Nothing But The Best

10 Feb 2021. Bob Kaplan

Philip Smith, a career-long high performer, was recruited personally by the bank's CEO, Martin Middletown, to head its ailing investment bank. Dazzled by the turnaround Philip engineered and the fat profits that pour in, the CEO envisioned him as his successor and turned a deaf ear to rumblings about how Philip conducted himself.

But all along the corporate head of HR, Frank Brescia, took the concerns about Philip seriously. He tried to "coach" him but didn't get very far. So eighteen months before things reached the breaking point, he decided to call in reinforcements. In calling a meeting with Phil to break that news, he didn't say what the agenda was. Philip arrived a few minutes early and waited uneasily in the conference room. Frank, punctual, was his usual cordial self. In dark suits and ties the two men walked over to the credenza—loaded with urns of piping hot coffee, regular and decaf, decanters of milk, whole and skim, and small stacks of white cups and saucers—and helped themselves to coffee. The striking high-floor view of the cityscape didn't merit a glance.

Walking on eggshells, Frank told Phil it was his turn to work with a leadership specialist. "You're not being singled out. We're making this available to a number of senior people." Never mind that Philip was the first. 

"Can I get back to you by the end of the week?" Philip said. He wanted time to find out directly from the CEO what this was all about. 

Later that day Philip caught up with him as he was packing up his briefcase. In his early 60s he was slim and fit. Philip knocked a couple of times on the open door. "Come in, Philip," he said, giving him his full attention. "What's up?"

"Frank suggested I work with a consultant. Am I in trouble?"

"You should know better than that." He had a fatherly way about him even though he was only a few years older than Philip, who was reassured and thought better of asking whether it was voluntary. Instead he put a good face on it. "I always want to be the best I can be."

"I know the consultant personally and by reputation—he's good at this, you'll enjoy working with him. If I had more runway, I'd do this myself." Then, almost as a throwaway he said: "It's a top-flight firm in its space, by the way, and the guy went to fancy schools, if that matters." It did, more than Martin suspected. 

"Okay, boss, sign me up." It was important to him to be in his manager's good graces.

In his very first meeting with Jake, Philip found him smart, relatable, well-spoken, non-threatening—okay in his book. Excited, he told his wife, Camille, that evening what was up. They were sitting in their spanking new kitchen. Atop stools at the center island, their two teenaged kids, a boy and a girl, were doing their homework. Camille's pleasant expression wasn't skin deep but she had her limits, which he tried to keep in mind.

"His name is Jake Waverly. Martin thinks highly of him. I'd like him to meet you and the kids. How about having him over for a meal?" Actually, he wanted to show her off—Camille had been quite the catch. The kids too, cute and smart. As well as their new house with its expansive yard.

"Hold onto your horses," she said, gesturing "whoa" with the palms of her hands. Frontal wasn't her typical mode but it was not infrequently needed with her headstrong husband.

"What horses? You're the one who rides." He thought he'd charmed her but maybe not. "Oh, one other thing: the way the consultant put it, we're going to work on my mental game, not just my play on the field. I thought you'd be interested, given your social work degree. And he wants to know what I'm like outside of work, you know as a point of comparison or contrast as the case may be." 

"Oh sure—why not," she said, good sport that she was. He kissed her hand in thanks. He had an idea he wasn't the easiest guy in the world to live with. This was his way of letting her know he was aware of that. 

Two weeks later the consultant was in town again and they had him over for dinner. Camille outdid herself as usual. Jake was able to engage the kids in conversation, always a trick, and once they peeled off, he and Camille talked at length about the helping professions and various "treatment modalities," as she termed them. ‎Seeing them connect, Philip said to himself, chalk it up! ‎He was just as pleased when Jake said all the right things about the house and grounds.

"I hope it wasn't an imposition, having me over," he said. 

"Not at all." She wasn't pretending. 

After dinner on this late-spring evening with its longer light, Jake came along to the baseball diamond, a beautifully manicured Little League field. Philip had thought to bring an extra glove in case Jake wanted to join in. He was in his street clothes but didn't seem to mind standing in the base path and getting sand all over his polished shoes and the pressed cuffs of his pants. He's game, Philip thought. 

Father and son threw hard and they didn't spare Jake. Thrown right at him he caught the balls anyway by stepping aside and catching them in his outstretched glove. Philip approved.

Over Jake's protest, Philip went out of his way to drop him off at his hotel. The exercise put them both in high spirits and they chatted away like fast friends. 

Once Jake finished interviewing Philip's coworkers and a report was prepared, they arranged to meet off-site. Built in the 1920s as a private residence, it was a luxurious faux French chateau boasting turrets, a slate roof, and leaded-pane casement windows. Philip was impressed.

They met in the so-called board room, with an oval wooden table, several chairs around it and a large TV screen on the far wall. ‎Jake motioned to Philip to take the chair at the head of the table, which he did, and sat down next to him.

Philip was nattily turned out—worsted gray slacks, a blue dress shirt and a blazer with a neatly folded white handkerchief tucked in its breast pocket. An expensive-looking watch sat prominently on his left wrist. He could have passed as lord of the manor. The fine figure he cut was only marred by a bulging waistline. They both went over to the table with refreshments and poured themselves coffee.

As they seated themselves at the long conference table, full of smiles, Jake opened enthusiastically. "The good news is very good indeed!" That headline brought a broad smile to Philip's face. 

"People sing your praises like it's the Hallelujah Chorus: Gloria in excelsis deo!"Philip smiled. He didn't mind the hyperbole. 

"One thing's for sure," Jake went on: you've worked wonders with Investment Banking. No exaggeration, right?" 

"Yup, no exaggeration."

When Philip had taken over investment banking, only fixed income was performing well. Equities, institutional bonds, M&A, the trading operation were lackluster at best. At that moment a shaft of sunlight ‎bathed Philip's face. Jake lowered the blinds. 

"I'm amazed by how well you can get an organization to perform." The thrill of high achievement rippled through his body. 

Jake went on: "It's no mean feat to turn around any business and yours is made up of several rolled into one. I gather it starts with high aspirations. One of your peers told me, 'He wants to make this the top firm of its kind anywhere.'"

"It's true!" Philip said emphatically. Now it was his turn to get carried away. "I've literally been on a crusade to make this organization world class."

Jake nodded. "There's a chorus of voices saying that. You want to make this one of the premier IB organizations anywhere with the best people and the best products and services. You want people to say it has no peer in the industry."

"Others see it too—neat! It's true, I want to build something very special."

"I see. So tell me, how did you go about it?" It sounded like Jake really wanted to know and that fueled Philip's excitement.

"You put it together right—that's key—and you get it rolling and then on vital issues you move heaven and earth to make things happen."

"Yes, your never-say-die approach came across clearly. As one person put it colorfully, you put on your helmet and football pads and charge, and unless you're told you're out of line you keep banging—I'm paraphrasing."

"That's me," he said proudly. "You keep it up and I'm amazed at how well you can get the thing to work. It justifies all the hard work and it just exceeds your wildest expectations." His excitement filled his entire mind.

"And you've done it so many times, it isn't an accident," Jake said, pleased to see Philip so positive. He believed it was just as important for the validation as the criticism to get through and have an impact. "Another big thing: you get a lot of credit for the quality of the players you put on the field. To me that's literally half of a leader's job, and you excel at it. Listen to what the CEO said, and he's not alone: "Philip has almost an uncanny ability to find the highest-performing people in a discipline."

"It means a lot that he sees that. God, we have one of the best staffs in the world. I aggressively go out and hire the best. If you've gone to one of the top schools, that puts the thumbprint on you."

"People call you a 'talent junkie.'"

"I take that as a compliment." Inside he swelled with good self-feeling.

"Well, some people are too insecure to staff with the best and the brightest. Credit to you for not having that problem. One other thing, just as big, really: you look after that talent. Their offices renovated and furnished to a high standard, not to mention well equipped. But rivaling that, you let them do their jobs. You don't micromanage, they all say." 

"That's true. Why recruit the best if you're not going to treat them that way? That's like buying a Porsche 911 but you can't afford the $500 a month parking charge. By the way, I take the same approach with my wife: she's the best and I do my best to look after her."

Jake sent him off for a walk to "bask in the glory," as he put it. The chateau's grounds were expansive and nicely landscaped. Philip enjoyed the walk but couldn't help comparing the park unfavorably to the landscape architecture at Blenheim Palace. On his return, he led off. "I drank in all the positives but it's like a thirst, a terrible thirst, that can never be quenched." Jake raised his eyebrows at this display of self-recognition. Noticing that, Philip said, "I'm not a complete stranger to myself." Then he reached into his briefcase and placed a magazine on the table. It was that week's issue of the industry rag, The Banker, with a full-page cover photo of a dapper, smirking Philip.

"I'm impressed," Jake said. That was the reaction that Philip craved, precisely the word of all words he most wanted to hear—though he hadn't spelled it out in his mind.

"I was thrilled when it came out. Lots of congratulations. I gulped all that down but it wasn't long before I was parched again. I think it's the superhuman image of myself. I can't possibly live up to it."

"That superhuman image: how did you come by that?"

Philip sighed. "Okay, I'll tell you," he said finally. "I was the firstborn on both sides of the family, and the oldest child in my immediate family. You get the message 'my hopes are resting on you.' To put it mildly." He was burdened, overburdened.

Philip hesitated. There was more he could say but it was awfully close to home. "Always doing my best, I excelled at school and I excelled in sports, but, but, get this, my father never said a word. I was a star pitcher in high school. My senior year I actually got scouted by the major leagues. My father never came to a game, never said a word. My mother would tell me, 'Your father is very proud of you.' But that didn't count. Now you know."

"It left a hole?"

"Left a hole," Philip echoed.

"We'll keep that in mind. By the way, what did Martin (the CEO) have to say about the cover story?"

"Nothing! That's what Martin said." He fairly growled and glared at Jake as if he were the offending party. Philip knew he was angry, but he didn't know he was hurt, easily hurt. An area of his psyche had been rubbed raw by disregard, neglect.

He clenched his jaw muscles, didn't speak for a moment or two. ‎Then a non-sequitur but Jake was able follow: "You see, I've always wanted to be included in that group of people who have high value." He stopped there.

"Aren't you? Already? Stellar performance in that big job, the cover story."

"Right, you'd think that. But there's that hole, right?‎ It's got a sucking action like a vacuum cleaner. Sucks up the good stuff and, poof, it's gone. But enough of that, okay?"

They broke for lunch‎, but not before Philip returned phone calls. That gave Jake a chance to take stock of the morning. All in all he was pleased. Philip was engaged and the two of them continued to do well. To Jake, a relationship guy, that meant a lot. He was buoyed up too by the connection he'd made with Camille. Relationships, the backbone of everything, the backbone of what he and Philip were doing.

Jake was optimistic about the afternoon. The connection he and Jake had forged would carry them through, through the rough stuff that awaited Philip.

Lunch was served in the same room. A tablecloth was laid at the other end of the table. Freshly made chicken salad on a bed of greens. Rolls that didn't look homemade. Chocolate chip cookies that did (they each took one).

Trips to the men's room made, they returned to their original seats. Jake helped himself to a cup of coffee. Jake got out of his seat to pour himself a cup. He needed it, the meal had dulled his senses. "This is a good moment for you to make some notes in your journal," he said to Philip. "What have you learned? What are your feelings about it?" Philip picked up the pen the conference center had provided and Jake said, "While you do that, I'll meditate, over there." He pointed to a spare chair pushed against the wall.

Jake tried to quiet his mind, which he could usually do no matter what was going on. But he thought of something that brought disquiet. Philip had overrated himself. That could mean the person was defensive, would have trouble with criticism. But sometimes it just meant that achieving was super-important. He and Philip will probably do just fine‎, hopefully.

Then another memory disturbed him. Martin, when asked if they leveled with Philip. The answer: we tried. Jake comforted himself now by thinking, that's why they called me in. Right up my alley.

Jake was startled back to reality by Philip's voice, which sounded different. "Can we get on with it—please?" That tacked-on "please" didn't help.

"Sure. But if you don't mind, let's bridge into it. Is there anything missing from the set of good things about you?"

"You first." Clearly he was in no mood for games.

"Okay," Jake said. Normally he'd have tried one more time but there was no room to maneuver.

"So, recapping, kudos for turning around IB and for recruiting great people to do that. What's missing is how you work with people."

"Is that all you have to go on—what isn't there?" He almost sneered. Jake was shocked, his stomach hurt but he somehow managed to stay composed. 

"No, of course not." He was not about to be defensive. "I'm going on the interviews and ratings, that's the major finding. Working with people isn't a strength." Jake faulted himself: you beat around the bush, you chickened out.

"Which people? Just come out with it, will you please?"

Philip's tone grated on Jake but he was not about to fight fire with fire. Nor was he about to proceed as planned—to unspool people's comments and let Philip draw his ‎own conclusions. That would never work. He'd feed Philip the summary points, the headlines, one at a time. "Mainly your people," he answered in a level tone."

Ingrates. Where would they be without me?" Jake now understood why management hadn't been straight with Philip—who needs it?

"They are grateful for the opportunity, Philip. Of course they are. That came through loud and clear."

"That's good! At least they have their heads straight on that." He eased up a little.

"Right. But I'd be less than honest if I didn't say they're frustrated," Jake said and recoiled inside: "less than honest." I never use that phrase.

"What do you mean frustrated!? Be specific." Philip hammered away.

If he were treated this way in his private life he wouldn't put up with it. But at the moment he was able to master his feelings (which felt good and offset the distaste).

"Okay, here's a sampling: One person said, "He's doesn't listen well.'" This person actually said: He's terrible at listening. A 'D' at best.

"Another person said: 'It's hard to get through to him.'" The person's actual words: It's like banging your head against a brick wall.

"One more: 'He doesn't involve us enough. He thinks he does but he doesn't. Actual words: He doesn't seek counsel; he doesn't take it. What are we—chopped liver?  

"Bull crap!" Philip said, raising his voice. Jake lifted his eyebrows and, like a conductor, made a pianissimo gesture. Philip lowered his voice but continued in the same vein "My staff has lots of influence. Their expectations are too high."

For a moment Jake wasn't sure where to go next. Then he had an idea. "You're right, expectations are often the culprit. Do you know what the Buddhists say?"

"No, tell me." For the moment he was mollified or distracted.

"Expectations are the root of all suffering," Jake offered.

"Theirs. Maybe mine too." He had calmed down as abruptly as he got riled up. Jake's stomach stopped hurting. There's still hope was his thought. 

"Let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?" Jake turned to the pages on ratings. Philip didn't object. "See, you were rated down on listening and on being open to push-back."

"I reject the data base," Philip said.

Jake almost fell out of his chair. "Hey, you're an analytical guy. How is it you have no use for this data set?"

"This is soft stuff. I'm a hard-numbers guy."

Jake began to despair. I'm running out of options, he thought. But he had the presence of mind to think of a move he could make. "Do you find that hard numbers aren't always as hard as rock?" Philip listened. "Neither are so-called soft numbers always as squishy as marshmallows. I happen to know this ratings tool is psychometrically sound. Let's take a peek at the personality profile. You're the only one who filled it out."

"Okay. But spare me the detail." He was behaving better. 

"Okay, does the tool fit the pattern or not? Sir, will you grace the viewing audience with your answer?"

"Fits." Notable that he cooperated.

"Right, give the man a prize." An attempt to be playful. But he had no illusions that he'd changed Philip's mind and he hadn't.

"Fine but I'm still not buying it. Things have settled down since that survey was administered. We'll have to redo it."

"Any time you want," Jake said, without for a minute believing that the findings would be different—the study had just been conducted. He tried a different tack. "In the meantime, can we agree to disagree?" He knew that to press his case was only to fight a losing battle.

But Philip got hot again. "I have a problem with this conversation. It's way out of context. The CEO is unbelievably autocratic; this picture of me pales by comparison." In fighting the criticism, he indirectly admitted to it

Taking a different tack Jake asked: "Are you a fan of constructive tension? Intellectually speaking."

"Yeah, nothing like a good debate," Philip sounding once again like the person Jake had known. 

"Then can we agree to disagree about your team's criticism?"

Philip looked at him. Then, sounding reasonable, he said, "That's not unreasonable."

Jake decided to give empathy a try, but sparely. Looking at him straight in the eyes, he said, "A bitter pill. I wish it were otherwise."

"Thanks for that. It's not your fault."

To Jake's immense relief, they parted amicably‎. In his life not only in his work, he did everything in his power to make difficult conversations go well. Usually, he could.

He hadn't given up believing he could bring out Philip's better self, some of which had poked through that afternoon like rays of sun after a thunderstorm.

It wasn't until he walked into his room and closed the door behind him that Jake knew‎ just how worn down he was, like wearing leather street shoes to go scrambling on granite boulders.

He changed clothes, took a run, showered, and had room service deliver something to eat. He began to feel like himself again. Moving on to an upholstered chair, he put his feet up on the hassock and had this thought: it's not Philip's fault either, the way he reacted today. He could thank his parents and grandparents for that. So much rides on performing well that he cannot tolerate indications to the contrary. Not to make excuses for him.

The Drama of the Gifted Child came to mind. In this case, the gifted child is neither abused nor neglected. Instead she or he is overburdened, weighed down, by the parents' overwrought expectations.

That helped to buoy up Jake's usual positive attitude. He was about to give up on Philip. He knew that sometimes the least likely prospects surprise you, just as the most promising cases fizzle out.

Then Jake's mind jumped to something he had been told in strict confidence by the head of trading, Philip's direct report, Sheila Armistead, when he interviewed her.

She'd already known that Philip had worked his way up in trading, had been a stellar performer in his day. What Jake learned from Sheila was Philip dropped by the trading floor practically every day and chatted people up, glancing at their blinking screens refreshing constantly. She'd only been on board for nine months and felt strongly that his visits undermined her, given that she was new, an underling, and a woman.

It took weeks for her to work up the nerve to raise it with Philip. She went by his office and, seeing his door open, knocked. He motioned her in. She began to speak but stopped when she saw that he was still looking at the computer screen and doing emails. When he turned her way, she felt her face flush. "Philip, I'm trying to establish myself and your presence on the floor doesn't help. It gives people the impression you don't trust me."

"No, I don't think so." He was dismissive. "I'm just showing interest. Wouldn't they think it strange, given my background, if I didn't walk the floor? I think they like my little visits."

"Sure, up to a point," she allowed, but persisted with manager-speak for overdoing things. "But don't you see you're over-indexing?"

"Frankly, I don't."

"But you have them looking to you, not me."

"Hey, you're doing great," he said, deflecting.

Obviously getting nowhere, she thanked him perfunctorily and left. She was as dissatisfied with the conversation, she told Jake, as with the situation itself. She stressed again that he keep it to himself. Absolutely, he told her.

*   *   *   *

Philip was able to get home in plenty of time for dinner. On the drive back he managed to turn the mental heat down to simmer. He put himself on notice: there is no way in the world you're going to walk in there and unload on them or even leak emotion. He invoked one of his favorite sayings: Fake it 'til you make it. 

Camille had prepared one of his favorite meals, slow-cooked brisket, potatoes and carrots, along with a green salad. Everyone took their usual spots at the kitchen table. He asked the kids about their day but studiously avoided saying anything about his.

Afterwards he dutifully washed the dishes. He always did. He knew it wasn't much but, in his mind, something was better than nothing. He didn't want a repeat of the time when Camille lost all patience with him: "You don't lift a finger around here." It wasn't only that: he wanted to be good.

He thought he'd done a decent acting job but when he spotted Camille standing in the doorway waiting quietly for him to finish up, he could tell otherwise. She took his hand and without a word led him from the kitchen to the sunroom. It had glass walls on three sides—a "wing of light," the architect called it. It gave out onto the lush, closely cropped lawn with woods behind it. He called it the conservatory. She closed the door behind her. Gently she said, "So, Philip, how did it go?"

He surprised himself by coming right out with it. "Terrible. Those ingrates, after all I've done for them, they slammed me." Instinctively, he stopped there. He had no desire to get specific with her. That would be like walking around the house with no shirt on, putting on display an unfit, unsightly midriff. The antithesis of how he wanted to present himself to her.

She asked him to elaborate.

"Let's save that for another time," he said, a little annoyed but doing his best to sit on it. But he relented. "Okay: they think I'm hardheaded. They're dissatisfied."

It was her turn to resist. "You're not the only one who's upset about this. I know you're not perfect but I expected better than this—from those people you hand-picked. Cripes!"

Her loyalty loosened him up and he reversed roles. "Might there be a kernel of truth to it?"

Calming down, she smiled. "Might be."

"I have to admit there was good stuff too," he conceded. "Very good stuff, actually." He hit the high points and some of the gratified feeling paid him a return visit. That put a pleased look on her face.

"Just as I expected. And very well deserved." She was on his side and that meant a lot to him.

"But all that is spoiled by the shit they piled on me."

"Philip, after all you've done for your people, it must hurt. It must hurt a lot."

His face fell and he choked up. She got to her feet and went over to him. Reluctant at first, he accepted her hug, and then buried his face in the crook of her neck. ‎

As they sat down again, now next to each other on the settee, she asked, "So what did they say?"

"Basically, hardheaded." A little laugh escaped him.

"Well, that's no big surprise," she said, laughing along with him.

At that moment, one of their kids called for her and, with a squeeze on his arm, off she went. It was always hard to get time to themselves while their two kids were awake. But that was okay. In just a few minutes she had done him a world of good.

He changed into casual clothes and took a walk around the grounds. He followed a path through the woods down to a pond. Nature was important to him and even on this night she didn't let him down.

His wife was the single person in his life best able to influence him. That is, if she put her foot down. Even if, as little as she liked conflict, it took a shouting match.

The previous spring, he'd gotten it into his head to buy a 48-foot sailboat with berths for the whole family—a Hinckley, naturally. He salivated over that boat like it was a sirloin hamburger or a Haagen-Dazs ice cream cone.

Excited, he'd showed her striking photos of the boat. He could tell right away from the expression on her face that she didn't share his enthusiasm. He didn't press his case. He wanted the boat but he also wanted to stay in her good graces. And it was a lot of money and how much would they use it anyway?

Over coffee with her the next morning, he'd been gracious in defeat, admitting: "Not every idea is a good idea." Actually, that was her line. That was her role. He came up with big ideas and it fell to her to discourage the impractical and the exorbitant ones.

A year ago, there had been a classic case. They were building a new house that would boast a fieldstone fireplace in the great room. At his suggestion they chose a stonemason whose work, a retaining wall, had appeared in Architectural Digest. The contractor had pinned a copy of the photo to his bulletin board. Philip returned from a trip to Asia to visit the bank's outposts there—Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo—to find the fireplace almost finished. First blush he was pleased—a fieldstone fireplace, how about that. But then he realized it wasn't what was spec'd. This one exposed the cement. The one he'd commissioned was ashlar masonry where the stones are cut and arrayed so that the upper ones appear to be supported by the lower ones and what little concrete used is hidden.

Stepping outside so the carpenters wouldn't hear, he called the contractor, who explained that the mason he wanted wasn't available. Why didn't you tell me? Philip asked him. No good answer. Philip wasn't that pissed off with the contractor because it didn't matter what the reason was. The outcome wasn't in doubt.

Then he called Camille. "That fireplace: it's got to come down," he said. He explained why.

"Do you have to?" she asked. "I went over yesterday. It's not what we wanted but to me it's good enough."

"Good enough isn't good enough. I'd hate it every time I saw it. We're building our dream house, and this would be a living nightmare for me." He cared more about how things looked than she did. They'd established that.

Practically everyone who came across the fireplace for the first time said, "work of art." Every time that set off in him a little burst of pleasure.

The Saturday following Philip's meeting with the consultant, he and Camille went out for a walk. It had rained for days and they took advantage of a break in the weather. The sky was still gray. Holding hands, they chatted about this and that. After a while she stopped and turned to him. "So, Philip, can we talk about the input you got this week—can you stand to?" She looked into his eyes, appealing to him. He wanted to be responsive to her and yet he had no stomach for that subject.

"This is so pleasant. Can't we keep it that way?"

"Believe me, I'd just as soon do that too."

They walked on in silence, still holding hands. A large part of him wanted to shut down any further conversation on that sore subject but he knew she meant well. If there was one person whose loyalty he could count on, it was her.

As they rounded the big loop, he forced these words out of his mouth: "Okay, we can talk about it." She squeezed his hand.

Treading gingerly, she asked, "Has it been on your mind?" He nodded, looking pained, with a mix of anguish and self-pity.

"How could it not be," she said. It was his turn to squeeze her hand. "Painful subject, I know." He nodded again. It was unlike him to have no words, but gestures were all he could produce. It started to drizzle but soon stopped. "You've been a huge success." She stopped and looked at him. He met her gaze. "But this could be a chance to be better." He started walking again without saying anything and without reaching for her hand.

"Here's a thought. Can I offer it?" He half-grimaced and half-smiled, which could be read as consent. "Yes?" He nodded. "Talk with Elena. Have the consultant there too. You trust her, right?" Elena, his whiz kid CFO who more than held her own with her older colleagues, was the one person on his staff he was truly at ease with. A lot of that was her. She was warm, friendly, and genuine. Unattached at the time, she was close to their family, came over for dinner from time to time, and once even took care of the kids while Philip and Camille went away for the weekend.

He agreed. He noticed Camille didn't ask whether he trusted the consultant. More to the point, he said to himself, do I trust him? Well, I was a royal pain in the ass and he put up with it, so I guess the answer is yes.

The next morning he came bouncing into the kitchen, gave Camille a big hug and announced, "I've got an idea." The kids not up yet, they took their coffee out to the conservatory and sat down next to each other on the settee looking out on the grounds. Turning to her, he said brightly, "We've got more money than we know what to do with, even given my extravagant tastes. Let's step up our giving." This impulse was anything but obligatory; he felt it deeply. His conscience pinched: when much is given much is expected, he told himself. 

"Nice, Philip." She patted him on his hand. "Big Brothers Big Sisters: that's what I suggest. They do a lot of good for kids in need. You could join the board, mainly made up of types like you." 

"Let's donate but spare me the board seat. I've got no patience for that, a bunch of guys pontificating. Okay, so Big Brothers Big Sisters. What else?" 

"Plenty of worthy agencies, I'll get back to you."

"Nah, let's create our own agency—more control—and you run it. With the kids growing up you've been casting around for ways to fill the void. Am I right?"

Gratefully, she said, "Now that's an idea, a big one." She turned in her seat to face him, and took a very different tone. "You want me to run it? Where are you in this set-up?" He'd join her on the board, she'd be the director. "Oh yeah, what's your role as a board member?" He'd help. "What if I don't want your help?" He stared at her, unprepared but not offended. He was grateful she could handle him, where would they be if she couldn't—and he didn't cooperate.

"My help: you'd take it or leave it. You know what you're doing."

"Put it in the by-laws and I'll do it." Looking pleased, they shook hands on the deal. Instead of an agency they decided to go with a foundation to fund the agency. Within a month Philip had the documents drawn up with his and her respective roles defined to Camille's satisfaction. She was off and running unfettered it seemed, and he had reason to feel better about himself.

*    *    *    *

Knowing none of this, Jake was surprised when Philip's assistant called to say Elena ‎would join his regularly scheduled meeting the coming week, the first since feedback. "Does he have a minute?" Jake asked. She transferred the call to Philip who explained. 

With Philip's okay, Jake called Elena before the three of them met. "What's this about?," she wanted to know. "It's very awkward for me. I can't speak for everyone." Jake told her she didn't need to. Without saying a thing about the findings or how the meeting with Philip had gone, he explained she was simply to be a sounding board for Jake as he made sense of the findings. She was still nervous about it but satisfied.

Philip, Elena and Jake met in the same small, elegant conference room where Frank Brescia, the HR head, had first spoken to Philip about this work. Jake went over to the window and looked out at the cityscape. "Fabulous view," he said.

Philip kicked things off. He thanked them both for being there and turned to Jake for any opening comment.

"I'd just say, credit to you, Philip, for taking this step—"

"Yeah, it was Camille's idea," Philip threw in.

"How about that." Jake was now all the more persuaded this was a good move. "And I want to thank you, Elena, for taking part." She said graciously that she was glad to help if she could. "Back to you, Philip."

"Elena, people on the team say I'm hard to influence. What do you think? Is it true?‎" He looked expectantly at her. ‎

"It is true, Philip," she said, gently.

He leaned back. "They're not piling on?"

"I haven't seen their comments, of course, but, no, I don't think so."

Philip was silent, glum.

Jake came in. "You've brought in great people, right? By definition, they have a lot to offer. That's the whole idea, right?"

"Right, that's the whole idea—they're very, very good at what they do." He brightened.

"What do you think those star-quality people want?"‎

"Let Elena say."

She leaned forward and brought a lot of feeling. "They're dying to contribute‎—to do a good job in their area, naturally."

"Don't I let them do that? Don't I let you do that?" He was getting heated.

Elena squirmed. "In my case, certainly, and I don't think I'm alone." Jake felt sure she was going easy on Philip. He could relate.

"Isn't that enough!?" Philip said, getting hot.

To lower the temperature indirectly, Jake asked, "Can I refresh your drinks or get one for you?" Elena handed him her half-empty glass. Philip got up and helped himself to more coffee.

Jake continued. "Let's step back for a moment and pose a general question: what do all talented, motivated people want?"

Philip had a ready answer. "To have challenging jobs, to get recognized for doing good work, to be amply rewarded financially."

"Anything else worth mentioning?" Jake said.

"Hell if I know."

"Elena?" Jake said, turning to her.

She gave him a look as if to say, Hey, I'm walking a fine line here. But she sat up straighter in her chair, and said, "Philip, there is one other thing worth mentioning: everyone wants to throw their two cents in to your decision making. Not every decision, of course; just those material to your fine organization."‎

"Oh," Philip said, soberly.‎ "I hadn't thought of that."

Look, Jake said to himself, he can listen.

The following week he and Philip held their planning meeting in the same room. "That Elena is something, isn't she?" Philip said, his eyes bright. 

"She was a big help."

Silence. Jake waited to see what Philip would say next. He was full of suspense. "Remind me," Philip said. "What's the purpose of the meeting?"

"To get down to brass tacks." Philip gave him a blank look. "Change management, you know; operationalize the changes." The light in Philip's eyes dimmed. Noticing, Jake called the question: "Are you up for this?"

"Not really."

"But I thought—"

"Think what you want."

"Does that mean you've decided not to change?"

‎"That's what it amounts to. For now, anyway. Why mess with a winning formula?"

Mastering his disappointment, Jake asked, "Okay, would you mind writing that down?" Despite his intransigence, Philip had brought his Moleskin journal. 

Too clever by half, he wrote, "I haven't decided not to change." Reading it aloud, he added, "But I am sure I've given you that impression." 

Jake couldn't help being amused. But also feeling duty-bound, he persisted. "Those were your people speaking. They know you heard from them. To do nothing is to thumb your nose at them."

"I hadn't thought of that." Jake was inclined to believe him. The whole thing was something he'd just as soon banish from his mind.

"For your sake, your self-preservation, I'd like you to take that into account. I urge you to"

"I take your point. It's appreciated." Again, Philip had proved able to be open. 

Noting that, Jake came at it from a different angle.  "Philip, could fear be operating?"

"I suppose so."

"Where is it, the fear?" He came up with that on the spot.

"It's behind me."

"Good, how about taking a look?" Face your fears, Jake thought.

"Can't." There you have it, Jake thought. That's what's holding him up.

"I have a hunch. About what the fear is about. Do you want to hear?"

"Some other time." His voice was small and real as rain.

"That's just fine. You sidled up to it, that's good for now." Jake was not about to push through Philip's defenses. They were there for a reason.

*    *    *    *

But a month after this good work on Philip's part and the pure, light-giving conversation with Elena, it was as if none of that had taken place. As if he hadn't learned a thing. ‎All it took was Philip's way of handling the CEO's latest corporate initiative. In the CEO's first year, he had spearheaded Corporate Social Responsibility: CSR, they called it. This year it was Diversity and Inclusion. Philip was responsible for rolling it out in IB, and he'd put together an elaborate plan. He wasn't known as an advocate of "D&I," not that he didn't try to hire people of all types provided they were first rate. He was straining to impress his boss; you didn't have to be terribly astute to see that. He called a staff meeting to unveil the plan.

Jake wasn't there. He heard about it later from two people who did attend, Frank Brescia and Elena, whose accounts dovetailed. His hopes came crashing down like a child who had fallen from a high branch. 

When Philip had unveiled his plan to his staff, there was stunned silence, disbelief. Nobody objected to hiring minorities, talented ones, and making them welcome. The problem was, some would say, the lengths to which Philip proposed to take it. When Jake heard about it, he wondered whether Philip was trying to rebound from the trying feedback meeting.

First of all, the hiring targets were more than stretch goals, they were for practical purposes out of reach. Then two days of diversity-and-inclusiveness training for all IB managers when one day would do. On top of that, Philip also proposed an evaluation of the senior team's "inclusive leadership" followed by a day of data-driven team building, and separately a two-hour feedback meeting for each team member. 

His most senior person was the first to speak. "Look, Philip, we've all talked about this and we're all for it." Nods all around. "But you've got to be kidding." Another person objected, "Where is the time for all of this supposed to come from?" Then, in a not-too-friendly way, someone else chimed in, "You've got to scale this back, Philip, you've got to." It was unusual for his team to take this kind of tone with him. A kind of emotional contagion had set in.

"Now, wait a minute," he insisted, "this is important."

"No one questions that," said his most senior guy. "But you've gone overboard" —and warming to his metaphor—"and sunk to the ocean floor." Chuckles all around. People had a point; they were getting carried away. Face flushed, Philip looked at Elena for support. At first, she just shrugged her shoulders but a moment later she spoke up: "Okay," she said to her peers, "if this is too ambitious, can we get specific on how to scale it back?"

But Philip didn't give Elena's worthy attempt a chance. He'd had it. "I'm getting nowhere," he said, collecting his materials and rising from his chair.

What his team couldn't know is he came by his stance toward higher-ups honestly. "Growing up, I couldn't understand how others didn't do what their parents or other authorities wanted," Philip had told Jake. "My kids are the same way, thankfully. My oldest told me recently, 'I want to please you and Mom, your opinion means so much to me.'"

A few days later, consulting no one, Philip emailed a revision to his staff. He had scaled back the hiring targets, which was reasonable, but, seemingly in a fit of pique, had gutted the rest of his grand plan—swung in the opposite direction.

It was just six months later that Philip was terminated. To the very end Martin, the CEO, was reluctant to part with him but his hand was forced. Martin had campaigned in the bank for cooperation and team play and Philip was a walking violation of those principles. Martin could no longer abide the contradiction without damaging his own credibility.

In his handling of Philip's exit, though, he was most considerate. There was no way that Philip would not be ushered unceremoniously, ignominiously, out the door, a not-uncommon if brutal practice in corporations. He was given ten weeks to find another job and allowed to keep his office, but in the end, that special treatment did Philip no favors.

Elena called Jake right after Philip was let go. She wanted him to know in case he hadn't heard—which he hadn't. His first thought was, Oh, the disgrace, Philip's worst fear.

She was upset. She had seen it coming but she was still very upset—for Philip, for the family and, frankly, for herself. Unlike her colleagues, she had seen another side to Philip, open to influence and even childlike in seeking her counsel.

Jake wrote Philip saying how sorry he was, and asked him to get in touch when he was ready. In the meantime Philip continued to come into the office and to take his lunch in the executive dining room. You could cut the tension with a knife, she said, but he seemed impervious. He was determined to hold his head high, he told her.

The people on his staff hardly acknowledged him, like he had turned into a leper. No one but Elena sat with him at lunch and not every day. She knew it was not a good idea to associate herself too closely with him.

Late in the fourth week he received a job offer, a good one, and he accepted. No surprise, he remained highly marketable. That Friday, his last day in the office, they had lunch. The whole time it had been "ghastly," she said. She didn't know how he could stand it. "Philip, it's like somebody died."

Twisting his mouth oddly, he said, "Murdered, more like."

She couldn't help it: "suicide" leapt to mind, and at that she felt disloyal. All the more so for beginning to think of herself: how much more of this can I take?

"I take that back," he said. "Truth is, it was self-inflicted."

The following week Philip called Jake. He was chipper. "I landed a plum job at a big London-based bank. It means a move, but Camille and I are satisfied that it comes at a good time in our kids' lives."

"Congratulations. But I'm sorry it came to this. I wish I could have done more."

"You did what you could. You put the ugly truth in front of me. I couldn't handle it."

"I give you a lot of credit for coming to see it that way."

"Late in the game. Oh, well."

"Do you think I spilled the beans?" Jake asked, who had decided to call the question. 

"For a moment that possibility went through my mind. But, no, they knew all along. That's why they brought in someone like you."

"That's a relief. Another thing: in your new job you'll have a clean slate." Jake couldn't stop wanting him to change.

"Yeah, we'll see if I've learned anything."

"I have faith in you." 

Silence. "Elena turned me down," Philip said, his voice cracking. Losing his job, Jake thought, that he took in stride, seemed to anyway. But in this, Elena, his loyal protégé, wouldn't follow him...

"That must really hurt," Philip nodded, emotion all over his face. "They say there's no knowledge without suffering—do you believe that?"

Philip took a deep breath. "Yes, I do."