The 5 Temptations of a CEO

The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni

The key to success is not to avoid the susceptibility to the five temptations. While that would be desirable, it is an impossibility. The key is to embrace the self-examination that reveals the temptations and to keep them in the open where they can be addressed.

Temptation Number 1

The desire to protect the status of your own career.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you personally consider it a professional failure when your organization fails to meet its objectives?
  • Do you often wonder, what’s next? What will I do to top this in my career?
  • Would it bother you greatly if your company exceeded its objectives but you remained somewhat anonymous relative your peers in the industry?

Producing results for the company is always the number one objective. Some leaders become more focused on protecting/advancing their own career and it distracts them from the company’s performance.

This causes CEO’s to make decisions that protect their ego or reputation or, worse yet, to avoid making decisions that might damage them. They reward people who contribute to their ego, instead of those who contribute to the results of the company. Even temporary loss of status is unacceptable to CEO’s who do not resist this temptation.

Being driven by ego is not enough, it will not last. Once the ego is initially satisfied, they turn their efforts inward toward enjoying the fruits of their new status. They get weak and lazy as they enjoy the fruit of their spoils.

Advice: Make results the most important measure of success.

Temptation Number 2

The desire to be popular.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you consider yourself to be a close friend of your direct reports?
  • Does it bother you to the point of distraction if they are unhappy with you?
  • Do you often find yourself reluctant to give negative feedback to your direct reports? Do you water down negative feedback to make it more palatable?
  • Do you often vent to them about issues in the organization? For example, do you refer to your staff as “we” and other employees as “they”?

This causes CEO’s to not hold their direct reports accountable for delivering on the commitments that drive results.

Being at the top of an organization is lonely, as a result some CEO’s develop a sense of camaraderie with their direct reports, which results in these same employees balking when told by the CEO that they are not meeting expectations.

Empirical evidence bears out the fact that CEO’s conduct performance reviews of their direct reports far less diligently than they do managers at other levels.

When performance is lacking many CEO’s hesitate to give constructive or negative feedback/ fiscal sanctions, instead opting to wait until things have gotten so bad they can fire the person and sever the relationship completely as opposed to dealing with an ongoing strained relationship,

Advice: Work for the long-term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection. 

Temptation Number 3

The need to make “correct” decisions, to achieve certainty.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you pride yourself on being intellectually precise?
  • Do you prefer to wait for more information rather than make a decision without all the facts?
  • Do you enjoy debating details with your direct reports during meetings?

Many CEO’s, especially highly analytical ones, want to ensure that their decisions are correct, and postpone decisions and fail to make their peoples deliverable clear. They provide vague and hesitant direction to their direct reports and hope that they figure out the right answers along the way.

You cannot hold people accountable for things that are not clear. If you are unwilling to make decisions with limited information you cannot provide clear direction for your staff.

Advice: Make clarity more important than accuracy. If you turn out to be wrong, change plans and explain why. It is your job to take risks, the cost to your company for not taking the risk of being wrong is paralysis.

Temptation Number 4

The desire for harmony.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you prefer your meetings to be pleasant and enjoyable?
  • Are your meetings often boring?
  • Do you get uncomfortable at meetings if your direct reports argue?

The best decisions are made only after all knowledge and perspectives are out on the table. An excessive need for harmony sometimes restricts “productive ideological conflict”.

Advice: Tolerate discord. Encourage your direct reports to air their ideological differences, guard against personal attacks, but not to the point of stifling the important interchange of ideas.

Temptation Number 5

The desire for invulnerability.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a hard time admitting when you are wrong?
  • Do you fear that your direct reports want your job?
  • Do you try to keep your greatest weaknesses secret from your direct reports?

CEO’s are powerful people, being comfortable with their peers and reports is uncomfortable. Many CEO’s mistakenly believe that they lose credibility if their people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas. Employees limit their sincere input feeling the CEO does not want to be vulnerable.

Advice: Actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas. The greatest level of trust you can give is that of your ideas and your ego. Do this and they will return with respect and honesty and a desire to be vulnerable with their peers.

Remember, instilling trust gives executives the confidence to have productive conflict. Fostering conflict gives executives confidence to create clarity. Clarity gives the confidence to hold people accountable. Accountability gives confidence in expected results. Results are a CEO’s ultimate measure of long term success.

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