Book Notes by Abi Noda

The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni

ISBN: 978-0470267585
READ: Mar 17, 2015
ENJOYABLE: 6/10
INSIGHTFUL: 7/10
ACTIONABLE: 9/10

Critical Summary

The Five Temptations of a CEO is a quick and worthy read for leaders and managers.

The book describes five common leadership pitfalls – even the most experienced managers will find themselves guilty at one point or another:

  1. Being more interested in career status than achieving results.
  2. Wanting to be popular with your direct reports instead of holding them accountable.
  3. Wanting to ensure that your decisions are correct.
  4. Desire for harmony.
  5. Desire for invulnerability.

My biggest personal takeaways:


A CEO's success hinges on just a few behaviors. "People make it complicated because they're afraid to look at the simple issues."

1 - Being more interested in career status than achieving results.

Great leaders should be driven by achievement, not ego.

There isn't a great coach who would say that his best day was getting hired. Winning games and championships is what great coaching is all about.

Make results the most important measure of personal success, or step down from the job.

It is natural for CEOs to want to be liked by their peers, so most CEO's become friendly with their direct reports. Thus it's no surprise that when it comes time to tell these people that they are not meeting expectations, they balk.

Great leaders should be fanatic about performance - telling reports what is expected and reminding them of those expectations constantly.

CEOs should work for long-term respect, not affection. Don't view your direct reports as a support group, but as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results.

I should make sure to avoid venting to my reports. This implies that they are my support group.

3 - Wanting to ensure that your decisions are correct.

Executives with a need for precision and correctness often postpone decisions and fail to make their people's deliverables clear. They provide vague and hesitant direction to their direct reports and hope that thy figure out the right answers along the way. The chances that they will produce the results that the CEO eventually decides on are slim.

The desire for correctness creates a climate of excessive analysis and over-intellectualization of tactical issues, often leading to unnecessary debates over minutiae. If there's one person who cannot afford to be overly precise its the CEO.

Any decisions is better than no decision.

Without clarity and accountability, results are a matter of luck. You have nothing to fairly hold people accountable for.

Define your goals – what needs to get done so that you can say it was a successful period?

I've been making this mistake with Backoffice. I've been dragging out the process of specifying end-deliverables, and as a result there isn't full clarity, and as a result I have no means of setting expectations or holding the team accountable.

Make clarity more important than accuracy. Remember that people will learn more if you take decisive action than if you always wait for more information. If a decision turns out to be wrong, change plans and explain why.

4 - Desire for harmony.

Harmony is like cancer to good decision-making.

The only way to come to a good decision quickly is to suck all of the honest opinions out of people efficiently. Harmony restricts "productive ideological conflict", and without this conflict, decisions (and confidence in those decisions) are often suboptimal without knowledge and perspectives from all parties.

"If none gets a littler pushed out of shape during a meeting, I feel like we probably didn't put all our issues on the table."

Encourage direct reports to air perspectives with passion. Tumultuous meetings are signs of progress.

5 - Desire for invulnerability.

People who don't feel safe are unwilling to enter the fray of conflict that is necessary for making good decisions.

CEO's should actively encourage people to challenge their ideas.