The six-month psychic checkup: you get your teeth examined twice a year. What about your head?

Maybe you think you're in pretty good shape. You exercise, eat sensibly, pay attention when your body starts sending out warning signals, and see your doctor once a year or so -- any two of which would place you in an elite minority. But you may still be overlooking a most critical element of your overall well-being. What about your head? And we're not talking about the gray hair, pal. If you paid as much attention to your emotional and psychic health as you did (or should) your physical condition, chances are you'd be a happier human being -- and a more effective manager, too.

The good news is that there are now legions of business and management psychologists who specialize in caring for the harried, frazzled, go-go CEOs of growth companies. Whatever moniker they choose -- therapist, business psychologist, executive coach -- their job is to sit across from you and hold up a mirror that compels you to examine yourself, warts and all. "It's a way to get a reality check from someone who's objective," says Gene Morrissy, a management psychologist with RHR International Co., in Wood Dale, Ill., which has been in the corporate-psychology business for more than 50 years. "If we see them going off the trolley, we're pretty good at getting them back on track." The key here is not to wait until you're off your trolley; checking in with a professional like Morrissy every so often as a preventive measure makes every bit as much sense as having a physical. "Being a CEO can be very isolating," says Morrissy. "They're moving at warp speed, and they often have no one to bounce things off of."

Typically, Morrissy first asks CEOs to talk about how they're functioning in their jobs and to assess their level of stress. And what if the interviewee claims to be handling stress just fine? "I'm still waiting for the day when that happens," Morrissy shoots back. He might then probe gently for information about the person's relationships both within and outside the company. (Sample question: "If you were a fly on the wall, and I was sitting with your spouse, what would he or she say about you?") "We want to know if there's been a decrease or change in performance or in the quality of relationships at work or in their personal life," he says. After identifying trouble spots, he'll usually work out a plan of action with the client.

Michael B. Fineberg, a business psychologist and managing partner at Delta Consultants, in Philadelphia, says that at least half of the folks who come to him ask for a proactive diagnostic. "They say, 'Take a look at me in terms of my current practices and my psyche and tell me where I can develop and improve.' " For instance, he works with one CEO who "has a codependent relationship with detail. I helped him understand that details were his comfort zone, even though he couldn't stand being that way." Ultimately, the fellow became less fastidious and resolved to hire others to do the tasks he loathed but couldn't seem to let go of.

The price for all this? Fineberg's fee is $300 an hour. Full-blown programs (tests, evaluation, feedback, a course of visits) can run as much as $5,000 to $10,000 at companies such as Fineberg's and RHR.

Fineberg says that what he does is a bit like personal training. "You train your emotional intelligence," he says. "You keep your body and your muscles toned, and you need to do the same with how you think and feel. It's a stimulating process." Of course, maybe you think you're stimulated enough already, or maybe you believe you don't have "issues" that need hashing out. Fineberg thinks otherwise. "If [top managers] aren't worried about issues, then they're probably not doing their jobs," he says.

The Inc Life

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Published on: Nov 1, 2001