The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni


Earlier this week I finished another good book from Management Guru Patrick Lencioni – The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable. In his customary style, Patrick brings out the inner conflicts of the CEO of a San Francisco based company which many struggling CEOs experience. A temptation may be understood as a personal moral failure that becomes a contagion and can have devastating ripple effects. I have already enjoyed reading Patrick’s other books – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Ideal Team PlayerDeath by MeetingThe Truth About Employee EngagementThe MotiveSilos, Politics and Turf WarsThe Advantage.

The temptations analyzed in this book are – 

  1. Choosing Status Over Results: A common temptation for many CEOs is that they become more interested in protecting their career status than making sure their company achieves results. To identify it, the CEOs need to ask themselves – would it bother you greatly if your company exceeded its objectives but you remained somewhat anonymous relative to your peers in the industry? Patrick’s advice to CEOs to overcome this temptation is – make results the most important measure of personal success or step down from the job.
  2. Choosing Popularity Over Accountability: Whether done consciously or not, many CEOs prefer to be popular with their direct reports (and let them off the hook) instead of holding them accountable. To identify it, the CEOs need to ask themselves – do you often find yourself reluctant to give negative feedback to your direct reports? Do you water down the negative feedback to make it more palatable? Patrick’s advice to CEOs to overcome this temptation is – realize people are not always going to like you as you have to make difficult decisions. Find other places for your affirmation: family, friends, outside activities.
  3. Choosing Certainty Over Clarity: Many CEOs have the temptation to ensure that their decisions are correct. In choosing certainty over clarity, some CEOs fear being wrong so much that they wait until they are absolutely certain about something before they make a decision. But if you are unwilling to make decisions with limited information, you can’t achieve clarity. To identify it, the CEOs need to ask themselves – do you pride yourself on being intellectually precise? Patrick’s advice to CEOs to overcome this temptation is – take decisive action when called for. If the decisions are wrong, when more information becomes available, admit the mistake and work on correcting it.
  4. Choosing Harmony Over Productive Conflict: The desire for harmony is natural for human beings, the fourth temptation of a CEO mentioned in this book; but harmony is like cancer to good decision making. What’s needed to make good decisions is not bad conflict, but productive ideological conflict, with passionate, heated conversations where people challenge one another without any permanent damage to their relationships. To identify it, the CEOs need to ask themselves – do you get uncomfortable at meetings if your direct reports argue? Patrick’s advice to CEOs to overcome this temptation is – allow and cultivate healthy conflict from your staff and even your board. Guard against personal attacks but do not mistake heated discussion for it.
  5. Choosing Invulnerability Over Trust: CEOs must trust their employees, even when it feels like they are putting their careers in the hands of others. But before a CEO can trust others, she has to be vulnerable. People who trust one another aren’t worried about holding back their opinions or their passions. They will return that trust with respect and honesty, and with a desire to be vulnerable among their peers. To identify it, the CEOs need to ask themselves –  do you try to keep your greatest weaknesses secret from your direct reports? Patrick’s advice to CEOs to overcome this temptation is – actively encourage your staff to challenge your ideas.

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