Trust Your Gut

Christina Grotheer

Jan-Feb 2005

Accolades, awards, and a big bonus might sound like the prescription for happiness, but they won’t be enough if you are doing the wrong job, says Maggie Craddock. She knows from whence she speaks. Craddock spent a decade as an investment professional, winning two Lipper awards in 1992, yet she wasn’t authentically fulfilled.

Seven years, some soul searching, and several years of therapeutic training later, Craddock has successfully combined her money management background with her bent toward helping people. Today, she works as an executive coach advising everyone from artists and musicians to research analysts and Fortune 500 CEOs through a mix of one-on-one and team coaching.

It wasn’t easy figuring out how to merge her background with her proclivities, but as she sees clients reap the rewards of finding their authentic self, she realizes that it was worth the risk. “Five years of work and research has gone into putting this process together,” Craddock explains. “I believe it’s helpful for people to know that they can actually think about the personal side and the professional side simultaneously. Being a professional isn’t just about what you do; being a professional is about who you are.”

Have you met any resistance to your book?

Now this one has shocked me. The Authentic Career has been tremendously well received. When I wrote this book, I was constantly being reminded by the publishing industry that people didn’t want to think this deeply or work this hard. People wanted to be entertained. They wouldn’t read something that was longer than 120 pages, and they wouldn’t actually do the exercises. In actuality, the publishers have been proven wrong.

I didn’t tell my senior executive clients that I had written a book because I thought it was too soft and the issues were too focused on internal development. And then I had a wonderful experience. I went to a senior executive off site where they had invited some of the most prestigious people in the firm. I’d worked with a lot of senior executives there, and because I’d written a book and I worked with people who were direct reports to the chairman, they put a copy in everybody’s chair.

Now this was one of the highest level audiences I’d spoken for. I’d had people call me up and say, ‘I run a restaurant’ or ‘I’m a mother going back to work. I was just browsing through the book store and I found your book. Thank you for writing it.’ But here I am in front of all of these really top producers and CEOs, and here’s my heartfelt book that I wrote for people who wouldn’t be able to afford to work with me one on one.

When I first stood up, I thought I was going to lose all credibility. I was thinking, ‘Thank God I work for more than one firm because we’re over here!’ I’d been asked to shorten my presentation to 45 minutes, so I launched in but kept my comments brief. And then the Q & A started. Two hours later, we finally broke. They asked me to speak again that evening, and we went on talking for a couple of hours after dinner. That’s when I realized there’s something universal about people needing to deal with some of these basic principles. People are actually hungry for this stuff if they’re exposed to it the right way.

How did you go from being an investment professional to an executive coach?

I started my career in 1987 at a firm called Alliance Capital. I began in the equity department and rapidly moved to fixed income, where we started one of the first global bond departments in the business. After I’d worked there for a while, I made a transition to become the lead portfolio manager for Scudder, Stevens & Clark for their short-term global bond fund. We ran probably the first mutual fund in the country to have options in its portfolio. In my tenure there, we got two Lipper Awards for the top performing bond currency fund in the nation out of a universe of 77 funds. That was fairly gratifying and we got a lot of press.

At Scudder, I was one of the first people to be on committees hiring behavioral consultants to help with the human side of things in the workplace. That was new turf in those days. As we all know, the financial services business was, for many years, largely task oriented. But I’d noticed that human factors were causing tremendous swings in profitability. If your mind is filled with concerns about your personal popularity, your bonus, how people are treating you, obviously your concentration isn’t there to be watching your positions as carefully or as creatively. It’s as simple as that.

I eventually made a transition from the buy side of the business to the sell side, where I became one of the first directors of consultant relations at Sanford Bernstein. To make a long story medium sized, I went to the other end of the spectrum and got a formal degree as a licensed therapist because I realized that a lot of family patterns play themselves out in the workplace. The way that people respond to authority figures, and whether they speak their minds or cave in, is often related to their relationships with whoever the dominant parent was in their family.

What exactly is an executive coach?

My definition of executive coaching is helping individuals take their professional performance to the next level by understanding how their personal background may be impacting the informal aspects of how they perform on the job. I’ve come out of the blocks and talked a lot about feelings in business, and I think it’s my track record as a successful investor that allows me to do this without being dismissed as somebody who’s a little too touchy feely.

That track record is probably the only reason that I’m in business today, because it gets me in the door and gives me credibility. When people talk to me, they realize that I understand how to deal with dynamics in a board of directors, or how to deal with investors or traders.

How is executive coaching different from therapy?

Coaching is experiential. It’s not just you sitting around and talking about your thoughts. We create situations in the workplace where people have the experience of being in a more productive dynamic. I’d like to give you an example I think is pretty powerful. I dealt with an individual who was fairly senior in the technology industry. He was sent to me by the CEO of his firm because he was a little nervous and a perfectionist, and this was causing a lot of problems with colleagues. This individual couldn’t deal with any kind of imperfection or mistake at all ? he would get all wound up and flustered and take everybody off track.

So it’s going to sound unorthodox, but one of the exercises I gave him one morning when he came in for coaching is I said, ‘Are you going to get a cup of coffee on the way to work?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ He was always impeccably dressed. Well, I said, ‘I’d like you to spill your cup of coffee down the leg of your khakis and go into work today, OK? And all day long I want you to work with the mistake. I want you to consciously deal with ignoring the fact that you have this huge stain on your pants leg. And I want you to deal with this with humor and professionalism, and be as focused on the job and as positive toward your colleagues as you can be.’

The exercise gave him the experience of working through a mistake without allowing himself to be obsessed with it, so the next time that he was in a presentation and something didn’t go perfectly, he was able to get beyond the mistake, stay positive, and stay on track.

Do you have any particularly dramatic examples of when a client’s suppressed impulses broke through unexpectedly?

Oh, all the time. I’ve done a fair amount of work with boards of directors, and I have seen people actually say very unprofessional or mean-spirited things, which impacted their professional reputation long term, because they were not taking the time they needed to keep that connectivity with themselves. They were pushing themselves too hard, and if you’re pushing yourself slavishly, you’re going to lose all patience with other people as well, right?

Now, on the virtuous side, a client of mine who worked in the equity division had made a move from being an equity portfolio manager into being the head of marketing for a large (________). She was with her new boss at one of their first presentations, and the chairman of the board of directors asked her new boss an investment question. He began to waffle ? he wasn’t really answering the question directly ? and she could see the business slipping away.

She said to me later, “You know, Maggie, I was in a civil war inside myself because I knew how to answer that question and my head was going, ‘Don’t say anything. You’re going to show up your new boss and you could really get off on the wrong foot with him.’ And my gut was like, ‘You know what’s good for this firm. You know what the right thing to do is. You know how to answer this guy’s question.’

She actually went with her gut because she’d been doing so much trusting herself work. She got up, stood next to her new boss at the podium, looked the chairman of the board in the eye, answered the question, and saved the account.

If you trust your gut and you go with your own best instincts and you’re wrong, then you’ve made a mistake. You’ll recover from that. But if you learn systematically not to trust your gut, you’ve abdicated your connectivity with yourself and then you don’t just have a mistake, you have an ongoing problem. Because then you don’t have access to your own best instincts about how to respond in a challenging and perhaps unexpected situation.

Can you provide some examples of how unmet personal needs can cause professional sabotage?

How many do you need? I worked with a gentleman who is the head of a corporate communications department for one of the big Wall Street firms. And when he came to me for coaching about four and a half years ago, he said, ‘I know you’ve got a good background in the industry, but I don’t want to do all that touchy feely stuff, OK? I’ve been in therapy for 10 years and I don’t need all the squishy stuff. I just need some help in terms of impacting people more powerfully.’

If he’d gotten me today, I probably would have looked at him and said ‘I might not be the right person for you. Try somebody else.’ But back then, I was still working on a lot of this, so I said ‘Well, OK, let’s talk through what you want to do.’ So we went through some conversations about how he was interacting with his team and his superiors. And basically the guy put people off because he was so breathless all the time and so urgent about saying what he needed to say that no one around him felt heard.

If we filmed the guy, we could get him to slow down when he had to give an official presentation but you can’t film somebody all the time. So eventually I got him to go through some of the questions that I ask in the personal tree of life exercise at the beginning of the book. And this guy turned out to be the middle of three brothers. His older brother had sold an Internet company at the right time and got the jet and the money. His younger brother was the black sheep of the family. My client’s the guy in the middle, desperate to be heard. He had gone into communications he was so desperate to be heard.

Well, when he began to realize the family system and how it had created this desperate urge in him to be heard and he knew what was going on, he was able to stop, take a breath, kick back, and he came across as much more effective. And that’s what’s so powerful about some of this ? that’s the connectivity.

How can investment professionals begin to get in touch with their internal beliefs, and why should they?

What I believe, and what I try to help all of my clients understand, is that if you don’t set some boundaries around your inner world so you have some time to reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re going to go racing through your life being who other people want you to be. And you will never really add the kind of value that you could for your organization. Instead, you’re actually going to suppress vital parts of yourself in the process, and I don’t believe that that’s sustainable long term.

We all need to perform in business in order to execute tasks along the way, but you’ve got to stop performing when the meeting’s over. If you don’t build some time into your life to have a strong amount of connectivity and relationship with yourself, even if you’re successful it’s going to be a hollow victory because you’ve had to abdicate huge pieces of your being along the way.

How ever busy you are, you have an inner life, and you will either deal with it or you will numb it out. You’ll numb it out through destructive habits like too many cigarettes or too many Twinkies. Or you’ll tune into it. You’ll play with your children or take a walk around the block. How ever you deal with it, you’re going to find a way to tune in or numb out, and most of us do a little bit of both.

How can money managers find the time to come up with creative investment ideas when they’re constantly pulled in so many different directions?

People who need to come up with creativity of any kind, be they investment professionals, writers, artists what have you, must discipline themselves to schedule unstructured time. Because a forced idea is never likely to be too original, is it? I think the inability to schedule unstructured time is a fear issue. It’s, ‘What will people think of me? There are not enough hours in a day. I have to keep running. I’ll never keep up.’

And in actuality, people have to be courageous enough to build a strategy for scheduling some unstructured time into their work responsibilities. I’m not just talking about going fishing on the weekends. I mean there’s got to be some unstructured time in the workplace. How are you going to have a noble or a visionary thought if you are constantly doing something? You can’t do it.

What is the impact on the bottom line of a negative workplace?

This is the segment of The Authentic Career that is most widely read by business professionals: analyzing the group energy or the emotional tone where people work. My ongoing argument is that if the group energy of your firm is one that is competitive and combative, it’s going to really shut down your connectivity with other people. And if the group energy is one where there’s a lot of fear-based decision making, blame, and mean-spirited gossip, it has tremendous implications for the bottom line. It’s really not a soft factor, when you look at how it impacts profitability.

Have you come across any cultural mores that make it hard to apply your techniques outside North America?

No. Many of my clients are in Asia and Europe, and they need it just as badly. This is tremendously helpful for people trying to deal with cultural differences because the values that are instilled in the family system in the eastern block and Europe, they’re different from the family values in middle America. And these impact people’s communication style and their priorities. It’s huge.

A lot of my clients from an Asian background have tremendous respect for hierarchy and authority. But, when they reach a certain level of seniority, they don’t understand the power and political currency that comes from being spontaneous. It’s very difficult for them to be spontaneous because they’re so respectful; they can’t lighten up. So they really have to be encouraged in individual coaching to take risks and think outside the box because they actually think it’s disrespectful to joke around.

In a group setting, how do you get people to talk openly and honestly about conflicts?

Often when I build programs around team coaching, the first thing I’ll do is talk to the head of the group. Then I’ll go in and talk to all of the individuals. We bring them in after we’ve created a comfort zone. They’ve got the sense of me; I’ve got the sense of them. And then my job is to go into some of these dynamics where people are stuck in terms of their ability to trust each other, or maybe there’s some intensity around a previous professional issue that didn’t go too well between a couple of people. And we create opportunities to repair that through them having a chance to support each other in a more positive way, because people are actually really good at forgetting and getting on with the positive side of things.

This is beyond just the personality testing and the Myers-Briggs stuff ? this is really talking through what it’s like day in and day out to work with each other. And they learn to foster each other’s careers and create the energy and the sense of loyalty that I think it takes to keep people connected in a very, very competitive time. Because there’s an emotional cost, a very high one, to being in a work environment where people are not treated with consistency and respect. [bio]

Executive coach Maggie Craddock has worked with clients at all levels of the professional spectrum and across many industries.Her first book, The Authentic Career, was published in 2004. It has since been embraced by a number of Wall Street firms.

Previously, Craddock worked for more than a decade in financial services.Between 1991 and 1995, she was a portfolio manager at Scudder, Stevens & Clark managing US$3 billion in short-term global assets.She received two 1992 Lipper Awards for top mutual fund performance. Subsequently, Craddock became a national director of consultant relations at Sanford C. Bernstein,representing the firm across all asset classes to major consultants and pension fund clients.

Craddock received an MSc in economics from the London School of Economics, specializing in capital markets. She also earned an MSW from New York University and is an Ackerman certified family therapist. Craddock holds a BA in economics from Smith College, is a licensed CSW, and has held Series 7 and 63 securities licenses.