to look forward to.”