The business end of psychotherapy

April 10, 1992|By Ellen Forman | Ellen Forman,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Morris Shechtman used to be a psychotherapist. For $100 an hour, he told people how their childhood was screwing up their lives.

Now Morris Shechtman is called a corporate change consultant. For $2,500 and more per day, he tells CEOs how their childhoods are screwing up their companies, how they bring their dysfunctional family patterns into the workplace, where they don't belong.

"What people do is reproduce the familiar, without a knowledge of what they haven't resolved," he says.

"The essential definition of neurotic behavior is behavior that's no longer in context. The workplace is replete with that."

And it isn't just CEOs. A worker may have learned to deal with constantly screaming parents by tuning them out, but she can't do that to the boss and expect to keep her job.

Every generation, Mr. Shechtman says, has its own set of neurotic patterns.

Start at the top. The typical CEO is a white male, probably older than 50. Like many in his generation, he is in constant search of the approval he never got from his remote father, who perceived his role as breadwinner, not nurturer.

"That's about 90 percent of the guys my age," says Mr. Shechtman, 49. "They're desperate for attention from other men, just to say, 'You're a nice guy.' "

This boss chooses a shrew for a secretary and a wimp for a second in command. The shrew is Mom -- always demanding, never accommodating. The second in command? That's Dad.

"He would be on unfamiliar turf with an easy-to-deal-with secretary and a competent second in command," Mr. Shechtman says.

Mr. Shechtman doesn't let women CEOs off the hook, either. Many women, particularly older women, have been conditioned to serve as caretakers and allow themselves to succeed only if they're propping up a man in their personal relationship. The reason: They were taught early to fulfill themselves as caretakers first and everything else second.

Lower on the organizational chart, many of today's 20-something workers were coddled by parents who struggled to give them everything, Mr. Shechtman says. They were raised by parents who felt they had to protect their children from hard work, leaving them free to pursue their own enrichment. They live with Mom and Dad into adulthood, pay no rent and rarely do the laundry.

As a result, many never learned the lessons of struggle and sacrifice. It's hard for them to face the responsibility of meeting a sales quota or losing their job, Mr. Shechtman says, because no one ever put them on the line.

When you bring that guy to his manager or division head, a man in his 50s who had a house, two kids and three jobs at age 21, you've got trouble: two people from two different backgrounds who are looking at entirely different road maps.

"It's amazing we get anything done with all these maps going on," Mr. Shechtman says. "If we don't get to these issues, we're just chipping away at granite."

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