What is it like to be a CEO of a company? I have wondered about this question for as long as I have dreamt to be in the position of a Chief Executive someday, somehow, somewhere. Ambitions of a current phase I suppose.
The more I read, the more I realize that this lofty ambition, held by millions of others, is more arduous than I may like to bargain for in a large corporate environment. Hard work does not turn me away so much as the fear of being misunderstood, not given benefit of a doubt, or being distanced by friends and colleagues when in position of authority. How to best fulfill all responsibilities with integrity? That is the curiosity that led me to Patrick Lencioni‘s second book, “The Five Temptations of a CEO“. Having thoroughly enjoyed his fable in “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, I delved into this fable with the same anticipation.Lencioni writes well – short and sweet – I finished this one on the treadmill! This book is best read and digested in one single sitting (or running or walking); it is the type of gripping fable that will lose momentum with long pauses in between reads, and possibly give you less than the impact over time that I experienced from it. Possibly.
Reading is the best pastime for an active mind! If you like to see the other book reviews, check the index of In Print.
A great leadership fable, this is the story of a disheartened CEO, Andrew, as he leaves the office one evening, after having just fired his chief marketing officer. He encounters a janitor on the commuter train home. The janitor, Charlie, starts a conversation – which the CEO naturally ignores at first. Charlie, un-phased, continues to question Andrew’s recent decision and delves deep into his thoughts through sharp questions: Why did you have to fire your chief marketing officer? Not to worry, the janitor is not about to spout job protection laws for the less than worthy employees and suggest pity rather than merit to keep them on payroll. No, thank Heavens. He is interested in the core motive and intent with which the CEO made that hasty decision.
The fable takes place entirely on that commuter train ride home between Andrew and Charlie. Charlie is the adviser in disguise who takes us through the 5 temptations of the CEO. He uses his father’s successful career as the CEO of a railroad company. The rules of success are simple, and the job of a CEO is not as complicated as humans make it, he tells us. It is not easy to write this without sounding naive. Yet to me, Lencioni manages to sound convincing. Very convincing. Seemingly easy at first, these temptations are also easily forgettable by the busy CEO. It is worth repeating here as they are the ultimate take-aways from the fable.
The 5 Temptations of a CEO:
- To be more interested in protecting your career status than you are in making sure your company achieves results
- To want to be popular with your direct reports instead of holding them accountable
- The temptation to ensure your decisions are correct; temptation to choose certainty over clarity (You will never have 100% of data for all your decisions)
- The desire for harmony – the desire for people to get along rather than to have conflict
- The desire for invulnerability – being vulnerable with your peers and direct reports, which is not a comfortable prospect but necessary
Overcoming the 5 temptations which results in a successful CEO:
- Choose Trust over Invulnerability
- Choose Conflict over Harmony
- Choose Clarity over Certainty
- Choose Accountability over Popularity
- Choose Results over Status
Patrick Lencioni is a remarkable author who communicates business lessons through a natural method to which every human being can connect: That of telling a fable.