Book Review: The five temptations of a CEO

I’m becoming quite a fan of Patrick Lencioni these days. He has written a number of organizational/leadership best sellers:

  1. The Five Temptations of a CEO
  2. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
  3. Death by Meeting
  4. Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars
  5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
  6. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

I just finished reading “The Five Temptations of a CEO” and want to share the highlights and encourage you to read this book.

Temptation #1 and the antidote

The first temptation of leaders is to choose status/position over results. The temptation here is to act defensively in an effort to protect your position, even if it comes at the expense of organizational effectiveness. The problem is that it often does.

The antidote is to make results the most important measure of your success. The results produced by your organization are more important than the security of your position. Choose results before status!

Temptation #2 and the antidote

The second temptation faced by leaders is the temptation to choose being popular with their direct reports rather than holding them accountable. This includes an aversion to such things as providing immediate, corrective feedback on the actions, decisions, etc. of your direct reports because of your fear of becoming unpopular.

The antidote is to work for the long-term respect of your direct reports rather than their affection. Long-term respect is the result of strategic, corrective and gracious interventions that ultimately produce results. Lencioni says, “Remember, your people aren’t going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail.”

Temptation #3 and the antidote

The third temptation is to choose certainty over clarity. Leaders will frequently postpone decision making until they can assure a foolproof plan. Often, this is the result of a leader leading out of fear or a desire to preserve his/her image as the “infallible leader.” The problem here is that the organization must continue to function while the leader is in limbo. The result is that the employees work in ambiguity.

The antidote is to make clarity more important than accuracy. At the end of the day, if you are wrong you can apologize and change course, but in the meantime your people will be certain about what it is they are doing and why they are doing it! Lencioni writes, “It’s your job to risk being wrong. The only real cost to you of being wrong is loss of pride. The cost to your company of not taking the risk of being wrong is paralysis.”

Temptation #4 and the antidote

The fourth temptation is to choose harmony over everything else. Often, leaders will NOT get the best ideas from their team because they are unnerved by what Lencioni calls, “productive ideological conflict.” In other words, leaders avoid “the passionate interchange of opinions around an issue” because of their fear of conflict. The problem is that often the best ideas are chased out through aggressive thought and dialogue. Remember what the Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). This sounds like “productive ideological conflict.”

The antidote is to tolerate discord and encourage your team to passionately air their ideological differences. Lencioni says that we should “Guard against personal attacks, but not to the point of stifling important interchanges of ideas.” Leader, let your team argue!

Temptation #5 and the antidote

The final temptation faced by leaders is choosing to be invulnerable and not trusting people. Leaders often “mistakenly believe that they lose credibility if their people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas.” To protect their “shroud of infallibility” leaders will often avoid the fray of “productive ideological conflict” and/or shoot down anyone who disagrees with them. The problem with this is that leaders who do this don’t receive the benefit of their team’s best, honest thinking.

The antidote is to actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas.

The final word…

You can buy The Five Temptations of a CEO here.

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