ArticlePDF Available

The Deeper Work of Executive Development: Outgrowing Sensitivities

  • Kaiser Leadership Solutions

Abstract and Figures

Often overlooked in management theory and education, how leaders function in an intrapersonal sense - the "inner game" of leadership - is pivotal. We develop this idea in a specific application by describing how psychological wounds sensitize executives to be anxious about getting hurt again. These vigilant and unconscious concerns distort perceptions of organizational reality and lead to unnecessarily intense emotional reactions such as anger, fear, and panic. In turn, this kind of emotional perturbation can cloud judgment and hamper performance. We present a practical psychology of the inner world of distorted beliefs, anachronistic assumptions, and misplaced fears that often lurk beneath counterproductive behavior. Considerable attention is given to what management educators can do to work at this deeper level by helping leaders become aware of, manage, and, ultimately, outgrow being hypersensitive to failure, inadequacy, rejection, dependency, and the like.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Kaplan DeVries Inc.
The success of individual careers and the fate of
organizations are determined by how effectively
leaders behave. But enhancing performance isn’t
just a matter of behavior alone, despite all the talk
of behavior-based assessment, behavior modifica-
tion, or behavior-focused performance coaching.
What goes on under the surface of the behavior we
see is as fundamental to performance as a solid
foundation is to the structural integrity of a sky-
scraper. Yes, when it comes to performance, be-
havior is where the rubber meets the road. And
behavior is the product of perception, self-regula-
tion, and motivation. What leverage might we find
for enhancing the performance of managers by
delving into the underlying drivers of their
Mapping the Landscape
Hogan and Warrenfeltz (2003) have recently con-
ceptualized the field of management education
with their domain model, a taxonomy for classify-
ing the various skills that individual managers
can develop. The model defines the competencies
that educational activities can target in terms of
four broad categories: intrapersonal skills (regu-
lating one’s emotions, attitudes, and motivation);
interpersonal skills (building and maintaining re-
lationships); leadership skills (building a team
and guiding it in competition with rivals); and
business skills (planning, budgeting, coordinating,
and monitoring organizational activity). According
to Hogan and Warrenfeltz (2003), this ordering re-
flects a developmental hierarchy where intraper-
sonal skills are the hardest to develop and busi-
ness skills are the least difficult to learn.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 17
nual meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational
Psychology. These ideas have been influenced for the better by
two anonymous reviewers, Lynn Offermann, and our col-
leagues, Kerry Bunker, David DeVries, Rebecca Henson, Bob
Hogan, Denise Lyons, Sam Manoogian, Connie McArthur, Joel
Rothaizer, Amy Webb, and Randy White.
Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2006, Vol. 5, No. 4, 463–483.
The Deeper Work of
Executive Development
Often overlooked in management theory and education, how leaders function in an
intrapersonal sense—the “inner game” of leadership—is pivotal. We develop this idea in
a specific application by describing how psychological wounds sensitize executives to be
anxious about getting hurt again. These vigilant and unconscious concerns distort
perceptions of organizational reality and lead to unnecessarily intense emotional
reactions such as anger, fear, and panic. In turn, this kind of emotional perturbation can
cloud judgment and hamper performance. We present a practical psychology of the inner
world of distorted beliefs, anachronistic assumptions, and misplaced fears that often lurk
beneath counterproductive behavior. Considerable attention is given to what
management educators can do to work at this deeper level by helping leaders become
aware of, manage, and, ultimately, outgrow being hypersensitive to failure, inadequacy,
rejection, dependency, and the like.
We argue here for the utility of a deeper ap-
proach to management development by describing
an application we have created and refined over
the last decade in our work with senior leaders.
Before describing the theory and intervention
model, we locate this particular approach in the
broader field of management education.
Correspondence concerning this work may be directed to: Rob
Kaiser, Kaplan DeVries Inc., 1903 G Ashwood Court, Greens-
boro, NC 27455. E-mail may be sent to: rkaiser@
Furthermore, skills in each successive category
build on those found in the previous one: for in-
stance, self-control is needed to maintain effective
relationships; interpersonal skills are prerequisite
for effective leadership, and so on.
The Hogan and Warrenfeltz domain model helps
to organize the comprehensive lists of competen-
cies and skills such as those offered by Boyatzis
(1982), Lombardo and Eichinger (2000), and Whetten
and Cameron (2002; see Hogan & Kaiser, 2005, for
an integration of common competencies into this
framework). Another contribution is that this model
helps us to appreciate how development in one
domain is linked to development in deeper do-
mains (see Figure 1). Understanding the sequence
of development across the full spectrum of what is
required for success in a managerial role helps
redirect educational efforts when attempts to im-
prove business or leadership skills head-on aren’t
The Deeper Work
Most management development activities are
aimed at the domains nearer to the surface of this
model: leadership and, most often, technical busi-
ness skills (Burke & Day, 1986; Csoka, 1997; Porter &
McKibbins, 1988). Indeed, recent criticisms have
charged that contemporary business education is
too concerned with the principles and functions of
business and not concerned enough with helping
managers develop the skills to actually put those
principles into action (Mintzberg & Gosling, 2002;
Pfeffer & Fong, 2002). In particular, these critics
have pointed out the lack of education in the lead-
ership and interpersonal arenas. But even less
common are interventions that explicitly consider
the underlying drivers of managerial behavior
(Kaiser & DeVries, 2000). This approach hinges on
the assumption that growing as a manager re-
quires growing personally (Kaplan, 1990; Kaplan,
Drath, & Kofodimos, 1991; Kilburg, 2000; Lyons,
2002). In terms of the Hogan and Warrenfeltz (2003)
domain model, work on this deeper level is a mat-
ter of digging into the lowland of intrapersonal
skills, the province of one’s basic beliefs and as-
sumptions, as well as strategies for regulating
one’s impulses and emotional needs.
The potential leverage that intrapersonal skills
hold for improving interpersonal, leadership, and
business skills is suggested by how Salovey and
Mayer’s (1990) construct of emotional intelligence
has been appropriated by the leadership industry
and touted as a silver-bullet. In the same enthusi-
astic spirit, but with a measured tone, some newer
forms of management education are emphasizing
the development of intrapersonal skills. One nota-
ble example is the revolutionary program intro-
duced recently by Henry Mintzberg and col-
leagues, the International Master’s Program in
Practicing Management. The first module in the
curriculum concentrates on self-awareness and in-
trospection, what they call “developing the reflec-
tive mind-set.” The rationale is that self-knowl-
edge is the cornerstone of all insight
(Mintzberg, 2004).
The practical reason for addressing the intra-
personal domain in management development is
that improving performance involves not just ac-
quiring or modifying behaviors, but also contend-
ing with the skewed mental models, biased expec-
tations, and emotional overreactions that throw off
behavior in the first place. It is only practical to
work not only at a behavioral level but also at a
deeper level that is directly tied to behavior. And
because intrapersonal skills are harder to develop
(Hogan & Warrenfeltz, 2003) yet vastly consequen-
tial for the application of interpersonal, leader-
ship, and business skills, they may also provide a
competitive advantage, helping to differentiate
managers in the competition for senior leadership
jobs (Mintzberg & Gosling, 2002: 28). Further, edu-
cational institutions that excel in helping execu-
tives grow in this way may also realize certain
What follows is an elaboration of a model we’ve
been working on in action-research with our exec-
utive clients (see Kaplan & Kaiser, 2003a). Our in-
tent is to show how this approach might be of
benefit to management development professionals
such as business school faculty, program trainers,
and executive coaches. The model fits nicely in the
intrapersonal domain and, by way of example, il-
The Hogan and Warrenfeltz (2003) Domain Model
464 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
lustrates the utility of working at this deeper level.
The central idea is that many executives—like
most people—are sensitive to being psychologi-
cally hurt by a repeat experience of a painful event
from the past. This anxious disposition can distort
an executive’s perception of organizational reality
and cause unnecessarily intense emotional reac-
tions such as anger, fear, and panic. When the
individual’s intrapersonal skills for regulating this
kind of distress are underdeveloped, the result is
defensive behavior that is all too often misguided
and counterproductive. Our framework is a kind of
practical psychology that can shed light on the
internal causes of some of the more puzzling per-
formance problems among leaders.
A Grounded Model
The research that led up to this framework wasn’t
“theory oriented”—rather, it was “problem ori-
ented” (cf. Lawrence, 1992) in the sense that we
developed the model in helping our executive cli-
ents overcome personal barriers in their leader-
ship (see Kaplan et al., 1991, and Kaplan, 1998, for
a summary of the approach). In other words, the
model is grounded in the experience of executives
struggling to address longstanding performance
issues. We do not offer this model as a panacea for
all performance problems, but it does provide a
fresh approach to some familiar, vexing problems.
Also, we were not interested in the wholesale im-
port of existing theory to apply to managers. For
instance, many of the dynamics we discuss can be
understood in terms of modern psychoanalytic the-
ory (Bernstein & Warner, 1981), in much the same
manner as Gabriel and Griffiths (2002) use psycho-
analysis to describe how unconscious processes
often inhibit emotional learning in organizations.
Our experience, though, is that few executives,
particularly male executives, are open to tradi-
tional therapeutic interventions (cf. Addis & Ma-
halik, 2003). Moreover, the clinical practice of psy-
choanalysis requires specialized training and
expertise, which the majority of management edu-
cators lack.
Rather than turning to pop psychology or cross-
ing the boundaries of professional expertise, we
developed a practical psychology for a particular
class of developmental issues facing managers.
Although our theory is largely inductive, it is in-
formed by existing theory and research, especially
the literatures on stress and coping and adult de-
velopment. For those educators and trainers who
take a purely behavioral approach, our purpose is
to demonstrate the utility of also working on the
individual’s personal development. For those who
already work on both the outer and inner levels,
we offer a framework that is derived expressly
from the managerial population and so may be
more directly applicable to managers.
To help executives improve their performance, it is
useful to start with an explicit conceptualization of
performance. One useful point of view is to think of
executive performance as a matter of form (Kaplan
& Kaiser, 2003a), in the same sense that athletes
have form. When an athlete is “on,” the person is
said to be in top form. As articulated in the concept
of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), having top form
means being fully engaged with the task, where
mind and body are moving with little or no friction
against the outside world. The mechanics of put-
ting, or shooting a jump shot, or swimming a free-
style race are executed with smooth precision and
the individual is able to manage a delicate coor-
dination between the self and the unfolding events
on the course, court, or in the pool. There is a
dynamic integration between responding to the
presenting challenge as well as the internal state
of the self.
When form is “off,” things aren’t so smooth. Phys-
ical action is tense and abrupt. Concentration is
broken. The individual loses focus on external de-
mands and the execution of form and diverts at-
tention and energy to manage internal demands—
primarily self-protection. The person is liable to
panic, primed for “fight-or-flight.” And form be-
comes distorted, a crude approximation of what it
is supposed to be. The grip is too tight, the follow
through isn’t there, or the stroke is choppy. Csik-
szentmihalyi (1990) has found this distinction be-
tween high-level and poor performance to apply
across a range of athletic, intellectual, and artistic
This description of ineffective performance also
pertains in the executive suite. When an execu-
tive’s form is off, it is often a matter of going to the
extreme (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000; McCall,
1998). The tendency for intense, driven people to go
overboard is all too familiar. Consider the follow-
ing examples, couched in terms of dimensions
commonly found in competency models and skill
taxonomies (e.g., Boyatzis, 1982; Kaplan & Kaiser,
2003b; Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000; Whetten &
Cameron, 2002). Senior managers must have high
standards and hold people accountable but it is
not uncommon for some to cross over into abrasive-
ness. Just ask the people that work for them. To
empower is vital in running a portfolio of busi-
2006 465Kaiser and Kaplan
nesses or an entire enterprise, yet it is all too easy
for hands-off executives to trust and delegate to
the point of abdication. Strategic thinking is prob-
ably the most sought-after skill in top managers,
yet the strategic reach of some expansive vision-
aries can exceed the organization’s grasp—its ca-
pacity to execute. And nothing else counts unless
you can execute, yet it is so easy for executives
with a track record for getting things done as mid-
dle managers to get bogged down in operational
detail when they reach the top of the house.
Executives are also likely to go the other way—to
underdo things— despite how counterintuitive that
may seem when we think of them as bold, aggres-
sive people. But some senior managers have trou-
ble mustering the courage to address performance
issues with their team and deal with the problem
only when it becomes a crisis. Others have trouble
delegating authority and struggle with truly em-
powering their team. And some executives spend
almost no time tracking trends and contemplating
the implications for their strategic position, while
others get lost in the big picture and neglect the
managerial blocking and tackling needed for their
organization to execute.
Each example shows one of two basic types of
performance problems: overdoing and underdoing
(Kaplan & Kaiser, 2003b, c). In all cases, perfor-
mance of an otherwise valuable skill or competen-
cy—accountability, empowerment, strategic agil-
ity, driving for results—is distorted: Either the level
of performance falls well short or it is excessive.
This view of performance problems is important
because it helps us to define the developmental
agenda as a matter of pegging the elusive virtue
between the vices of deficiency and excess, by
either ramping up or toning down. It is also helpful
in setting up our proposed model for working at the
intrapersonal level by posing two questions: (1)
Why does the manager hold back in this area—
why the “inhibition?” Or, (2) Why does the man-
ager go overboard in that area—why the “compul-
If this is how an executive’s form is off, then what
throws it off? As with an athlete, it can be some-
thing as simple as fatigue or illness. Low on en-
ergy, it is harder to be sharp, one’s tolerance is
lower, one is more likely to overreact (Baumeister
& Heatherton, 1996). But beyond circumstantial fac-
tors, we have also found that an individual’s “bag-
gage” comes into play.
Lurking below the surface of poor form is—not
always, but more often than is commonly real-
ized—what we call a sensitivity (Kaplan & Kaiser,
2003a). In everyday conversation, sensitivities are
referred to as people’s “hot buttons” or “issues.”
More formally, we define a sensitivity as a set of
emotionally charged beliefs and expectations gen-
eralized from experience that serve to protect the
individual from repeating a painful injury—phys-
ical or psychological. They are products of the
adaptive learning system that functions as an in-
ternal alarm to warn us when danger is afoot
(Damasio, 1994).
These cognitive-affective-motivational networks
operate below the threshold of awareness in the
nonverbal experiential information-processing
system. This is a part of the human brain shared
with all vertebrates and is designed to automati-
cally interpret environmental cues through associ-
ations with content in memory (Epstein, 1990, 1994).
That is, sensitivities work by matching stimuli in
the present perceptual field with encodings from
the past without us being aware of this process.
Sensitivities create a vigilant disposition to anx-
iously expect, selectively perceive, and intensely
react to symbolic cues associated with a prior hurt.
They can also cause individuals to unconsciously
create emotionally charged episodes in an attempt
to replay historical events and resolve the under-
lying conflict.
Because this pattern takes place
outside of awareness, the person is apt to respond
with an habitual pattern of behaviors that elicit the
anxiously anticipated responses from others, thus
creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.
When an executive carries around a sensitivity,
it usually has roots in painful experiences in the
individual’s past.
These are events or episodes
We thank an anonymous reviewer for encouraging us to make
this point. This dynamic is known in psychoanalytic theory as a
“repetition compulsion.” Modern thinking about repetition com-
pulsions (e.g., Bernstein & Warner, 1981) holds that these cycli-
cal emotional states and associated behavior patterns were
originally adaptive when learned at an earlier stage of life (e.g.,
childhood), but in the context of the present stage (e.g., adult-
hood) they are usually self-defeating. They are continually
played out as an attempt to symbolically go back and master
the prior circumstances that resulted in injury with the hope
that this time they will prevail.
In our practice of executive development, we first observed this
phenomenon in relating assessment data on early life history to
present leadership and personal life data. There was almost
always a precipitating painful event, episode, or chronic situ-
ation that seemed to instill the sensitivity. But there are two
other theoretical ways one can develop a sensitivity. First,
through vicarious learning (Bandura, 1977): by observing some-
one else have the experience and making an association to
some aversive consequence and identifying in some way with
that individual. Second, there may be no painful or costly prior
experience, but the anticipation of an experience that could
466 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
from which the person came away feeling hurt or
inferior or incapable or unworthy or rejected. Fa-
miliar examples abound, from having one’s trust in
others grossly abused, to being rejected socially by
one’s peer group, to not doing well in school, to
being the unfortunate child of negligent or abusive
parents. Although experiences that leave lasting
effects classically occur in childhood, powerful
events in adulthood can have the same impact
(Janoff-Bulman, 1992). In effect, these experiences
injure “the body psychologic” to the point that the
wound remains sensitive to the touch years later.
The person is “once bitten, twice shy,” as the say-
ing goes. Overlaying the innate survival system is
a learned vigilance toward anything that even
vaguely suggests a particular harmful experience
might happen again. This creates a bias to detect
the early warning signs that predict a recurrence,
which sets us up to misinterpret a range of objec-
tively benign environmental cues as dangerous
(Ayduk et al., 2000). The survival value of this ten-
dency in our evolutionary history is obvious and,
although the threats we face in the modern world
are more psychological than physical, our neural
system is designed for survival in a physically
hostile world (Simeons, 1961). It is, ironically, the
very same mechanism that accounts for how ex-
quisitely adaptable we humans are.
Thus, sensitivities are automatically activated
by the features of situations that serve as symbolic
representations of past hurts. Once triggered, the
alarm is sounded and perceptions get further ex-
aggerated while self-protection takes priority. Ap-
praisals of situational demands and personal re-
sources to meet them get distorted (Janoff-Bulman,
1992; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). People’s sense of
what it will take to protect their well-being is over-
estimated, while their sense of what they can bring
to bear on the matter is underestimated. Thus the
definition of threat: When something of central im-
portance to a person such as physical safety, well-
being, self-concept, reputation, or a loved one is in
jeopardy and the demands of getting it out of
harm’s way are seen as exceeding one’s resources
to do so (Lazarus, 1991; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
When a person is psychologically threatened,
the physiological stress response is engaged. This
is an intense activation of the sympathetic nervous
system to prepare the body for “fight-or-flight”
(Benson, 1975; Cannon, 1932; see also Tomaka,
Blascovich, Kelsey, & Leitten, 1993). Motivational
urges for fight-or-flight manifest in reflexive, self-
protective behaviors that appear to observers as
odd and noteworthy. They have a rigid quality, and
the individual becomes distressed if he is blocked
from executing the sequence of behavior (Epstein,
1990). Self-protective actions following the “fight”
principle appear aggressive and undercontrolled;
those following the “flight” principle look like
avoidance and overcontrol. Whether the threat re-
sponse leads to either overdone (fight) or under-
done (flight) behavior depends on the individual’s
motivational regulatory focus (Higgins, 1997). A
promotion regulatory focus, where the preoccupa-
tion is with doing all that one can to prevail, pro-
duces compulsive “overdone/fight” behavior. A
prevention regulatory focus, where the emphasis
is on not provoking, or on otherwise steering clear
of harm’s way, engenders inhibited “underdone/
flight” behavior.
Figure 2 summarizes the major components of
how sensitivities produce distortions in manage-
rial behavior. It depicts the sequence of events that
follow the activation of a sensitivity, from exagger-
ated appraisals through emotional arousal and
motivation to the two types of distortions in form—
behaviors that are overdone and underdone.
Beneath counterproductive behaviors, many ex-
ecutives are sensitive one way or another—sensi-
tive in the sense of being quick to feel threatened
and react accordingly. If you buy the popular idea
of executives as supremely confident and capable
people, then the suggestion that many of them are
vulnerable to feeling threatened may be wildly
incongruous. The fact that sensitivities are not vis-
ible to the naked eye, however, doesn’t mean they
don’t exist. It merely points to how well we can
mask them (see Bunker, 1997).
Sensitivities and Performance Problems
It may be helpful to next consider examples of
specific types of sensitivities along with common
distortions in the form of “overdo” and “underdo”
that they cause. These examples are summarized
in Table 1. Note the following caveat: We do not
mean to suggest that underlying every perfor-
mance issue is a sensitivity. In many cases, inef-
fective performance can simply be a matter of a
lack of experience or skill in that area, poor orga-
nizational structure, or a person– organization mis-
fit. Nonetheless, sensitivities are often at play,
more often than the casual observer might expect.
cause significant psychological or physical loss may also func-
tion much like a sensitivity (see Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, on
vulnerability). The key feature both share with how we define a
sensitivity is the vigilant disposition to anticipate and defend
against an overwhelming attack on something central to one’s
identity— usually status, but also acceptance, ideology, or even
a loved one.
2006 467Kaiser and Kaplan
Sensitivity to Intellectual Inadequacy
A prime example of a sensitivity in executives is a
concern about their intelligence. It can be a feeling
of inferiority that stems from not graduating col-
lege or from attending a lesser school. It often has
to do with not having been a good student in ele-
mentary school or high school. Executives who fear
they are not really very smart often worry about
being “found out” (Clance, 1985).
If a senior manager were to doubt her intellec-
tual capability, what effect might that have on her
behavior? It can go either way: underestimate, un-
derdo and underestimate, overdo (Kaplan, 1999,
2002). Not feeling bright enough, some managers
shy away from or avoid altogether activities they
associate with intelligence. Often, they will avoid
serious efforts to acquire technical knowledge,
having concluded that they don’t have the smarts
to get it. Or they somehow never manage to get
around to systematic industry analysis and long-
term strategic planning. Or they fall curiously si-
lent in meetings, particularly with more senior
Conversely, some strain to contribute and prove
their intelligence—for example, by dominating
conversation and making it hard for others to get a
word in edgewise. Executives who feel inadequate
intellectually often believe they must work extra
hard to compensate. It is common for these senior
managers to overprepare for meetings and presen-
tations, painstakingly going over all of the mate-
rial to make sure they’ve got it all down. You’ll see
them tied to their notes, not allowing themselves to
be spontaneous, or not making room for audience
participation. They can also be abrasively impa-
tient with others. One senior person who didn’t
realize the extent of his intellect used to justify
coming down hard on others by saying, “I’m not
very bright and I get it. What’s the problem with
this person?”
Sensitivity to Being Weak
A standard implicit expectation for those who hold
senior jobs in a male-dominated leadership cul-
ture is that they be strong, dominant figures (Lord,
Sequence of How Sensitivities Throw Off the Performance of Leaders
468 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
Foti, & DeVader, 1984). At least some of the attrac-
tion to positions of power and authority in organi-
zations comes from a need for status. Often, but
certainly not always, such a need originates from a
desire to compensate for feelings of inferiority
(Adler, 1917). It is no surprise, then, that some ex-
ecutives are anxious to prove their strength. When
problems arise, they swoop in and take charge,
crowding out their staff. They can hog airtime in
meetings, making it a one-way flow of information
that holds others captive to a monologue. To mask
uncertainty, they can present themselves in an
overly confident way that comes across as sheer
arrogance. And sometimes they are so concerned
with “being right” that they’ll run roughshod over
others in an anxious effort to prove their point, no
matter how trivial it may be. To say this can be
intimidating is an understatement.
Going overboard in asserting oneself is but one
reaction to worrying about appearing weak: Oth-
ers include putting too little emphasis on enabling
others to be in a strong position and treating them
with less than due consideration. Executives wor-
ried about not measuring up personally may not
seek input on important decisions. And when oth-
ers take the initiative to serve up solutions or sug-
gestions, these managers can be nearly impossi-
ble to influence. They are also challenged in their
efforts to sit quietly and listen to someone else,
frequently giving in to the urge to interrupt a
speaker with their opinion or with a midstream
criticism of that person’s point. They can have trou-
ble stepping back to let a direct report learn by
working through a tough problem. And they are
frequently sparing with words of encouragement
and praise.
Sensitivity to Disapproval
Executives who are acutely concerned with being
liked often find it unbearably difficult to express
dissatisfaction and hold people accountable. They
equate being firm with being harsh and hold back
when an individual’s performance isn’t cutting it.
They’ll also procrastinate in removing a person
from the job, even when that person is clearly fail-
ing. Others with a fear of being rejected have a
hard time drawing boundaries around participa-
tion. Not wanting to offend, they’ll allow decisions
to stall while giving everyone ample opportunity to
weigh in. When a consensus isn’t forthcoming,
they have a hard time taking a stand and moving
forward. They can also have difficulty with influ-
encing. At the first sign of opposition, the tendency
is to cave in and avoid the conflict.
One executive we coached kept himself holed up
in his office and avoided walking the halls and
having informal conversations with his staff. He
feared forgetting someone’s name or what project
a person was working on and made the assump-
tion that this would be an inexcusable faux pas,
leaving the other person “totally deflated.” The
shame of it was that he was very well liked by his
staff and had a lot of interpersonal credit with
Common Types of Sensitivities and Associated Distortions in Performance
Sensitivity to ...
Impact on Performance
Underdo—do too little Overdo—do too much
Intellectual inadequacy Doesn’t contribute ideas in meetings Strains to prove self
Doesn’t trust own judgment Works extreme hours
Avoids technical learning Impatience with the pace of others
Avoids industry analysis and
strategic planning
Overprepares for meetings, presentations
Being/appearing weak Doesn’t delegate or empower Talks too much, a “know-it-all”
Doesn’t seek, listen to, or use input Taking over when problems arise
Doesn’t check own judgment Has to always be right, always win
Short on praise or encouragement Arrogance
Disapproval/rejection Doesn’t hold people accountable Indiscriminate with praise
Doesn’t express dissatisfaction Sugar-coats tough messages
Doesn’t stand his/her ground Too inclusive
Not visible Overreacts to constructive criticism
Depending on others Difficulty building a team Micromanages
Doesn’t delegate or seek help Tries to do it all him-/herself
Reluctant to partner with peers Parochial—to focused on own unit
Authority Avoids conflict with superiors Too aggressive with superiors
Ambivalent about own authority Unduly deferential
2006 469Kaiser and Kaplan
them. But as a result of sky-high expectations for
what it takes to be likable and his insecurity about
being able to meet those self-imposed standards,
he scared himself away from opportunities to reg-
ularly check the pulse of his unit and make a
personal connection to his staff.
A sensitivity to disapproval can also lead to
overdoing it. One example is when an individual
is indiscriminant with praise. Over time, these
kind words lose their currency. These managers
may also lose credit for their niceness, instead
being criticized for being soft or sugary-sweet.
Managers with an excessive concern about being
accepted also tend to take constructive feedback
personally, no matter how respectfully delivered. If
they don’t go into a tailspin, they might react de-
fensively, perhaps even with hostility toward their
“accuser.” They overgeneralize the feedback about
a specific instance and take it as an indictment
about them as a human being.
Sensitivity to Depending on Others
Managers who subscribe to the saying, “If you
want something done right, do it yourself,” run into
problems in senior roles that require building a
strong team. A history of being let down in some
significant way makes it hard for people to trust
others. An inability to delegate important tasks
leaves these managers spread thin. They find that
there just isn’t enough time to get everything done
and only get a fraction of their people’s potential
contribution. Or once they reluctantly hand over
responsibility, their tendency to check up con-
stantly on their direct reports’ progress becomes
maddening micromanagement.
Some suspicious executives have difficulty in
cross-functional collaborations because of the
worry about being let down by the other party.
They might let an issue escalate, preferring not to
ask for help lest the helper come back with a re-
quest for an even bigger favor of his own. Or con-
versely, they may be unwilling to make sacrifices
for other people, expecting the favor will go unre-
turned or unappreciated.
Sensitivity to Authority
Effective policy making and strategy formation re-
quires senior managers to take their seat at the
table and be a real player with their peers and
bosses. But some who have had painful experi-
ences with authoritarian or volatile parents can
have trouble engaging in dialogue and debate
with authority figures. In some cases, they are too
quick to defer, fearing dissent could get ugly. In
other cases, expecting resistance, they’ll attack
with counterpoints, bludgeoning the audience
with their position rather than simply offering an-
other perspective to factor into the discussion.
One executive grew up with limited means and
with a physically abusive father. The feedback we
gathered from the rest of the senior team indicated
a unanimous concern that he was strangely quiet
in team meetings. One person said, “I’d like [him]
to be more assertive, to call me on my assump-
tions, and challenge me to understand the needs of
[his business units]. I’ve grown up in a silo and
don’t have the perspective on his businesses. I
need him to educate me.” When we asked the cli-
ent questions to unpack the assumptions behind
his choosing not to point out how his colleagues’
ideas for running the company were shortsighted,
he said, “If I challenge them, they’ll skewer me.
They won’t fight fair. And if I take on [the CEO], I
might lose my job. I grew up poor . . . it’s something
I’d never want my family to have to go through.” In
the throws of an emotional hijacking of his other-
wise clear thinking, he was unable to accept that
his colleagues were asking him to push back and
challenge them. And he seemed to forget that his
personal financial situation was quite comfort-
able. But that is what happens to perception and
judgment when we are utterly captive to our great-
est fears.
Intrapersonal Skills as the Bedrock of
Hall has argued that career success in the modern
era hinges on two metacompetencies that he calls
adaptability and identity, which largely involve
self-awareness, emotional regulation, and the
ability to learn from mistakes (Briscoe & Hall, 1999;
Hall, 2002). These skills are thought to facilitate the
development of other competencies. Similarly,
Hogan and Warrenfeltz (2003) suggested that in-
trapersonal skill is the foundation on which man-
agement careers are built because how one man-
ages the self has implications for all other aspects
of managerial performance. Impoverished skill at
regulating the emotions and impulses from an ac-
tivated sensitivity can pose problems in interper-
sonal relationships, in fulfilling important leader-
ship roles, and in applying basic business skills.
The disruptive influence of unregulated feelings
of threat in relationships is transmitted through
behaviors that appear curious and idiosyncratic, if
not annoying, to coworkers. We often make an at-
tribution of malicious intent on the part of an ex-
ecutive who is, under the surface, trying to protect
himself. It is sadly ironic that the behavior we
470 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
experience as offensive so often originates from a
defensive posture in the actor.
The disruptive influence of unregulated
feelings of threat in relationships is
transmitted through behaviors that
appear curious and idiosyncratic, if not
annoying, to coworkers.
Sensitivities also account for one-sidedness or
a lack of versatility in a manager’s leadership
style. Executives who tend to be too forceful and
directive, for instance, also tend not to be as
participative or empowering as they need to.
Similarly, executives who shy away from strate-
gic responsibilities tend also to put too much
time and energy into the tactical and operational
aspects of their jobs. Since versatility on major
oppositions like these is integral to overall effec-
tiveness (Kaplan & Kaiser, 2003b, c; Dennison,
Hooijberg, & Quinn, 1995), failure to contain the
polarizing effects of a sensitivity can also limit a
And the effective application of basic business
skills like budgeting, monitoring, and coordinating
resources depends on clear judgment—when the
emotional perturbation kicked up by threat clouds
one’s thinking, this becomes difficult to achieve.
Again, sensitivities are often at the root of prob-
lematic behaviors that can undermine both an or-
ganization and a career.
[T]he effective application of basic
business skills like budgeting,
monitoring, and coordinating resources
depends on clear judgment—when the
emotional perturbation kicked up by
threat clouds one’s thinking, this
becomes difficult to achieve.
Without the requisite intrapersonal skills to reg-
ulate the effects sensitivities have on behavior,
motivation, and judgment, performance deficits
will show up in the interpersonal, leadership, and
business skill domains. Education and develop-
ment efforts to remedy these needs will be only
partially effective, at best, to the extent that they
neglect consideration of an individual’s function-
ing in the intrapersonal sphere.
The value of business schools and leadership
programs has come under question in recent years,
in large part because of a lack of evidence linking
career success with either holding an MBA degree
or graded performance in MBA programs (Pfeffer &
Fong, 2002). A persistent criticism is the near ex-
clusive focus of such curricula on functional busi-
ness knowledge to the neglect of deeper, harder to
develop competencies like leadership, interper-
sonal skills, and intrapersonal skills (Mintzberg &
Gosling, 2002; Porter & McKibbins, 1988). To the
extent that management development interven-
tions can enhance intrapersonal skills, they may
have a stronger positive impact on the careers of
the managers they educate. This raises a question:
“How do managers develop intrapersonal skills?”
Surely there are many ways to incorporate self-
development in business schools and leadership
programs. In the following, we describe one way
with strategies, tactics, and techniques that we
have found useful in our work helping executives
gain a measure of control over a sensitivity of one
kind or another.
All the greatest and most important prob-
lems of life are fundamentally insoluble ...
They can never be solved, but only
—C. G. Jung (quoted in Fritz, 1989).
In the following, we outline a process and set of
techniques for helping executives overcome the
limiting effects of a sensitivity. Our goal is to pro-
vide some general ideas for doing this kind of work
to management educators— business school fac-
ulty, leadership program trainers, and executive
coaches. Our intent is not to offer a cookbook set of
ingredients and procedures but rather to describe
the process we have developed and make refer-
ence to additional resources for further under-
standing and application. Table 2 includes exam-
ples of possible curriculum content to stimulate
ideas for how to implement this approach in the
classroom. The contents of this table are discussed
more fully below. Again, we do not regard this as a
fixed design; our hope is that educators will regard
this material as a starting point and adapt it ac-
cording to their expertise, resources, and setting.
The process we outline below has much in com-
mon with the themes identified by Pfeffer and Fong
(2002) that characterize innovative MBA programs
and new leadership development programs that
hold promise for making executive education more
relevant to the practice of management. First, it is
only applicable for experienced managers and ex-
2006 471Kaiser and Kaplan
Sample Content and Materials for a Curriculum to Address Sensitivities in Management Education
Developmental Track
Instructional Method
Lecture Reading assignment Writing assignments Group activities Facilitated activities
Track 1: Managing the
symptoms of a
Becoming aware of
the sensitivity
General orientation and
overview of
sensitivities theory
Kaplan & Kaiser (2003a)
chapter on
Journal entries about things
that “get under your skin”
and examples across
Small group discussion of
sensitivities, how they
operate, and visible
examples from daily
Kegan & Lahey’s (2001) “four
column”/competing commitments
exercise for identifying
Recognizing when
you are threatened
Cognitive, affective,
and physical aspects
of stress & coping
(Lazarus & Folkman,
Articles, chapters, or
websites on
Journal entries around
feelings and bodily
sensations associated
with overreacting
Role playing and practice
using biofeedback
Biofeedback demonstration and
Short-circuiting the
fight-or-flight reflex
Introduction and
overview to basic
stress management
techniques (e.g.,
applied relaxation,
deep breathing)
The Relaxation
Response (Benson,
1975); Learning to
Relax, cassette tape,
available from the
non-profit Institute
for Rational-Emotive
Identifying multiple coping
techniques for dealing
with different types of
distressing situations
Role play for channeling
tendencies into
appropriate outlets
Demonstration and training in
applied relaxation (Ost, 1987)
Managing energy Importance of
maintaining energy,
practical guides to a
healthy life-style
Loehr & Schwartz (2001)
Harvard Business
Review article on
ideal performance
Setting goals for diet, sleep,
and exercise and keeping
a log of performance
against those goals
Discussion and sharing
on building in
oscillation between
stress and renewal in
daily life (Loehr &
Schwartz, 2001)
Materials for teaching the Loehr &
Scwartz, (2001) energy
management program are
available from LGE Performance
Using others to keep
you in bounds
Research on social
support and help
seeking associated
with development
(Addis & Mahalik,
Generate a list of
individuals with potential
to be a confidant, deputy,
and/or advisor
Role playing the role of
confidant, deputy, and
advisor as well as the
role of help seeker
Track 2: Outgrowing a
Uncover basic
Theory of social
(Kegan, 1994),
overview of stress
and appraisal
(Lazarus & Folkman,
Chapters from In Over
Our Heads (Kegan,
1994) on how we
make meaning;
Albert Ellis’ A New
Guide to Rational
Living (Ellis &
Harper, 1975)
Journal entries about
situations that elicit
sensitivities—what of
personal significance is
at stake? What are the
demands and my
resources? How do I know
what is going on?
Discuss and role play
beliefs, expectations,
and assumptions that
are active during
distressing situations
Refer to learning from Kegan &
Lahey’s (2001) “four column”
exercise, distinguish assumptions
from facts
(table continues)
472 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
Conduct behavioral
Overview of systematic
(Seligman, 1993)
Write down expectations for
experiments: “If I do this,
then what negative
outcome do I expect?”
Role playing exercises to
practice with new
behavior and receive
Training and practice identifying
opportunities for low-risk
experiments with new behavior
Systematic reflection
on experience
How often do “if, then”
expectations prove true?
What are the boundary
conditions? What am I
learning by testing my
Discuss examples of
practicing new
behaviors in the
workplace and lessons
Explore values and
the self-concept
Selected chapters from
Ibbara’s (2003)
Working Identity
Listing “me” and “not me”
attributes and behaviors
along with counter-
attitudinal essays about
Group discussion of
“possible selves”
(Ibarra, 2003) and their
potential and risk
Training in the journaling technique
of “autobiographical self
awareness” (Torbert & Fisher, 1992)
Form a support
Overview of ground
rules and norms for
(Kegan & Lahey,
Chapters 4–7 in Kegan
and Lahey (2001)
Identify potential mentors
and teachers in the
Establish and enact a
“learning community”
with classmates
Notes: This table describes content and does not treat the question of sequence and ordering in curriculum design. Alternative instructional methods are presented for each
content theme to illustrate knowledge acquisition (lecture, reading), reflective processing (writing), and interactive/experiential practice (small group process, work shop). Note
that the content of Track Two is intended to supplement the iterative cycle of action and reflection discussed in the text.
2006 473Kaiser and Kaplan
ecutives because the work is grounded in their
direct experience. Further, it requires an iterative
cycle of action and reflection, which also must be
grounded in meaningful, real-world experiences.
Second, the focus is on changing how managers
think about business issues—in this case, how
they understand their own leadership and the
emotional drivers of their behavior. Finally, this
process involves a significant action component. It
is designed with constructive behavior change
foremost in mind and thus requires a great deal of
behavioral experimentation and practice on the
job. Rather than “make work,” executives can use
existing work situations and naturally occurring
performance episodes as a high fidelity training
ground, thus minimizing the transfer problem.
Ethical Concerns and Professional Boundaries
Before discussing intervention techniques, a few
words of caution and a discussion of professional
boundaries are in order. When we present this
approach to professional groups, the following
question comes up: “Is this training, consulting,
counseling, or therapy?” These questions are part
of a larger debate concerning lines of professional
demarcation initiated by the rising popularity of
executive coaching (Hart, Blattner, & Leipsic, 2001).
At present, there are no legal guidelines or stan-
dards of practice set forth by professional bodies
such as the American Psychological Association or
the Academy of Management that unequivocally
designate this type of executive development work
as exclusively in one domain or another (Kampa-
Kokesch & Anderson, 2001; Lowman, 1998). The pro-
cess we describe includes elements discussed by
some (Hart et al., 2001; Kilburg, 2000; Sperry, 1993)
as clearly in the consulting or coaching domain
(e.g., focus on current and future work perfor-
mance, linking awareness to action) as well as
some elements that verge into the therapeutic
realm (e.g., interest in past experiences, underly-
ing dynamics). The process also involves elements
common to both domains (e.g., voluntary participa-
tion, confidentiality, a collaborative client–service
provider relationship). As Kilburg (2000: 16 –17) sug-
gests in the context of executive coaching, the
lines of distinction are fuzzy, and effective execu-
tive development necessarily involves examina-
tion of emotional dynamics and prior experiences
(see also, Kampa & White, 2002). We agree with
Lowman (1998) who has argued that when it comes
to psychological consulting to managers, the ques-
tion is less about licensure and more about profes-
sional competence. Professional bodies tend to
agree: for instance, psychologists are bound by a
code of ethics governing their professional conduct
to practice only within their area of expertise
(American Psychological Association, 2002). Simi-
larly, the Academy of Management’s (2002) Code of
Ethical Conduct maintains that members shall
only accept assignments for which they have ap-
propriate expertise.
We offer the following considerations to those
who would engage in this approach to manage-
ment education and development. First, educators
and consultants need competence with psycholog-
ical principles including emotion, motivation, and
unconscious dynamics (see also Kilburg, 2000). We
strongly discourage professionals who lack this
kind of expertise from attempting this type of work
(see also, Lowman, 1998). However, such training
may be available through local psychology depart-
Second, responsiveness to the learner is a must.
Thus, participation in such a process must be
strictly voluntary and confidential. For instance, in
a business school setting, this type of process
should be elective, not mandatory. In a coaching
setting, there should be no mandate that the de-
tails be shared with the organization. Another form
of responsiveness is to be mindful of the function-
ing of the individual. This process is only intended
for well-functioning adults; it is inappropriate for
individuals who suffer pathology or are signifi-
cantly impaired. According to conventional crite-
ria, holding down a job, successfully attending
higher education, and so on suggests a lack of
pathology and a sufficient level of functioning (see
American Psychiatric Association, 1994: 32, for as-
sessing level of functioning and degree of impair-
ment). This is one way to distinguish between per-
sonal development and therapy.
Third, know your professional limits and the
boundaries on your expertise. And stay within
them. For instance, the learner should do the lion’s
share of making sense of introspection and reflec-
tion on historical life events. The educator’s role is
to provide a structure and facilitate a process; the
content is up to the learner. Avoid making diag-
noses or interpretations on the individual’s behalf.
Also, be prepared to make an outside referral if a
participant shows signs of significant distress
(e.g., intense and prolonged changes in mood, a
major change in personality, reckless or self-
destructive behaviors). To that end, it is wise to
have a prepared list of mental health professionals
in your area for making referrals.
No set of prescriptions can substitute for mea-
sured professional judgment. This type of work
requires true expertise; we urge readers contem-
plating this approach to stay within their knowl-
474 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
edge base or to seek additional training and edu-
cation where needed.
Setting the Stage
By the time education and development profes-
sionals begin working with an executive whose
performance is hampered by a sensitivity, many
habits of mind and behavior have been firmly es-
tablished. Indeed, we frequently hear from execu-
tives who receive a hefty amount of feedback de-
scribing their shortcomings something along the
lines of, “This isn’t new—I’ve heard this message
before.” What is most helpful to the individual at
this point is a more complex understanding of the
counterproductive behavior and a rich array of
strategies for change.
In determining whether a sensitivity is in fact the
culprit, it helps to have a comprehensive assess-
ment of the individual’s leadership in the context
of his life history. Data on early life, current per-
sonal life, and previous and current job perfor-
mance supplemented with a battery of psycholog-
ical assessments provide the unique pieces to the
puzzle. Jointly sifting through all of the data, one
can work with the manager inductively to build a
theory of the individual’s leadership strengths and
limitations as well as motivating factors (see
Kaplan, 1998). As the pieces are laid out, one
guides the manager through the dynamics of how
sensitivities play out so the individual can have
authorship in how the pieces are put together. This
step is crucial because the final picture has to feel
legitimate and make sense to the manager. This
can be a powerful reflective exercise. It is not un-
common for the individual to report being signifi-
cantly moved from this process of constructing a
view of leadership role performance problems as a
function of lifelong issues explicitly connected to
private fears and powerful unconscious needs for
self-protection as well as the unrealistic assump-
tions and expectations that come part and parcel
with these intense emotions.
The foregoing assessment model was borne out
of our consulting practice and may be difficult to
implement in traditional classroom models. How-
ever, we have two alternative suggestions: One is
to add assessment and sessions with feedback
deliverers to the curriculum design. Or to establish
relationships with university or organizational re-
sources such as counseling centers, psychology
departments, or even human resources. A less
elaborate alternative is to adopt a process known
as the “column exercise,” described in full detail
by Harvard psychologists, Robert Kegan and Lisa
Lahey (2001) in their book, How the Way We Talk
Can Change the Way We Work. The process can be
used with classroom-sized groups to facilitate in-
dividual learners through a self-discovery process
beginning with a frustrating work situation to
identifying how one is contributing to it and how
this is related to basic feelings of fear and urges
for self-protection. It typically reveals a heretofore-
unconscious set of fear-tinged beliefs, assump-
tions, and commitments akin to what we call a
Managing Expectations
Fresh from having their eyes opened to a new way
to understand issues they have struggled with,
executives who are characteristically action-
oriented often feel a pull to get to work on “solving
the problem.” It’s the educator’s responsibility to
calibrate expectations. For one, the work of out-
growing a sensitivity is a long-term process and
demands a different mentality than executives typ-
ically bring to the problem-solving table (Sperry,
1993). For another, there is a wide range of options
to promote such development. This can be sorted
out by helping the leaders develop action plans
tailored to their specific issues and preferred
learning styles, plans that run on two parallel
tracks, one for dealing with symptoms in the short-
term and another for the long-run proposition of
outgrowing the sensitivity altogether.
In setting up this kind of work, trainers, consult-
ants, and educators should also actively manage
expectations about seeing results. The work is
hard and requires a significant investment of time
and emotional energy to outgrow a deep psycho-
logical wound, if indeed it can be outgrown. The
literature on how people actually change addictive
behaviors and other powerful habits is clear: It
takes sustained effort over a long period of time.
Moreover, people cycle through the stages of
change, making substantial progress for a period,
then having a relapse, and cycling back to making
progress again and so on. People go through this
cycle several iterations before making a lasting
change, which then requires ongoing maintenance
(for a validated model of how people change, see
Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992). Under-
standing the implications of a commitment to this
kind of personal development is necessary to keep
developmental goals in perspective and persevere
through the inevitable setbacks and frustrations.
2006 475Kaiser and Kaplan
Track 1: Minimizing the Disruptive Effects of a
Although we suggested that outgrowing a sensi-
tivity is ultimately a long-term proposition, we find
it useful to approach development on two parallel
tracks: one concerns containing the counterproduc-
tive effects sensitivities have in the here-and-now,
and the other concerns personal transformation in
outgrowing the sensitivity over time. Developmen-
tal goals on the first track are focused on manag-
ing symptoms to minimize the disruptive impact of
sensitivities on day-to-day behavior. Learning to
do this includes becoming aware of one’s sensitiv-
ities, learning how to recognize their onset and
how to interrupt the sequence, managing one’s
energy level, and seeking the support of a col-
league. These steps build generic intrapersonal
skills in a way comparable to traditional stress
management training and the emerging soft-skills
training conducted under the emotional intelli-
gence banner (Cherniss & Adler, 2000).
Becoming Aware
According to constructive-developmental theory,
the basic grammar underlying adult development
is the movement from being utterly subject to
something to being able to take it as object (Kegan,
1994). When we are subject to a sensitivity and the
network of beliefs that grow up around it, we are
under its control. It has us. When we can take it as
object, though, it becomes something we have and
can therefore control in some measure. So the first
step on this developmental path is bringing the
unconscious fears, perceptual biases, and exag-
gerated response tendencies into awareness (see
Assessment section above).
When we are subject to a sensitivity and
the network of beliefs that grow up
around it, we are under its control. It has
us. When we can take it as object,
though, it becomes something we have
and can therefore control in some
It can be difficult to penetrate the wall of ratio-
nalizations and defenses that shelter a sensitivity
from awareness. It is painful to poke at a psycho-
logical wound. Further, seeing one’s vulnerability
can conflict with a self-image as capable and
strong (Bunker, 1997). Nevertheless the only way to
contain a sensitivity’s disruptive effects is to ac-
knowledge it.
Learning to Recognize the Signals
Emotions evolved in humans to serve an adaptive
function, namely, to prepare the body for action
appropriate to the interpretation of what is hap-
pening in the environment (Plutchnik, 1980). We
call them feelings precisely because we can sense
the physical vibrations and excitations various
emotions produce.
The emotions of fear and anxiety have charac-
teristic physiological correlates (Benson, 1975; To-
maka et al., 1993): increases in heart rate and vas-
cular resistance produce a dramatic increase in
blood pressure and bodily tension. Helping execu-
tives recognize these emotional signals enables
them to detect the onset of threat and the trigger-
ing of a sensitivity. It’s a matter of moving atten-
tion from the head to the body, of settling into
oneself. When executives learn to do this, they are
in a prime position to use their natural biofeed-
back loop to “catch themselves” before the fight-
or-flight response kicks in and engenders counter-
productive defensive behavior.
Learning to Short-Circuit the Fight-or-Flight
Learning to recognize when one is falling into the
sequence of experiencing threat and the motiva-
tional urges for fight-or-flight is a necessary pre-
cursor for bleeding off the tension that produces
exaggerated behavior responses. But now the
question becomes: “Once one senses the pattern is
set in motion, what to do?” One technique is simple
to employ—redirect the tension and urge to act
from something counterproductive to a benign ac-
tivity. For example, one executive had a habit of
interrupting people in meetings. She was com-
pelled to raise her concerns or objections sponta-
neously. After she learned to recognize when she
was about to fall into this habit, we worked with
giving her a behavioral alternative. Now she
writes her comments and objections to a speaker’s
message on paper instead of blurting them out. It
took practice to reroute this tendency, but she has
managed to minimize its occurrence. And to boot,
she has a written record of her thoughts and re-
sponses to refer to later—after having the chance
to reconsider if they really are worth mentioning
after all.
Another way to short-circuit anxious behavior is
to develop skill at calming the mind and body at
will. There are two approaches to this that have
476 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
been experimentally demonstrated to work (Selig-
man, 1993): applied relaxation and transcendental
meditation. Through repeated practice, people can
classically condition their bodies to calm down at
the sound of their internal voice saying “relax” or
some other phrase (see Ost, 1987). People can also
train themselves to substitute a “relaxation re-
sponse” for a threat response with the breathing
and passive mindfulness techniques employed in
centuries-old meditation rituals (see Benson, 1975).
Managing One’s Energy
Most people intuitively understand that it’s harder
to cope with demands in both the external and
internal environment when you are tired or ill. It
requires a real effort to catch oneself in the act of
falling prey to the threat response. Indeed, recent
theoretical and empirical work has demonstrated
the existence of a single, finite energy source re-
sponsible for the functioning of all physical and
psychical activities (Baumeister & Heatherton,
1996). When this energy source is low, people have
greater difficulty regulating their behavior and fall
into old habits and routines. So another thing ex-
ecutives dealing with a sensitivity can do is ac-
tively manage their energy levels. This includes
the things we know we ought to do: Maintain a
healthy and balanced diet with plenty of water, get
a good night of sleep, don’t overindulge with alco-
hol or smoke cigarettes, and make regular time for
aerobic exercise.
Another less known technique comes from Jim
Loehr, a sport psychologist who works with world-
class athletes on maintaining what he calls an
“ideal performance state” (Loehr & Schwartz, 2001).
There are two key components to his model of
energy management. First is what is called “oscil-
lation”—the rhythmic movement between energy
expenditure (stress) and energy renewal (recov-
ery). What Loehr has found is that the primary
enemy of high performance is not stress, but rather
the lack of a disciplined recovery regimen to punc-
tuate periods of stress. The second component in-
cludes rituals that promote oscilliation. These rit-
uals are regular sequences that need to be
established as a regimen. An example is always
taking a brief, uninterrupted break between meet-
ings rather than dash from one to another. Another
example is taking regular vacations, especially
following intense periods at work. As counterintui-
tive as it may seem, systematic use of downtime
can enhance one’s productivity.
Enlisting Help To Keep You in Bounds
The extent to which executives don’t take full ad-
vantage of the social support they have available
is surprising. So another thing we recommend to
executives working to curtail the effects of a sen-
sitivity is to enlist a confidant, deputy, or advisor.
Although we recommend reaching out for help on
the deeper, long-run developmental activities, a
helping relationship with a trustworthy colleague
can also provide invaluable assistance in contain-
ing the disruptive effects in the near term. Three
particular ways are keeping the individual fo-
cused on developmental issues with real-time
feedback, providing a source of advice or counsel,
and defining an open space in which to vent or
process distressing emotions.
There is a pragmatic basis for encouraging ex-
ecutives to share with a trusted coworker what
they are learning about themselves and working
on developmentally: It holds them accountable to
staying focused on the developmental agenda. The
psychology of public commitments is well docu-
mented: Telling other people you will do some-
thing dramatically ups the odds that you will in
fact do it (Cialdini, 2000). Noteworthy here is that
managers engaged in executive coaching who
share their development plans with coworkers are
more likely to show performance improvements
(Fulmer & Goldsmith, 2001).
Having someone in the workplace to turn to for
advice when one is struggling with an emotionally
charged issue is highly advantageous. Tapping into
that person’s experience, knowledge about the situ-
ation, and understanding of the particular issue can
broaden an individual’s view of the situation and
possible solutions. The colleague can also provide a
safe way to check one’s assumptions and see if one’s
assessment is out of alignment. The individual also
can authorize the confidant to provide real-time feed-
back when overreacting is detected.
A confidant also provides opportunities to blow off
emotional steam in a safe setting. The process of
giving voice to unsettling emotions and doomful ex-
pectations has an uncanny way of helping us to see
straighter about the reality of a situation. The mere
process of talking about something that is feared can
be relieving. After having been listened to, and lis-
tening to yourself speaking out loud, it is common to
experience a release of pent up tension and stress.
Track 2: Outgrowing the Sensitivity Altogether
In many ways, the goal of efforts in Track One is
damage control: preventing a sensitivity from get-
ting the best of you in daily life. The goal of Track
2006 477Kaiser and Kaplan
Two is to promote personal growth over the long
haul. Adult development and learning is fueled by
an iterative sequence of reflection and action
(Hogan & Warrenfeltz, 2003; Mintzberg, 2004). That
is, introspection into one’s experience provides in-
spiration for trying new ways of doings things,
while trying out new behaviors provides grist for
the mental mill to generate ways in which one
might approach things differently. Both action and
reflection are necessary; as Mintzberg (2004)
quipped, action without reflection is thoughtless
while reflection without action is passive.
Most adult learning is incremental—it’s a matter
of adding knowledge and facts that fit into one’s
existing mental models. Except for the self-aware-
ness component of identifying one’s sensitivities,
the content in Track One above largely requires
incremental learning. Transformational learning
is different altogether—it concerns changing fun-
damentally the nature of the mental model. Infor-
mational learning changes what we know; trans-
formational learning changes how we know
(Kegan & Lahey, 2001). And transformational learn-
ing is the key to outgrowing a sensitivity because
it promises to reconstitute the way a person con-
ceives, perceives, and experiences the self and the
world. This does not mean that outgrowing a sen-
sitivity requires people to radically alter their
identities. But achieving a developmental mile-
stone of this sort requires a character shift (Kaplan,
1990). Such a shift is not so much a revolution in
who one is, but an evolution significant enough to
be considered fundamental.
What follows are steps that build on the incre-
mental learning from the short-term, containment-
oriented techniques to facilitate the natural course
of adult development. Using these techniques
takes time, patience, and discipline. Counterpro-
ductive patterns established by a sensitivity are
powerfully resistant to change and become deeply
ingrained habits through years of repetition. This
doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make a trans-
formational shift, but it does mean that the resolve
to grow must be fierce. When approached with
discipline and steadfast commitment along with a
sense of humor and compassion for oneself, follow-
ing these guidelines can result in expanding the
complexity of one’s way of knowing and being in
the world, making one more adaptable to cope
with the exigencies of life and work.
Uncover Basic Beliefs and Assumptions
To get perspective on a sensitivity and hold it as
object requires an understanding of how it is set off
by how one makes sense of one’s circumstances.
People construct their understanding of the envi-
ronment by drawing upon the contents of their
mental models—the basic beliefs and tacit as-
sumptions they hold about the nature of the self,
other people, and the world (Kegan, 1994). To move
this kind of knowledge from subject to object, indi-
viduals can build from skill at using biofeedback
established to monitor for the fight-or-flight re-
sponse. Now they take this one step further by
noting the circumstantial contingencies that are
paired with the fearful feelings. The goal is for
learners to get a clearer sense of what it is about
how they interpret events that threatens them:
“What meaning do I make out of these situations
and how does this produce fear?”
As they get better at short-circuiting the fight-or-
flight response, learners can devote attention to
identifying the appraisals that immediately pre-
cede the shot of anxiety that comes with being
threatened. Here it is important to identify the
thoughts about what of personal significance is
thought to be at stake in the encounter, what was
assumed to be the demands for ensuring its secu-
rity, and what were the estimates of one’s ability to
meet those demands (see Lazarus & Folkman,
This exercise is designed to identify and unpack
tacit beliefs and operating assumptions that shape
appraisals and determine emotional experience
(Lazarus, 1991). The reason is that those assump-
tions will need to be carefully examined. Assump-
tions get you into trouble when you forget that they
are assumptions and instead take them to be facts.
The learning opportunity occurs when tacit beliefs
are recognized as assumptions rather than self-
evident truths; they then become open to disconfir-
mation. There’s no point testing the validity of
something one holds to be true. Learning to distin-
guish between facts and assumptions breaks the
seal of self-limiting ways of interpreting the envi-
ronment that contain a person.
Assumptions get you into trouble when
you forget that they are assumptions and
instead take them to be facts. The
learning opportunity occurs when tacit
beliefs are recognized as assumptions
rather than self-evident truths; they then
become open to disconfirmation.
The basic course of learning is to begin with a
fuzzy boundary around a principle and to slowly
establish a more precise definition through re-
peated experience and contemplation. Because the
478 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
beliefs associated with a sensitivity are acquired
under conditions of high arousal and fear, they
tend to be broad overgeneralizations (Epstein,
1990). And because they reside in the unconscious
experiential part of the mind and are vital to a
person’s sense of security, one is typically subject
to them. Thus, these beliefs and assumptions are
unlikely to have been formed under rational scru-
tiny. Being able to tamp down the excessive dis-
tress associated with threat, the individual is in a
strong place to begin exploring the validity of
these assumptions, articulate boundary condi-
tions, and make a more accommodating mental
Conduct Behavioral Experiments
Exploring revisions to one’s mental models opens
the door for trying out new behaviors. As individ-
uals grow somewhat more comfortable with being
in situations that have traditionally been threaten-
ing, they are ready to experiment with new ways of
acting. This includes freeing oneself from inhibi-
tions of not doing something because of a fear of
increasing the likelihood of harm (doing the under-
done) as well as holding back on compulsions that
were thought to be vital to overcoming the threat
(not doing the overdone).
This process is best taken one small step at a
time by capitalizing on naturally occurring, rela-
tively low-risk opportunities to try out new behav-
ior on the job. The purpose here is to test the net-
work of implicit beliefs and assumptions identified
in the previous exercise. Being able to recognize
assumptions for what they are, the person can seek
out disconfirming evidence. It is important to take
stock of when the expected negative consequences
don’t occur—and guard against rationalizing away
the reasons for disconfirmation.
By conducting increasingly more “risky” behav-
ioral experiments like these, the person is follow-
ing a proven method for overcoming fears and
phobias called systematic desensitization (Selig-
man, 1993). By doing the thing that fear preclud-
ed—and doing it not just once but consistently—
people gradually learn subtle nuances that
indicate when their fears are and are not war-
ranted. Phobias become self-sealing by depriving
the individual of the very experience that could
disprove the fearful assumption. Therefore it is no
small accomplishment to get over this barrier. The
way to reduce one’s fear is to do what one is afraid
of, safely.
It is naı¨ve to assume that all experiments will
prove the individual’s self-protective beliefs and
assumptions are wrong. That is why it is important
to conduct the initial experiments when the risk is
relatively low. As comfort with conducting them
grows and the mental models become more differ-
entiated, one is then ready to raise the stakes—
slowly and deliberately. This is another instance
of where the help of a coach, confidant, or learning
group in a classroom comes in handy.
Systematically Reflect on Experience
To capitalize on the potential learning from behav-
ioral experimentation, it is useful to take time to
think through the results. One technique for doing
this is to make regular entries in a journal. Writing
out one’s experience and observations is more
than a kind of exercise in discipline—it’s a way of
processing the lessons learned at a deeper level
(Mintzberg, 2004). When a person has to take the
time to articulate an idea or a lesson, the changes
to the mental model are strengthened.
Writing in a journal doesn’t have to be a big
deal—like writing a dissertation. It’s not intended
to be read by a critical audience. Actually, it is only
intended for the author. There is no imperative to
toil over grammar, structure, and composition ei-
ther. The habit of regularly structuring thoughts to
some minimum degree and writing or typing them
out is enough. We should emphasize this point: We
know of several cases where executives would
avoid using a journal out of a fear that they weren’t
good enough writers, that they didn’t have time to
“write the whole story” and so on.
There is evidence that journaling can in fact
facilitate transformational learning. A study of
MBA students who were trained in the journaling
and reflection method of “autobiographical self-
awareness” found that a significant proportion of
these adults made a developmental stage transi-
tion over the course of a year (Torbert & Fisher,
1992). Moreover, reflective exercises like journaling
are relatively easy to implement in both short
courses and longer programs. And executives typ-
ically don’t engage in these exercises on their own,
but do report finding high value in them when
instructed how to do so (Mintzberg, 2004).
Explore Values and the Self-Concept
Values and ideas about what “is me” and what “is
not me” derive from conclusions about what is the
subjectively right way to be (Ibarra, 2003). And be-
cause people are motivated to appear rational,
those things that a person finds threatening tend to
get devalued in the process of justifying behav-
ioral choices. Behavioral choices in the context of a
sensitivity owe themselves to one of two basic
2006 479Kaiser and Kaplan
motivational strategies for dealing with threat
(Higgins, 1997): the prevention regulatory focus
that causes avoidant, underdo behaviors and the
promotion regulatory focus that produce aggres-
sive, overdo behaviors.
As self-awareness of the emotional basis for pre-
ferred ways of behaving expands from following
the prior steps, executives have the opportunity to
cast their value structure in a new light (Lyons,
2002). Consider how values are expressed in one’s
leadership style. We routinely find that the leader-
ship style of an executive is often lopsided be-
cause the individual polarizes on fundamental du-
alities like forceful versus enabling leadership or
strategic versus operational leadership (Kaplan &
Kaiser, 2003c). The pattern is to overdo one side of
the equation and underdo the other. The overdone
side is highly valued by the person, a central way
in which he defines himself. The underdone side is
devalued, often viewed as a caricaturized version
of the vital organizational role that it is in reality,
and regarded as the antithesis of the individual’s
self-concept. If the person defines himself through
identification with the overdone side, he also de-
fines himself through dis-identification with the
underdone side. And through the process of justi-
fying one’s leadership behavior, values and be-
liefs about leadership in general get formed.
One way that growing as a person is central to
growing as a leader is by coming to recognize
when biases in implicit beliefs about leadership
spring from the same network of assumptions and
beliefs wrapped around a sensitivity. As execu-
tives gain greater perspective on this, they can
entertain the possibility that the need for protect-
ing themselves from threat has influenced their
beliefs about leadership more so than the reality of
organizational needs. This puts the person in a
prime position to reformulate their leadership
The effect of reforming the structure of one’s val-
ues is that it frees the individual to be more ver-
satile. Behaviors that were once out of the realm of
possibility become accessible (Lyons, 2002). And
behaviors that were taken to the extreme continue
to be seen as important, but the negative conse-
quences of their rigid intensity can be considered.
So the person can reallocate emotional invest-
ments in the way he understands how he leads,
manages, and relates to others. Another benefit
here is that roles that the individual heretofore
undervalued—and thus may be absent from the
team he has staffed— can be appreciated and
filled accordingly.
Form a Support System
Finally, some measure needs to be taken to pro-
vide social support for the individual’s ongoing
effort to bring about personal transformation. It is
all too easy to slip back into old habits, especially
in periods of chronic or intense pressure. Also, the
human mind has an innate mechanism for pushing
unresolved issues into the unconscious recesses.
Forming a network of other people to sustain the
effort can be most effective in keeping the devel-
opmental agenda on the radar. This is an exten-
sion of the reasons for enlisting a confidant dis-
cussed earlier.
A coaching relationship is one way to build so-
cial support. But the danger here is in becoming
dependent on the coach. The coach’s role is not
about giving the manager a fish, it is about teach-
ing him how to fish. Further, a formal coaching
relationship is time-bound. An additional, more
sustainable support system can be found in the
people with whom an individual works.
More sustainable forms of support can be found
inside the organization, with one’s coworkers. One
example is mentoring (Kram, 1985), which involves
a developmental relationship between a more ex-
perienced manager and a less experienced pro-
te´ge´. Mentors serve two roles, one of socioemo-
tional support through acceptance, counseling,
and encouraging the prote´ge´, and one of career
facilitation through providing challenging assign-
ments, sponsorship, and sharing insights and
skills. There is clear evidence that mentoring is
related to career and job satisfaction as well as an
enhanced sense of professional identity and com-
petence (Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004).
Mentoring programs are most effective when par-
ticipation is voluntary, mentors get to choose their
prote´ge´s, and role expectations are clarified at the
outset. Using this general technique in the present
context would involve explicitly identifying the
goals of personal growth and gaining some mea-
sure of control over one’s sensitivities. Obviously,
it would be advantageous for the mentor to have
had a similar experience with such an issue, either
personally or in a mentoring relationship with an-
other individual.
In the right environment and organizational con-
text, one can also engage with peers to form a
“learning community” (Kegan & Lahey, 2001). The
purpose of such a group is to create a holding
environment where people can jointly work on
their development. A peer learning community
needs to be a trustworthy and safe place where
individuals can share what issues they are grap-
pling with and what they are learning about them-
480 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
selves, and find support for the inevitable growing
pains that come with development. Challenge is
another essential ingredient. It takes a good col-
league to be able to feel both empathy for the
struggle and the comfort to keep you honest. In the
spirit of dialogue and continuing commitment to
development, these groups should meet on a reg-
ular basis.
Beyond supporting individual development, this
technique also holds promise for promoting devel-
opment at the team and organizational levels as
individuals come to understand each other more
completely and mutual trust and respect deepens.
We have seen powerful, unanticipated effects
among the teams we’ve helped set up these kinds
of peer learning communities. Outsiders report a
noticeable increase in collaboration, communica-
tion, and mutual support. They also recognize an
enhanced ability for constructive debate and
healthy conflict over key decisions. And over time,
as the individuals move up and out in their career
trajectories, they bring these deeply personal/pro-
fessional bonds with them. The result is that func-
tional boundaries become permeable and silos
erode, enhancing organizational effectiveness
through the relational conduit formed through the
shared process of peer learning.
At the root of many executive performance prob-
lems are sensitivities that dispose the individual
to feel threatened. Unless these motivational
sources of ineffectiveness are acknowledged and
the individual learns how to regulate them, signif-
icant and sustained performance improvements
are unlikely. The deeper work of executive devel-
opment requires becoming aware of one’s sensitiv-
ities and learning how to minimize their disruptive
influence. In the best case, through a variety of
means, relationships, and sustained effort, indi-
viduals may develop better intrapersonal skills
and even outgrow their sensitivity to attain a
greater peace within themselves that is reflected
in the actions we see as observers.
Looking over the course of a life that has made
such a journey can be like examining a cross-
section of an aged tree. In the rings representing
the earlier years of life we might find evidence of a
wound, a distortion in the rings where the tree was
cut. For several succeeding rings, the distortion
persists and is even amplified. But as we move our
eyes to the outer rings, we find that the years have
had a mellowing effect. The once prominent dis-
tortions have given way to a smoother form, one
that approximates a perfect, unbroken circle, save
for the slight asymmetry telling of the path the
gentle old perennial has traveled.
Academy of Management. 2002. Code of ethical conduct. Acad-
emy of Management Journal, 45: 291–295.
Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. 2003. Men, masculinity, and the
contexts of help seeking. American Psychologist, 58: 5–14.
Adler, A. 1917. Study of organ inferiority and its psychical com-
pensation. New York: Nervous and Mental Diseases Pub-
lishing Co.
Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., Poteet, M. L., Lentz, E., & Lima, L. 2004.
Career benefits associated with mentoring for prote´ge´s: A
meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89: 127–136.
American Psychological Association. 2002. Ethical principles of
psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist,
57: 1060 –1073.
American Psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic and Statis-
tical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Washington, DC:
Ayduk, O., Mendoza-Denton, R., Mischel, W., Downey, G., Peake,
P. K., & Rodriguez, M. 2000. Regulating the interpersonal
self: Strategic self-regulation for coping with rejection sen-
sitivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79:
776 –792.
Bandura, A. 1977. Social learning theory. New Jersey: Prentice
Baumeister, R. F., & Heatherton, T. F. 1996. Self-regulation fail-
ure: An overview. Psychological Inquiry, 7: 1–15.
Benson, H. 1975. The relaxation response. New York: Avon.
Bernstein, A. E., & Warner, G. M. 1981. An introduction to con-
temporary psychoanalysis. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson,
Boyatzis, R. E. 1982. The competent manager. New York: Wiley.
Briscoe, J. P., & Hall, D. T. 1999. Grooming and picking leaders
using competency frameworks: Do they work? Organiza-
tional Dynamics, 28: 37–52.
Bunker, K. A. 1997. The power of vulnerability in contemporary
leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and
Research, 49: 122–136.
Burke, M. J., & Day, R. R. 1986. A cumulative study of the effec-
tiveness of managerial training. Journal of Applied Psy-
chology, 71: 232–246.
Cannon, W. B. 1932. The wisdom of the body. New York: W. W.
Cherniss, C., & Adler, M. 2000. Promoting emotional intelligence
in organizations: Guidelines for practitioners. Alexandria,
VA: American Society for Training and Development.
Cialdini, R. B. 2000. Influence: Science and practice, 4
ed. New
York: Allyn & Bacon.
Clance P. R. 1985. The imposter phenomenon. Atlanta, GA:
Peachtree Publishers.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow. New York: Harper & Row.
Csoka, L. S. 1997. Bridging the leadership gap. New York: The
Conference Board.
Damasio, A. 1994. Descartes’ error. New York: Grossett-Putnam.
2006 481Kaiser and Kaplan
Dennison, D. R., Hooijberg, R., & Quinn, R. E. 1995. Paradox and
performance: Toward a theory of behavioral complexity in
managerial leadership. Organizational Science, 6: 524–540.
Ellis, A., & Harper, R. A. 1975. A new guide to rational living.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Epstein, S. 1990. Cognitive-experiential self-theory. In L.A. Per-
vin (Ed.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research:
165–192. New York: Guilford Press.
Epstein, S. 1994. Integration of the cognitive and the psychody-
namic unconscious. American Psychologist, 49: 709 –724.
Fritz, R. 1989. The path of least resistance. Columbine, NY: Faw-
Fulmer, R. M., & Goldsmith, M. 2001. The leadership investment.
New York: Amacom.
Gabriel, Y., & Griffiths, D. S. 2002. Emotion, learning and orga-
nizing. The Learning Organization, 9: 214 –221.
Hall, D. T. 2002. Careers in and out of organizations. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hart, V., Blattner, J., & Leipsic, S. 2001. Coaching versus therapy:
A perspective. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice &
Research, 53: 229 –237.
Higgins, E. T. 1997. Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psy-
chologist, 52: 1280 –1300.
Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. 2005. What we know about leadership.
Review of General Psychology, 9: 99 –112.
Hogan, R., & Warrenfeltz, R. 2003. Educating the modern man-
ager. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2:
74 – 84.
Ibarra, H. 2003. Working identity. Harvard Business School
Janoff-Bulman, R. 1992. Shattered assumptions. New York: Free
Kaiser, R. B., & DeVries, D. L. 2000. Leadership training. In W. E.
Craighead and C. B. Nemeroff (Eds.), The Corsini encyclo-
pedia of psychology and behavioral science, 3
ed. New
York: Wiley & Sons.
Kampa-Kokesch, S., & Anderson, M. Z. 2001. Executive coaching:
A comprehensive review of the literature. Consulting Psy-
chology Journal: Practice and Research, 53: 205–228.
Kampa, S., & White, R. P. 2002. The effectiveness of executive
coaching: What we know and what we still need to know. In
R. Lowman (Ed.), Handbook of organizational consulting
psychology: 139 –158. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Kaplan, R. E. 1990. Character change in executives as “re-form”
in the pursuit of self-worth. Journal of Applied Behavioral
Science, 26: 461– 481.
Kaplan, R. E. 1998. Getting at character: The simplicity on the
other side of complexity. In R. Jeanneret and R. Silzer (Eds.),
Individual assessment: The art and science of personal psy-
chological evaluation in an organizational setting. San
Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Kaplan, R. E. 1999. Internalizing strengths: An overlooked way of
overcoming weaknesses in managers. Greensboro, NC:
Center for Creative Leadership.
Kaplan, R. E. 2002. Know your strengths. Harvard Business Re-
view, 80: 20 –21.
Kaplan, R. E., Drath, W. H., & Kofodimos, J. R. 1991. Beyond
ambition: How driven managers can lead better and live
better. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kaplan, R. E., & Kaiser, R. B. 2003a. The turbulence within: How
sensitivities throw off performance in executives. In R. J.
Burke and C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Leading in turbulent times:
31–53. Oxford: Blackwell.
Kaplan, R. E., & Kaiser, R. B. 2003b. Developing versatile lead-
ership. MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4): 19 –26.
Kaplan, R. E., & Kaiser, R. B. 2003c. Rethinking a classic distinc-
tion in leadership: Implications for the assessment and the
development of executives. Consulting Psychology Journal:
Practice and Research, 55: 15–25.
Kegan, R. 1994. In over our heads: The mental demands of
modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. 2001. How the way we talk can change
the way we work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kilburg, R. R. 2000. Executive coaching. Washington, DC: Amer-
ican Psychological Association.
Kram, K. E. 1985. Mentoring at work. Glenview, IL: Scott, Fores-
man, and Co.
Lawrence, P. R. 1992. The challenge of problem-oriented re-
search. Journal of Management Inquiry, 1: 139 –142.
Lazarus, A. A. 1971. Behavior therapy and beyond. New York:
Lazarus, R. S. 1991. Emotion and adaptation. Oxford University
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. 1984. Stress, appraisal, and coping.
New York: Springer.
Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. 2001. The making of a corporate athlete.
Harvard Business Review, 79: 119 –128.
Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. 2000. The leadership ma-
chine. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.
Lord, R. G., Foti, R. J., & DeVader, C. L. 1984. A test of leadership
categorization theory: Internal structure, information pro-
cessing, and leadership perceptions. Organizational Be-
havior and Human Performance, 34: 343–378.
Lowman, R. L. 1998. The ethical practice of psychology in orga-
nizations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Asso-
Lyons, D. 2002. Freer to be me: The development of executives at
mid-life. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Re-
search, 54: 15–27.
McCall, M. W., Jr. 1998. High flyers. Boston, MA: Harvard Busi-
ness School Press.
Mintzberg, H. 2004. Managers not MBAs. San Francisco: Berrett-
Mintzberg, H., & Gosling, J. R. 2002. Reality programming for
MBAs. Strategy and Business, 26(1): 28 –31.
Ost, L. 1987. Applied relaxation: Description of a coping tech-
nique and review of controlled studies. Behavior Research
and Therapy: 397– 409.
Pfeffer, J. & Fong, C. T. 2002. The end of business schools? Less
success than meets the eye. Academy of Management:
Learning and Education, 1: 78 –96.
Plutchnik, R. 1980. Emotion: A psychoevolutionary synthesis.
New York: Harper & Row.
Porter, L. W., & McKibbin, L. E. 1988. Management education and
development. New York: McGraw-Hill.
482 DecemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education
Prochaska, J. O, DiClemente, C. C., & Norcross, J. C. 1992. In
search of how people change: Applications to addictive
behaviors. American Psychologist, 47: 1102–1114.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. 1990. Emotional intelligence. Imagi-
nation, Cognition and Personality, 9: 185–211.
Seligman, M. 1993. What you can change and what you can’t.
New York: Knopf.
Simeons, A. T. W. 1961. Man’s presumptive brain: An evolution-
ary interpretation of psychosomatic disease. New York: E. P.
Sousa, D. R. 1995. How the brain learns. Reston, VA: NASSP.
Sperry, L. 1993. Working with executives: Consulting, counsel-
ing, and coaching. Individual Psychology, 49: 257–266.
Tomaka, J., Blascovich, J., Kelsey, R. M., & Leitten, C. L 1993.
Subjective, physiological, and behavioral effects of threat
and challenge appraisal. Journal of Personality & Social
Psychology, 65: 248 –260.
Torbert, W., & Fisher, D. 1992. Autobiographical awareness as a
catalyst for managerial and organizational development.
Management Education and Development, 23: 184 –198.
Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. 2002. Developing management
skills, 5
ed. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman.
Rob Kaiser is a partner with
Kaplan DeVries Inc. He has
over 75 publications and pre-
sentations on leadership, per-
sonality, and development. Rob
also coaches individual man-
agers and their teams; his spe-
cialty is helping high potentials
prepare for the executive suite.
Rob received an MS in industri-
al/organizational psychology
from Illinois State University.
Bob Kaplan is the founding
partner of Kaplan DeVries Inc.,
a consulting firm specializing
in executive development for
individuals and teams. He has
worked with executives and
conducted pioneering research
on leadership development
since the early 1980s. Bob has a
PhD from Yale and is based in
New York City.
2006 483Kaiser and Kaplan
... Academics with higher "rejection sensitivity" will respond more negatively than others (Butler et al., 2007). Rejection sensitivity influences cognition, perception, self-regulation, emotion, motivation, and performance (Downey & Feldman, 1996;Kaiser & Kaplan, 2006;Pickett et al., 2004) and, due to the frequency of rejection in academia, the potential for developing rejection sensitivity is high (Day, 2011). Upon receiving a setback, 'rejection sensitive' academics may engage in higher social monitoring and scrutinise interactions with others to see if they will be rejected, try to manage others' impressions of them by avoiding discussions of rejections, cognitively enhance the value of journals in which they have published (Pickett et al., 2004), or rely on dysfunctional coping mechanisms. ...
Full-text available
Background Across the globe, there have been significant reforms to improve STEM education at all levels. A significant part of this has been teacher reform. While the responses and resilience of STEM teachers to educational reforms in secondary education have received significant attention, the responses and resilience of STEM teachers in higher education remains understudied. In higher education, educational reforms of academic roles have seen increasing numbers of STEM academics focussed on education. Responses of STEM academics to education reform of the academic role have some parallels with teacher resilience, but there are also potential misalignments within a culture which values and prioritises science disciplinary research. This study examined the responses of STEM academics in higher education to educational reform of the academic role using the theoretical construct of resilience and Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological model. This was a 2-year case study of 32 academics and senior educational leaders in higher education in STEM. Data collection included semi-structured interviews which were theme coded and inductively analysed. Results The responses and resilience of STEM academics focussed on education appeared to be dependent on interactions between individual disposition in the microsystem and influences of the exosystem and the external macrosystem. Five major themes emerged about the value and quality, scholarship and expertise, progress and mobility, status and identity and community and culture of STEM academics focussed on education. The exosystem was a significant unidirectional influence on STEM academics where judgements were made concerning academic performance, awards, and promotion. Responses of senior leaders in the exosystem were influenced by the macrosystem and culture of science. Academics focussed on research, rather than education were more valued and more likely to be both financially rewarded and promoted. Conclusion During this pressured decade, where COVID-19 has intensified stress, more attention on the direction and reciprocal relationships in the socio-ecological model of higher education is needed in order for educational reform in higher education STEM to be effective. Resilience of STEM academics to educational reform in higher education is a dynamic quality, and the capacity to “bounce back”, learn from challenges, and realise expectations of educational reform will depend on an understanding of resilience and support of Bronfenbrenner’s spheres of influence.
... There are a range of factors that are thought to facilitate vertical development to later stages such as Catalyst and Synergist that might strengthen developmental initiatives including executive coaching. Valuable avenues to realising later stages of vertical development are thought to include disorientating dilemmas (Manners & Durkin, 2000), heat experiences and colliding perspectives (Petrie, 2015), revisiting life stories (Petriglieri et al, 2011), comfort with interiority, complexity and intentionality (Pfaffenberger et al, 2011), integrating analytical, conceptual, emotional and spiritual development (Quatro et al, 2007), shadow resolution (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2006;Kilburg, 2004), integrating polarities (Sharma & Cook-Greuter, 2012), resolving the tension between espoused and lived values (Rooke & Torbert, 2005), and contemplative and reflective practices (Cook-Greuter, 1999). ...
... Paulhus and Williams (2002) reported that sometimes people show Dark Triad (Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy) criteria which are overlapping, but they have distinct constructs in nature. Studies suggested that the dark side of personality is developed based on flawed assumptions about one's self or personal interests to get along or ahead without considering the needs of other people (Elliot and Thrash, 2002;Hogan and Hogan, 2001;Hogan et al., 2010;Kaiser and Kaplan, 2006). Although these dark traits have short-time benefits, people suffer lots having negative impacts like disrupted relationships with others, corrupted judgments, etc. in the long run (Baumeister and Scher, 1988). ...
Full-text available
Three undesirable social traits (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism) collectively known as the‘Dark Triad’ have gained huge empirical attention during the past decades. The Dark Triad Dirty Dozen (DTDD) is a brief and psychometrically sound tool for assessing dark traits. In the present study, the psychometric properties of the DTDD-Bangla were assessed (n = 371) as there no information about its psychometric adequacy in the Bangladesh context. The item analysis results demonstrated that the DTDD-Bangla had good item discrimination indices in both CTT and IRT. The confirmatory factor analysis results supported the three factors first-order model in terms of model fits and items' factor loadings over the bi-factor model. Scale level analyses revealed that this scale and its subscales had good internal consistency reliabilities and composite reliability. The MGCFA supported scalar invariance between males and females. Overall, the DTDD-Bangla seems psychometrically sound measure to assess the dark traits and can be used in further researches in the Bangladesh context.
... The relationship between a willingness to share and be vulnerable with others and generating interpersonal trust is likely to be self-reinforcing and is more likely to develop over time than be present immediately. Kaiser and Kaplan (2006) argued that instructors engaged in emotionally grounded pedagogies should engage in establishing a "peer learning community" where students can become comfortable to work on their emotional and intellectual development over time. A peer learning community, according to the authors, needs to be a trustworthy and safe place where individuals can freely share about themselves and their vulnerabilities and find support so that individuals come to understand each other, and mutual trust deepens. ...
Full-text available
Can the philosophical foundations of spiritual practices inform management education pedagogy and in the long-run support emotional development and more ethical and responsible business practice? In this article, we introduce the essential aspects of three different spiritual traditions—Daoist inner work, Buddhist mindful reflexivity, and Quaker discernment—and lay out some foundations between these essential aspects and management education pedagogy. We offer examples of utilizing these concepts in teaching business ethics in order to offer a foundational discussion for future elaboration. Our experiences also illuminate that instructor preparation is a key ingredient if the kinds of teaching we advance are to gain traction and contribute to the repeated calls for pedagogical innovations that challenge dominant paradigms. We offer some concluding remarks, pathways for future research and indicate a list of resources that can support potential instructors.
... The relationship between a willingness to share and be vulnerable with others and generating interpersonal trust is likely to be self-reinforcing and is more likely to develop over time than be present immediately. Kaiser and Kaplan (2006) argued that instructors engaged in emotionally grounded pedagogies should engage in establishing a "peer learning community" where students can become comfortable to work on their emotional and intellectual development over time. A peer learning community, according to the authors, needs to be a trustworthy and safe place where individuals can freely share about themselves and their vulnerabilities and find support so that individuals come to understand each other, and mutual trust deepens. ...
Full-text available
Can the philosophical foundations of spiritual practices inform management education pedagogy and in the long-run support emotional development and more ethical and responsible business practice? In this paper, we introduce the essential aspects of three different spiritual traditions – Daoist inner work, Buddhist mindful reflexivity, and Quaker discernment - and lay out some foundations between these essential aspects and management education pedagogy. We offer examples of utilizing these essential aspects in teaching business ethics in order to offer a foundational discussion for future elaboration. Our experiences also illuminate that instructor preparation is a key ingredient if the kinds of teaching we advance are to gain traction and contribute to the repeated calls for pedagogical innovations that challenge dominant paradigms. We offer some concluding remarks, pathways for future research and indicate a list of resources that can support potential instructors
... Micromanagement is linked to controlling behaviors, including taking over work (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2006), limiting decision-making (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2003), restricting delegation (Austin & Larkey, 1992), and reducing autonomy (Smith, Hill, Wallace, Recendes, & Judge, 2017). In addition, we found abundant remarks about close monitoring behaviors, such as 'keeping close tabs' on subordinates (George & Zhou, 2001), 'looking over their shoulder' (Knight, 2015), and seeking multiple updates (Chambers, 2004). ...
Full-text available
The present chapter aims to expand the trait-based approach to psychopathy by distinguishing between potentially adaptive and maladaptive features of psychopathic personality in the workplace. Answering the calls for a facet-level approach to psychopathy, we hypothesized that fearless dominance and self-centered impulsivity would exhibit differential relations with organizationally important criteria. Moreover, we addressed suggestions to investigate moderating variables. To do so, we explored (mal)adaptive effects on job performance and extrinsic career success. To test our hypotheses, we conducted a multidimensional assessment of psychopathy and used a multisource business sample of 184 manager-superior dyads. Our results supported the differential relations of both factors: self-centered impulsivity had maladaptive effects on job performance, whereas fearless dominance possessed adaptive potential – but only under specific conditions, namely, high enterprising job characteristics or the combination of low self-centered impulsivity and high educational level. Further, fearless dominance was positively associated with extrinsic career success when educational level was high, indicating successful intelligence-based socialization into society. We discuss the results of our more nuanced approach to psychopathy by demonstrating that the (mal)adaptive effects of the different traits offer an intriguing new perspective for understanding job performance and career success.
Although organizations might know that expertise is important for their overall success, many individuals responsible for hiring and Human Resource Development (HRD) in organizations still struggle to clearly identify expertise in employees or volunteers. This chapter begins with an explanation of the term competence in relation to expertise in order for readers to compare that definition to definitions of expertise presented throughout this text. Defining competence also provides an entrance into an introduction to competency models that are useful for organizations’ attempts to identify expertise in their workforce. The next section of the chapter presents six measures designed to measure expertise across a variety of fields. These measures are: the Professional Expertise Scale (Johanna &van der Heijden, High Ability Studies, 11(1), 9–39, 2000); the Cochran-Weiss-Shanteau Index of Performance (Weiss & Shanteau, Human Factors, 45, 104–114, 2003); the Expertise Measurement (Mieg, High Ability Studies, 20, 91–115, 2009); the Generalized Expertise Measure (Germain, Development and preliminary validation of a psychometric measure of expertise: The Generalized Expertise Measure (GEM) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Barry University, Miami Shores, FL, 2006); the Employee Expertise Development Scale (Kim, Development of the Employee Expertise Development Scale (EEDS) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, 2015); and the Adaptive Expertise Inventory (Bohle Carbonell et al., European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25, 167–180, 2016). Methods such as these can help improve organizational understanding of the behavioral and attitudinal correlates of verifiable, objective and subjective expertise, and the management of employees’ expertise. As such, the chapter concludes by asking organizations to consider taking up methods for assessing expertise.
Why do great companies and other organizations fail, sometimes abruptly? Why do admired leaders fall from their organizational pedestals? Why do young and promising managers derail? Why do organizations create and reinforce rules that manifestly damage both them and those that they employ, serve and sustain? Leadership is a much-discussed but ill-defined idea in business and management circles. Analysing and understanding the skills and behaviours exhibited in leadership practice, leaders exhibit paradoxical activities that challenge our understanding of organizations. In this text, the authors identify leadership behaviours that compete toward business equilibrium: selfish versus selfless, distance versus proximity, consistency versus individuality, enforcing professional standards versus flexibility, and control versus autonomy. These paradoxical dilemmas require a reflexive and analytical approach to a subject that is tricky to define. The book explores the paradoxes of power and leadership not as a panacea for solving organizational problems but as a lens through which leadership and power are seen as an exercise in dynamic balance. Read this book as an invitation to the paradoxes of power and leadership that frame organizational life today. Be prepared to find surprises – and some counterintuitive arguments. Providing a thought-provoking guide to the traits and skills that will help readers to understand and navigate paradoxical leadership behaviour, this reflexive book will be useful reading for students and scholars of business, management and psychology globally.
This article describes a study of 8 senior executives who participated in a rigorous executive development process that includes 360-degree feedback from colleagues and family members. The study aimed to shed light on this practice of executive development by conducting an in-depth examination of the clients' experience of the process. In addition, the study assessed the degree to which these executives showed evidence of individuation, which is the developmental task that Jung associated with mid-life. Personal interviews and the Thematic Apperception Test were the primary methods used for data collection. Findings related to gender differences are reported in the article. The study suggested that executives have the potential to benefit, personally and professionally, from participation in this kind of development, at least as they see it. Implications for practice are discussed.
This article reports a study of current perceptions among professionals regarding therapy and coaching. Whereas therapy and counseling have been traditional fields of study and practice, coaching is not as well developed. It is helpful to examine the perceptions of practicing professionals in order to delineate the distinctions and overlaps in these modalities. A set of 7 questions was used to explore these viewpoints with a participant pool of professional coaches--therapists. Interview data and narrative summaries provide a perspective on the controversy of coaching versus therapy.
Discusses ambiguity, change, and uncertainty as the emerging constants in contemporary organizations. Downsizing, reengineering, merging, and restructuring appear to be givens for the foreseeable future. The old psychological agreement, founded on the exchange of hard work and loyalty for lifetime employment, has been repeatedly violated and probably permanently undermined. Although these sweeping changes may represent necessary adjustments to a more competitive world, they also combine to have dramatic impact and fallout relative to the human and emotional well-being of the system, and thereby on the bottom-line performance of the organization. It is noted that providing successful leadership in such an environment increasingly demands that executives have the ability to (1) understand the complex and varied impact that transition has on people and (2) provide credible and authentic leadership that will facilitate the healing and revitalization process. It is concluded that the capacity to assess and accept one's own emotional response and personal vulnerability, coupled with the ability and willingness to model healthy coping behaviors, can serve as powerful leadership tools that greatly enhance the recovery effort.
The structure of anything refers to its fundamental parts and how those individual elements function in relation to each other and in relation to the whole. Once a structure exists, energy moves through that structure by the path of least resistance. Energy moves where it is easiest for it to go. Every structure contains within it the inclination toward movement, that is, a tendency to change from one state into another state. But some structures tend to move, whereas others tend to remain stationary. The structures that tend to remain stationary consist of the elements that hold each other in check. The structures in some people's lives lead to oscillation. Oscillation can be slow or quick. To attempt a psychological solution to a structural phenomenon does nothing to change the underlying structure. One can learn to recognize the structures at play in life and change them so that he can create what he wants to create.
Just as they can fail to recognize their weaknesses, leaders sometimes underrate their strengths-and everyone pays the price. Positive feedback can help bring executives' perceptions in line with reality.
Award-winning brain research expert David A. Sousa explains current research on how the brain learns language and provides strategies for teaching English language learners.