A casestudy with Gary: Will he ever be a good CFO?

Can you be a good CFO, when you are not able to connect with people? In this article we share the case of Company X, worrying about their CFO's connection with his team.

A lot can change, but if the neurobiology is against you, it won’t.

The CHRO of Company X called me, and asked me to talk to his new CFO. This man, called Gary, is doing a great job on a competence level, but is not able to create a connection with his team. 


It is his first role as CFO in this position where he has to really lead his team. Before he was more of a holistic expert. For the people around Gary it is important to interact and feel recognised. It is not something you can replace with a robot or computer as you can image. But the CHRO told me, he thinks Gary might be showing some autistic characteristics, as this has been mentioned by team members more than once. 


Speaking to Gary, I can immediately tell he is not suffering from ASD, standing for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He makes eye-contact, understands other peoples feelings and really connects in our conversation. The problem is: he just does not care about others. 


It is more of a cognitive process, than an emotional one. He values others, as long as they are contributing to his goals. It is not that he disapproves them or shows arrogant behaviour, he just does not feel it in any other way. 


When I ask Gary to tell me something about his upbringing and history, he is very clear. He had no upbringing. His father was never in the picture and his mother was a troubled woman with a diagnosed schizophrenic disorder. She was not able to give young Gary any sense of symbiotic love and recognition


He survived and was extremely smart. So he could easily study finance and become this brilliant expert. But in relation to others, he struggles every day. Sometimes it seems to work for a while, as in his relationships with women he is dating. But shortly after the first fase is over, he feels bored and does not create oxytocine in his brain. 


In relationship psychology, they name the fases. First you are in drive mode, responding to primary emotions like feeling in love and wanting to build a physical relationship. After about six months, this transfers into a fase of like, where the oxytocine helps to build a long-lasting relationship. 


But people suffering from a bad oxytocine uptake, go from drive into boredom. They just want something else, and won’t be able to build real relationships. Ever. It is a bit of a downer isn’t it? Or you should just value the fact that you are this lucky person to be able to connect long term. 


Gary is not, and won’t ever be a good CFO. Not because of his cognitive competences, but because of his inability to build real relationships with people. In my role as an executive coach it is always very important to protect professionals, leaders and companies for the pitfall of believing that everything can change. A lot can change, but if the neurobiology is against you, it won’t. 


Besides that: Gary will be a lot more comfortable and effective in a position as consultant, accountant or expert. Sometimes the outcome of coaching can be a change of environment. In this case it was the best outcome for both Gary and the company.


Even if symbiotic development was offered in a sensitive way: if the oxytocine uptake is disturbed because of a neurobiological defect, people will never be able to go from drive into the like fase. 


Also: if a child with a normal neurobiological blueprint is being neglected and does not learn how to create oxytocine, he or she will be very unlikely to ever restore this problem. The biological mother and child bound is crucial in this process. 


Read more about oxytocine and leadership in Leadership Lessons #4: Oxytocine

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