The Five Temptations of a CEO


In library school, one of the last classes I took was “Management of Information Organizations”, where each of us was assigned to read a management related book, write a report, and present it in class. The most impressive presentation was given by a student who read a Patrick Lencioni book. Accoring to her, Patrick Lencioni’s books are not the usual boring non-fictions. His style is more like story telling, with characters, and actual things that could happen inside an organization, to discuss a management issue.

Now I’m out of school and finally have time to sit down and read some books, I remembered Patrick Lencioni. The first book by him I chose was The Five Tempations of a CEL: A Leadership Fable, because it was his very first book, and it was the thinnest! lol~

I couldn’t say I learned a whole lot from the book, because I’m in no position of a CEO. But I agree his books can keep readers interested. And the messages delivered were based on years of experience, research, and consulting. Here’s a summary of the five temptations:

Temptation 1: CEOs tend to be “more interested in protecting their career status than making sure the company achieves results.”

I think it’s just human nature, which is a weakness. Patrick suggests thinking about the big picture, the greater good.

Temptation 2: CEOs often times want to be “popular with their direct reports instead of holding them accountable” when necessary. His example was how executives just fire people and be done with them, as to avoid having to deal with whatever issues that are keeping them from being productive.

Again, this is about the CEO’s ego and desire to be popular. Patrick’s recommendation is to focus more on accountability and responsibility.

Tempation 3: CEOs are so afraid of being wrong that they sometimes wait around for more information so they can be more certain about making whatever decision, doesn’t necessarily mean things are clearer. This tempation “makes it impossible to hold people accountable.”

Wow, I’m starting to think the word “temptation” is equal to “weakness” in this book. Anyway, Patrick’s advice for this one is for CEOs to not be afraid of admitting their mistakes. They can always improve from that. So do not refrain from making decisions just because they’re not 100% certain, as long as there’s clarity, things won’t turn out 100% wrong!

Temptation 4: Some CEOs list organizational harmony as one of the top priorities and thus frown upon conflicts. By conflicts, Patrick means “productive ideological conflict”, which refers to people bouncing ideas off each other to produce more ideas.

This makes me remember those stories about the old time Chinese emperors. The more their direct reports are in conflict, the safer it is for the emperor. Because if the direct reports – more or less like two parties with different values and opinions – unionize, they might challenge the emperor together.

Patrick’s simple advice is to “tolerate discord”.

Tempation 5: Patrick explains the last tempation is the root of all problems. That is, CEOs worry too much about their own vulnerability that they do not trust the people who work the most closely with them. “They mistakenly believe that they lose credibility if their people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas.”

I guess the point here is to know where to draw the line. How to get the most out of your people without them feeling disrespectful towards you.

Whew! Managing people is no easy task! I’m not sure I can absorb or digest a lot of what’s given in the book. But at least I learned a new set of vocabulary!

Keywords from The Five Temptations of a CEO:

  • Adamant – utterly unyielding in attitude or opinion in spite of all appeals, urgings, etc (Example: “He is adamant in his refusal to change his mind.”) 不动摇的
  • Camaraderie – Goodwill and lighthearted rapport between or among friends 情谊
  • Commiserate – to sympathize with (Example: “They commiserated with him over the loss of his job.”) 同情
  • Complacent – pleased, esp. with oneself or one’s merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied (Example: “He had become complacent after years of success.”) 自满的

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