The Five Temptations of a CEO

I recently concluded reading The Five Temptations of a CEO (Patrick Lencioni, 1998, 134 pages). This is a concise but insightful book.

It’s not difficult to understand why this book is a bestseller, and therefore why it popped up when I searched for books with good content about what real leadership should look like. This book and the others that followed, by Pat Lencioni, contains lots of great insights on the people side and integrity principles that can make an organization work.

In short, the principles, when seeing on the opposite direction as of how they are originally presented in the book are like follows. The first is all about trust. Which requires openness and the ability to show weaknesses that can be compensated by colleagues. The temptation here is try and hide any personal vulnerabilities.

When trust is in place, a good leader must promote ideological conflict, as the book puts. If people feel safe, they will express freely, and conflicting ideas and passionate discussions will emerge. Which is great! Good ideas and better decisions will come out of it. Except if the person in charge falls for the temptation of seeking harmony.

With good ideas, coming from everyone involved, the next step is to seek clarity as of what to do. The temptation is to wait until the “right” decision can be taken, when finally all relevant information is in place. Pointless to say that this almost never is the case. So, seeking clarity should win over the temptation of being right.

Because when there is clarity, there is the possibility of setting clear expectations to the executive team, so that the CEO does not feel bad when holding team members accountable for not delivering. The temptation in case is the wish to be liked by people, which can result in CEO’s either not holding subordinates accountable (which undermines the team), or taking the drastic measure of removing someone when the person in case did not have a fair chance to deliver on the expectations, which were never clearly communicated.

When people are accountable for the expectations that are clearly defined (or otherwise adjusted in case they were flawed), then typically results will come. And results are the most important thing for a company. The final temptation is for a CEO to put status or his position in the first place. Even above the company results. A person who easily succumbs to this temptation, however, should actually never become a CEO.

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