The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable Hardcover – 18 Sep 2000
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"Another homerun by Lencioni! This will be the first book we give to the thousands of executives who take part in our program." (Verne Harnish, founder, Young Entrepreneurs' Organization; CEO, Gazelles, Inc.)
"This is a wonderful book--a compelling story with a significant message for executives. The lessons here are substantial, and the style of writing is succinct, thorough, and very entertaining." (David S. Pottruck, president & co-CEO, The Charles Schwab Corporation)
"Since implementing these ideas within our company, I've seen morale and productivity increase dramatically. Lencioni encourages us as managers to deal with human issues that are not quickly quantifiable in a spreadsheet or a quarterly report." (Glenn Kiser, vice president and general manager, Skywalker Sound, Lucas Digital LTD.LLC)
"Another great page-turner from Lencioni! As fun to read as it is insightful." (John Donahoe, worldwide managing director, Bain & Company)
"Pat's formula, while elegantly simple, has profound implications for leaders in all sectors. It's right on the mark." (Paula VanNess, president & CEO, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America)
"The four disciplines are the foundation of my company and should be required reading for all start-up ventures." (Mark Weidick, president and CEO, Cymerc Exchange, Inc.)
"This is a powerful model for any organization, large or small. Lencioni knows his stuff." (Mark Hoffman, chairman & CEO, Commerce One)
In this stunning follow-up to his best-selling book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni offers up another leadership fable that's every bit as compelling and illuminating as its predecessor. This time, Lencioni's focus is on a leader's crucial role in building a healthy organization-an often overlooked but essential element of business life that is the linchpin of sustained success. Readers are treated to a story of corporate intrigue as the frustrated head of one consulting firm faces a leadership challenge so great that it threatens to topple his company, his career, and everything he holds true about leadership itself. In the story's telling, Lencioni helps his readers understand the disarming simplicity and power of creating organizational health, and reveals four key disciplines that they can follow to achieve it.See all Product description
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It is simple and compelling and should be required reading for all managers.
In this instance, Lencioni focuses on a common business problem for or challenge to leaders: How to identify "a reasonable number of issues that will have the greatest possible impact on the success of [their] organization, and then spend most [their] time thinking about, talking about, and working on those issues." Presumably Lencioni agrees with Stephen Covey (among others) that executives tend to spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. Of course, that sets a bad example for their direct reports. Viewed another way, some obsessions are productive...others are not. Extraordinary executives know the differences between the two types.
Here's the fictitious situation. Lencioni introduces CEOs of two rival firms in the Bay Area, Vince Green (Greenwich Consulting) and Rich O'Connor (Telegraph Partners) who have quite different obsessions: Green's are best revealed within the book's narrative; Green's are directly or indirectly the result what could be described as Greenwich Consulting's organizational inferiority complex insofar as Telegraph Partners is concerned. There is an early and significant development when O'Connor - struggling to cope with the pressures of trying to balance his family and his successful but demanding business - experiences what Lencioni characterizes as an "epiphany": the recognition of four basis activities ("disciplines, really") that guide and inform his leadership of Telegraph Partners thereafter. "He never certainly suspected that [his list of what become leadership obsessions] would become the blue-print of an employee's plan to destroy the firm."
Almost immediately, it becomes obvious that a new hire, Jamie Bender, "didn't seem to share the hunger and humility of his colleagues" at Telegraph Partners and that is a key point for reasons also best revealed within Lencioni's narrative. Recognizing the mistake, O'Connor must decide how to correct it. Over time, he and his colleagues become infected by what Lencioni describes as a "virus." What then happens - and does not happen - throughout the ensuing weeks allow Lencioni to dramatize both the importance of the four "obsessions of an extraordinary executive" to which the title of his book refers and the consequences when any one of them is compromised. He is a brilliant business thinker but he also possesses the skills of a master raconteur, introducing a cast of characters, conflicts between and among them, and then allowing "rising action" build to a climax (i.e. resolution) also best revealed within the narrative.
Of special interest to me is a conversation between Bender and Green during which Bender explains each of the four disciplines with which O'Connor is obsessed. This conversation occurs late in the narrative and indicates that Bender understands the four disciplines and yet is unwilling and/or unable to master and then follow them. (This strikes me as an excellent example of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton characterize as the "Knowing-Doing Gap.") Bender's explanation seems somewhat didactic to me but, nonetheless, serves as a means by which Lencioni can summarize his key points. He adds a nice dramatic touch when O'Connor appears at Green's office and there is a brief encounter between him and Bender before he and Green meet. Although they and other executives are fictitious characters, each is credible as a human being rather than as a literary device.
As is Lencioni's custom in each of the other volumes in the series of "leadership fables," he then provides an "Organizational Health: The Model" section and supplementary material (Pages 139-180) whose value-added benefits will help his reader to make effective application of the lessons learned from the experiences shared by Rich O'Connor and his colleagues at Telegraph Partners as well as from what Vince Green finally realizes about himself and about the consequences of his own obsessions.
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Patrick Lencioni's other "leadership fables" as well as Michael Ray's The Highest Goal, David Maister's Practice What You Preach, Bill George's Authentic Leadership and his more recently published True North, James O'Toole's Creating the Good Life, and Michael Maccoby's Narcissistic Leaders.
Mr. Lencioni tells us, 'If everthing is important, then nothing is.' He expands on that point by saying, 'The key to managing this challenge, of course, is to identify a reasonable number of issues that will have the greatest possible impact on the success of your organization and then spend most of your time thinking about, talking about, and working on those issues.'
What, then, are these issues? Mr. Lencioni feels that they mostly fall into making the organization smarter and healthier. He points out that most leaders focus on the 'smarter' part, and generally ignore the 'healthier' subject. He also asserts that the 'healthier' issues are more important than the 'smarter' ones. He defines a healthy organization as one that eliminates politics and confusion. You can tell if this has been accomplished by watching to see if morale rises, employee turnover drops, and productivity growth accelerates.
The key obsessions are:
1. Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team
2. Create organizational clarity
3. Over communicate organizational clarity
4. Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems.
The book details the key elements of each obsession. The fable contains all of the key elements in the story.
The fable is built around two competitive companies in the technology consulting business from the perspective of their CEOs. These men started their companies at around the same time after graduating from the same school. The more successful one obsesses on the four principles while the less successful one uses traditional focus areas. The tale builds when the more successful one makes a hiring mistake, and that mistake starts to undermine the organizational health of the company. In reading this book, you get the viewpoints of the CEO who doesn't get it, the new hire who doesn't get it, and the team members who do get it. These multiple perspectives make it easier to understand the lessons, and give texture to the discussion in the summary.
I thought the book was quite successful in its focus, but whether these will be the key areas for all companies or not is less clear to me. The faster growing your business is and the greater the service component, the more relevant these lessons will be. You will have to decide for yourself whether you should focus primarily on these areas or not if you are CEO.
My own experience is that a company should develop a perspective that encompasses a mission, vision, values, direction, strategy, tactics, and stakeholder commitments that are easy for everyone to grasp, are mutually supportive and consistent, are very motivating internally and externally, are easy to understand and explain, and create competitive advantages. I agree that most companies are beset with the communications stall, which is what this book addresses well.
After you finish this book, I suggest you think about where you have a muddled understanding of what others are thinking, or they may be muddled about understanding your thinking. Then, decide how you can reduce those miscommunications in simple, effective ways.