As the hit show returns on Thursday CDP Leadership Consultants asks what Billions’ Wendy Rhodes could do for your business.

By Elloa Atkinson, Director @elloaatkinson and Derek Draper, Co-founder and CEO @derekdraper

Billions is back for its third series this Thursday (Sky Atlantic 29th March, 9pm). In anticipation we thought we’d take a look at how you might bring a little “Wendy Rhodes” magic into your business.

In the smash TV show Rhodes — the in-house psychologist and performance coach at the fictional hedge fund, Axe Capital — works in a very deep way with the traders during their confidential one-to-one sessions with her. In fact, Rhodes’ impact on the hedge fund is so central to its profitability that Bobby Axelrod, the business’s founder, explicitly tells Rhodes that her “value to the firm is absolute.” She tells Axe that if she didn’t keep their heads straight, his “collection of insecure egomaniacs would lose a billion [dollars] a year.” Her bonus at one point is $5 million.

The plot lines and drama are, of course, exaggerated and not always as ethical as they should be. But there is a kernel of truth in what is portrayed in the Showtime hit. Even allowing for some dramatic license, what is it that makes Rhodes’ work so effective and impactful?

Well, many organisations work at a surface level, focusing on things that are visible and tangible such as competencies, procedures and KPIs. This is an “outside in” approach to doing business, where business is seen in terms of “external” factors that are easier to control. This approach, though valid, risks not taking enough account of the confusing, complex “internal” world of the human mind. What we at CDP call your “Professional Psychè”:

We believe that profound and lasting breakthroughs in performance only come from deep psychological work that enriches someone’s self-awareness regarding their underlying core beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and blocks. In Billions, it is Rhodes’s psychological understanding of the messy, unpredictable, complex personalities in the organisation – and the dynamics between them – that help make Axe Capital the success it is.

It’s not just in the intense world of hedge funds, though, that a business psychologist can add real value; in any business if your people aren’t performing at their peak or failing to unlock their potential, the consequences for your business’s performance and therefore profits can be disastrous. Bringing in an external perspective via a consultant or Executive Coach can do for your business at least some of what Wendy Rhodes does for Axe Capital.

However, many Private Equity houses are going a step further and are – as explored in a recent Harvard Business Review article – now hiring what are being called Leadership Capital Partners.  CDP is researching this emerging field and if you work in PE we invite you to take part in our short survey. We’ll send you a summary of the results when it’s completed. (At the end of this blog there’s a short case study of some work that our consultants have done in the PE space in recent years).

But what do these psychologists, in house or as outside partners actually do? Rhodes approaches her work at Axe Capital in a very similar way to the way we practice coaching at CDP. This is our coaching model and you can see how it mirrors her way of working:

  1. The business context: Rhodes has worked at Axe Capital for a long time and knows the people well. But she also knows the business. Any coach should make sure they understand the commercial context of the people they’re coaching. What is the business’s competitive landscape? What is its strategy? What are its underlying drivers, its KPIs? What matters most to the bottom line? Rhodes has undergone extensive professional training and education but she also has solid business experience, having worked alongside Axe for fifteen years.
  2. The coachee’s psychology: Rhodes understands her clients’ psyches and various ‘selfs’ in a very deep way, which enables her to identify how their past is impacting and affecting them in the present. Her understanding enables her to counsel and advise Axe on his management approach. For example, when Axe publicly fires an employee for a big mistake, she says that he is “exactly the wrong person to fire that way. His entire psychological make up sets him up to react very poorly to public humiliation.” This advice prompts Axe to go and make amends, thus avoiding the employee exacting revenge on him.
  3. Clear attainable goals: Rhodes is very clear about what she is working on, and these goals are co-created her clients. Yes, they are avowedly and even ruthlessly commercial but they also address more personal aspects, and she knows that she is working with the whole person, not just the part of them that turns up at work. Her door is always open so every employee can see her whenever they need a perspective shift, a confidence boost or to someone to confide in about a mistake. She helps people understand how their biases, emotions or beliefs are preventing them from seeing the bigger picture, empowering them to leave her office and do their best work.

Most companies can’t emulate what Wendy and Axe have at Axe Capital. But studies such as a recent meta-analysis by Theeboom et al., (2014) show that assessing, developing and coaching people has an impact on performance and skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes and goal-directed self-regulation. The researchers concluded that coaching is an effective intervention in organisations.

You may not have £5m spare to poach Wendy from Bobby but if you are not making any investment in this area, you are, as Axe himself would say, missing a sure thing.

Watch the Billions season 3 trailer here.

CDP transforms your business performance by working at the deepest level to unlock the potential of your people.

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To download our FREE 60 page booklet on “Working Deep” and/or our thought paper “What’s childhood got to do with it?” click here.

As mentioned above if you work in private Equity and want to take part in our survey on Leadership Capital click here to take part in our short survey.

Private Equity Case Study

Our short book “Working Deep” (available to download here) outlines some work our consultants have done in the PE field:

We assisted a leading Private Equity company to realise better returns on its key fund by carrying out various assignments across their business: Working with the Managing Partner to assess all people being considered for partnership (both internal promotion and outside hires) including detailed development planning and coaching. This led to the successful opening of the firm’s first global office outside the UK, assessing candidates to become Chair and/or CEO of various portfolio companies, including auditing and developing a candidate to be the new CEO of a portfolio company who has presided over considerable growth in revenue and profits enabling a forthcoming sale at a large return and spending a day in a possible investment opportunity, assessing culture, taking stakeholder feedback at all levels and carrying out in-depth assessment of the successor CEO. Partly due to this work the investment was not proceeded with.