A Summary of ‘The 5 Temptations of a CEO’ by Patrick Lencioni

This book was first published in 1998 and republished a decade later. It is still relevant two decades later. Designed to be read in one sitting, in a few short pages it provides five illuminating insights into traps that CEOs can, and do, fall into and the subsequent impact on the businesses they run.

If you have succumbed to any of these you will find straightforward advice to address each, or to ultimately step down from the job. In my words, here’s the summary:

Temptation 1: Ego over Results

This applies to the CEO who values their own comfort, security and status over the results of the company. This person will go into action mode when there is any hint that the company’s results will risk the CEO’s status and comfort.

The advice to these CEOs is to put the company’s performance above their own ego and status, and if they are unable to do that then they should step down form the job because it isn’t about them, it’s about the company.

Temptation 2: Popularity over Accountability

This applies to the CEOs who become friends with their direct reports. It’s a lonely job and the risk is to cross the line between respect and rapport and to value popularity over holding these people accountable. It’s unpleasant, awkward and difficult to have unpopular conversations around performance and accountability and possibly let people go, when the CEO has mistakenly valued popularity.

The advice is to focus on the business and the deliverables that each person must make for the bigger picture. Aim for long term respect of your direct reports by supporting and guiding them to achieve results.

Temptation 3: Certainty over Clarity

This occurs when the CEO fails to make decisions until they have complete certainty that they are making the right decision. While they are searching for certainty and gathering data and information to support their decisions, they fail to make any decisions. This results in their team not having any clarity. At least a decision that may turn out to be wrong, can be changed. Strategies change, decisions change, and teams need clarity.

The advice to the CEO is to give the team clarity by taking the risk that some decisions may be wrong. If you need to course-correct you can explain why you’ve done so to your team. Without decisions and action the company will remain

Temptation 4: Harmony over Conflict

Allow discussion, disagreement and healthy debate in your organisation. If you shut that down you will miss out on different perspectives and ideas and as a result potentially make suboptimal decisions. Not every person’s viewpoint will be agreed with but by considering all angles the decision you make is likely to be better informed and confident.

Advice to the CEO in this case is to tolerate discord and encourage passionate discussion and exchanges of ideas, without personal attacks coming into play.

Temptation 5: Invulnerability over Trust

The temptation for the CEO here is to (in my words) maintain a façade of invulnerability, which may intimidate or at the very least stop direct reports from sharing their views and ideas. I personally wouldn’t call it vulnerability but more ‘authenticity’ that opens you more to your team that is important. It engenders more trust if your team feel you are approachable and open, rather than carry a façade of invulnerability.

The advice to the CEO is to be open to others’ ideas and input as they in turn will trust the CEO with respect and honesty.

My summary doesn’t do the fable justice, but I know anyone who leads a company and who reads this will find these temptations interesting and worth consideration at the very least! 

Author:  Jenny Stilwell