LenFiveA 06-11-168      


A Leadership Fable


Patrick Lencioni

Jossey-Bass, 1998, 134 pp., ISBN 0-7879-4433-5


In a rather contrived story, a CEO, in a dream, meets a stranger who makes me think of Clarence in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The stranger helps the CEO discover the five temptations that derail CEOs.  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is his best book and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is next.


Most executives are intuitive enough to understand these temptations but they struggle with them all the same.  They distract themselves by getting overly involved in the details of the business. (ix)


Being a CEO is simple in concept.  Unless you’re failing! (21)


Andrew said the best day of his career was the day he was promoted to CEO and the second best day was when his salary cracked six figures.  He had given in to the temptation to put his career status above company achievement.  He was driven by ego more than achievement.


“Once a person’s ego is initially satisfied, he or she turns their efforts toward enjoying the fruits of their new status.  They work fewer hours.  They worry less about the company’s performance than they do about their own level of comfort and status.” (30)


The second temptation is “wanting to be popular with your direct reports instead of holding them accountable.” (34) 


“It’s one thing to hold someone accountable for something and come back the next day and deal with him.  It’s another to fire him and never have to talk to him again.”  [To hold someone accountable means to give him feedback, correction, instruction and consequences, not to ignore and then zap him. dlm]  (42)


The third temptation is to wait until you are certain your decisions are correct.  Executives don’t hold people accountable because they haven’t been clear about their expectations because they are afraid to be wrong.  However, “I was wrong,” is the most powerful thing a CEO can say.  You must risk being wrong, being criticized, and looking bad.  (50-58)


Temptation four is the desire for harmony, to the extent that dissent, discord, disagreement, and conflict are not welcomed.  Harmony is cancer to good decision-making.  Productive, ideological conflict is necessary.  You can only consistently make good decisions with the benefit of everyone’s input. 


Even if you make clear decisions, you know they haven’t really bought into it because you stifled their arguments. (63-69)


The fifth temptation is to protect yourself.  Trust is about risking.  Do you trust your subordinates with your career?  Can they trust you with their careers?  Great CEO’s leave themselves open to being stabbed in the back!  (80-82)


A new board member asked this question:  “I know what your projections are, but why do you think the problems you had last year are going to get any better?” (90)


“Leaders fail because they are unwilling to put their temptations on the table for others to see.  For it is only by bringing their temptations into the open that leaders can enlist the support of subordinates who are in a unique position to help.  The trouble is that this calls for a seemingly excessive level of scrutiny, which many leaders resent and resist.” (105)


“The key is to embrace the self-examination that reveals the temptations and to keep them in the open where they can be addressed.” (106) 



“The greatest challenge of being a CEO, or any leader…, is to avoid getting trapped buy the daily complexities and details of our ‘business.’” (111)


Temptation 1 – Putting something ahead of results on their list of priorities, usually protecting the status of their careers.  CEOs then make decisions or avoid decisions that might damage them.  “They reward people who contribute to their ego….” (112)


Temptation 2 – Failing to hold their subordinates accountable for results because they desire to be popular.   “Work for the long-term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection.”  (113)


Temptation 3 – The need to make ‘correct’ decisions.  In the meantime the direction isn’t clear, the results desired aren’t clear, and therefore it is unfair to hold direct reports accountable.  Clarity is more important than accuracy.  You must know your direction, your plan, and the results you expect.  (115)


Temptation 4 – The need to have harmony in the group squelches conflict resulting in discomfort with decisions made and lack of commitment to them.  “Encourage your direct reports to air their ideological differences, and with passion.” (117)


Temptation 5 – The desire for invulnerability.  CEOs believe they will lose credibility if people are too comfortable challenging their ideas.  (117)


Summary of summary

“Instilling trust gives executives the confidence to have productive conflict.  Fostering conflict gives executives confidence to create clarity.  Clarity gives executives the confidence to hold people accountable.  Accountability gives executives confidence in expected results.  And results are a CEO’s ultimate measure of long-term success.”  (118)


The last section contains a self assessment.  “Ask yourself, ‘Which of the temptations made me feel uncomfortable?’” (123) 



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