By Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn
After nearly 30 years of consulting to business executives, I became intrigued by the question: Do these business leaders represent any particular patterns of behavior? In an attempt to answer this question, I spent several months analyzing the data in 300 executive coaching cases. Three distinct patterns of behavior emerged with an almost astonishing clarity. Given their most distinct behavioral qualities, I originally named these leadership types Unusual, Unrequited, and Uninterested. Currently, these types are named Remarkable, Perilous,and Toxic (Wasylyshyn, 2008).
Since my executive coaching model is based on the integration of historical, psychological, and organization-based data, these files were rich with material to analyze. This analysis was based on the following:
In Stage 1, occurring between birth and age 1, the developmental task is the establishment of trust. When this stage has unfolded well, the child develops trust because physical and emotional needs have been met by caregivers. When it does not go well, a child mistrusts the likelihood that his/her needs will be satisfied, and this can have adverse implications for all relationships thereafter.
In Stage 2, occurring between ages 1 and 3, the developmental task is to begin to individuate and explore the world with comfortable feelings of independence. When this stage goes well, the child develops the will and the determination to exercise freedom of choiceeven in the face of others’ demands, resistance, and/or disagreement. When it does not, the person can flounder later in life and be prone toward feelings of shame and doubt.
In Stage 3, occurring between ages 3 and 5, the developmental task is to start taking initiative in pursuit of specific objectives. When this phase goes well, the child experiences a budding sense of purpose and feels encouraged to pursue certain goals. Things go awry for children who are punished for their independent strivings and feelings of guilt are internalized deeply. These feelings can have limiting effects later in life, especially in terms of one acting with courage and single-minded drive toward accomplishment.
In Stage 4, occurring between ages 6 and 11, the major developmental task is to recognize one’s brain power as a core and reliable tool for accomplishment. When this phase unfolds well, children develop cognitive competence and experience a growing confidence in the ability to complete tasks of their own choosing. If this stage does not go well, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy can take hold and sabotage the likelihood of a productive future.
In Stage 5, occurring between ages 12 and 18, the major developmental task is to form a strong sense of identity, i.e., a stable identity that reinforces certainty about the potential for a happy and fruitful life. When this phase unfolds badly, people are vulnerable for what Erikson termed an “identity crisis” that can be characterized by the inability to discover and pursue a meaningful career path and a variable sense of accountability to others.
In Stage 6, occurring between ages 18 and 35, the major developmental task is intimacy:
If things do not go well in this development stage, individuals can drift aimlessly, never finding work about which they are truly passionate, and become socially isolated or chronically lonely, given their failure to fuse themselves in love with another.
In Stage 7, occurring approximately between the ages of 35 and 55, the developmental challenge is generativity, i.e., finding ways to guide the next generation—to promote the development and well-being of others, and to feel the exhilaration of applying one’s knowledge and experiences in ways that are instructive and meaningful. If this does not occur, feelings of worthlessness and/or meaninglessness can fester and lead to an existential depression. Some individuals will use alcohol or other drugs to anesthetize themselves against this psychological pain, thus further isolating themselves from constructive steps forward.
Unable to rise to the challenges of this life stage, some can experience what Erikson termed “stagnation” or become narcissistically self-preoccupied. In short, a rewarding sense of generativity is the major predictor of one’s ability to be engaged in the world in caring and productive ways through the adult years.
In Stage 8, beginning approximately at age 55 and continuing until death, the development hurdle is about ego integrity, i.e., achieving an integrated sense of one’s self and life events and/or achievements. Can one reflect on his/her life with a sense satisfaction? Do feelings of peace and calm predominate? When dissatisfaction, hostility, and/or restlessness predominate, individuals can fall into a deep sense of despair, looking back on their lives with gnawing feelings of unrequitedness, anger, and frustration.
Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn, licensed psychologist and executive consultant, is the author of the newly released book “Behind the Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss and Your Career” (Springer). She is the founder of the Leadership Development Forum and teaches at the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University. Dr. Wasylyshyn has 25 years of experience consulting to C-level executives in international Fortune 500 and privately held companies. For more information on the book, visit http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Executive-Door-Unexpected-Managing/dp/1461403758/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325801949&sr=1-1