The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
The candid admission by the author that “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive,” that it is a fictional account does not lessen its importance. Every book for that matter reveals many things about the subject and something about the author. This author is the management man. The book is the leadership fable based on verifiable facts. Patrick Lencioni’s observations and experience-based ‘research findings’, are implementation-worthy. Management is a philosophy; it is a way of life. What is theory after all? It is other man’s experience. Patrick’s elaborations on the management issues indicate that he has ably tackled this point.
Every organization, if it has to survive the fierce competition unleashed by the industrial and internet revolutions, has got to be competitive and smart. But Patrick’s profound emphasis is on health of an organization and he entrusts that responsibility to the top man in the organization. If health of the organization is lost, everything is lost. His four actionable steps to build a healthy organization are simple and easy to understand. But the easiest of the principles are difficult to implement, and the managerial skill lies in translating them to action, put them into practice to achieve the set goals. It is a patient and continuous process. The four disciplines outlined in the book are:
Build and maintain cohesive leadership team
Create organizational clarity
Communicate organizational clarity
Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems.
Patrick has created the pen-portrait of two fictional managers who make their strategies to implement the above disciplines. Both are aware how important is health from the point of view of long term survival and growth of the Organization. A good Manager is also a good philosopher because he has to deal with human beings with different temperaments. This requires more than ordinary skills. The literary technique is the author’s prerogative, and Patrick makes extensive use of parables and allegories to great effect. Pedantic literature on any subject is generally not liked by a reader. Patrick has shown how a serious subject like management can be made lively and interesting. What you write about a subject is no doubt important; but how you write, what you write is more important. This leadership fable should help to evolve able leaders!
That which is the best that which revels strongly in the mind of the author comes out first in the book. In the introduction to the book Patrick writes, “If everything is important, then nothing is.”(Lencioni, 2000, p, xiii, introduction) He cautions about the maladies that would seriously affect the organization like, lower turnover, interference and influence of politics. More productivity and higher morale are the cornerstones of a successful organization. But he is never tired of emphasizing the importance of health. He writes, “ But perhaps most important of all, organizational health is often neglected because it involves facing realities of human behavior that even the most committed executive is tempted to avoid. It requires levels of discipline and courage that only a truly extraordinary executive is willing to embrace.”(Lencioni, 2000, p, xvi-introduction)
Patrick gives the examples of two ideal Managers that he has created, in the personality of Rich O’Connor of Telegraph Partners and the rival firm, Greenwich Consulting, to illustrate the practical application of the principles enunciated by him. The story moves quickly- it has to- for Patrick has to cover everything within the space of a small book of 184 pages. He has provided a comprehensive analytical summary, which is a very important tool of management. Self-assessment and suggestions are important to put any management idea into practice.
Patrick creates a situation, where the fictional CEO of technology consulting company Telegraph Partners faces a leadership crisis, so deep and intriguing that it threatens to topple his company. In that eventuality his career will be in jeopardy and all that he holds in high esteem about the qualities of a successful leader will be totally incorrect. Patrick shows how the CEO comes out of the messy and difficult situation with flying colors.
Human issues do not have a quick-fix solution and rocket science will not contribute to find a lasting solution to the problem. Patrick’s suggestions are good for any organization, large or small. Morality and productivity are alternative beats of the same heart.
As the title of the book rightly suggests, this is the story of obsessions. This obsession is sustainable, because it is the obsession of a CEO. A person who knows what his obsessions are and the methods of implementing them is confident about the outcome. The book reads like the commercial suspense-thriller. For the purpose of comparison and to give lessons to the readers about success and failures, Lencioni ‘selects’ two companies in the same segment of industry, their strength, customers, size, niche and the strategy are identical. Only the management style and their culture and organization health made the difference. The story relates to a virus that attacks the company. Mutual suspicion and crisis follow. The story goes to elaborate the strength of a cohesive team of good and healthy organization and the manner in which it fought the virus. The virus brings to the light the obsessions to the CEO of the rival company. The virus is the Vice-President of HR. He is a peculiar personality; he does not participate actively in the discussions, keeps his view unto himself, and remains aloof from the management team. He likes to be secretive, and tells his opinions in the end, in a non-committal way. This is a sort of double-deal in conversation. This virus is exposed as not being able to get along with the culture of the company.
The obsessions are actually very simple and relate to the organization culture. Every management student is familiar with concepts like the organization culture, its identity, core values, direction, strategy and objectives. The strength of the CEO is how far he takes these obsessions and the intensity with which he pursues them in his mind and through actions. To achieve the desired end, he is obsessed with being clear, cohesive, over-communicating and reinforcing.
Once an individual occupies the management position, the changes in the perceptions, attitudes and behavior are instant. Much insecurity, hitherto unthought-of, grips him. Initially, howsoever amiable may the personality of the individual, one is likely to pass through many a sleepless nights until one is seized of the issues and establishes firm control over them. The yardstick of treating each individual working under him has got to be different because no two persons are alike by nature. Through the fable format employed, Patrick has shown how the issues confront the manager who has incorrectly identified his competitive advantage. The test of the truth is not in escaping from the truth but squarely facing it. When the junior has scored over you on any issue, which the inner chamber of your heart recognizes as truth, it is wise not to be egoistic. Recognize the merit of that truth and adopt it for the benefit of the institution. The bond and amity that emerges of that solution between the junior and the Manager would be historic from the overall growth point of view of the institution. Only a sound corporate culture can make the strategies and business models work.
The dream of any CEO is to design and maintain an effective, competitive and efficient organization. The author has decided to adopt the fable format, but that is the business of the author; he should be having his own reasons, but he delivers the goods to the reader. The example of a clueless HR executive and what he thinks is a dysfunctional team in his present employment and makes efforts to join the competing firm is a highly educative example. That is his style of wriggling out of the problem. The question is, whether it is the correct approach? Probably not! The wise philosophical saying goes, “Do not run away to the jungle in search of peace of mind; try to create an atmosphere and find peace where you are!”
One needs to practice the art of living, not the art of running away from the challenges. Life is to be lived in its trials and tribulations; duty and beauty. This aphorism holds good for practical application in business environment as well. Running away from the responsibilities to join the competing firm, is as good as deserting one’s own regiment to join the enemy camp.
The CEO needs to be the perfect master in mixing freely with his officers and employees and yet keep the essential dignity of the post that he is occupying. They must enjoy full freedom under him and must be encouraged to express their views without fear. The strengths of a good executive are clarity, trust, focus, consistency and communication. To quote a wise saying, “Half the cure goes to the knowledgeable doctor’s of medical research; and half to the magical touch!” Notwithstanding the fact that one is a master in management theory, imagination and the ability to use the sixth sense in the demanding situations is the hallmark of a successful management executive.
Head and heart of a management executive must work-in tandem according to Patrick. He has used the technique of weaving a story around a set of principles as applied to a set of individuals. He emphasizes that the desperate situations need, not desperate remedies, but calculative measures after calm reflections. What is important is the permanent effort, not victory or defeat. These are but the temporary phases in the life of an organization; what mattes is its intrinsic strength to tide over the difficulties.
Part II of the essay:
Patrick M. Lencioni, also the author of the book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, is eminently suited to write the present book being a theoretician and the practical man in the subject of management. He is the President of the Table Group, a San Francisco Bay Area Management consulting firm which specializes in organizational and executive development. He is a popular speaker on topics related to leadership and management.
Each of the four disciplines elucidated by Lincioni is unchallengeable and must hold well in finding solutions to the difficult situations through which an Organization passes time and again. The contents of the book serve the purpose of continuing education for the Managers and the students of management. On going through this book, you feel as if you have entered the college of self-education in management, where your mind is your principal; your initiative your professors!
1) Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team
When you build a team, you share the responsibility! The ‘lightest burden’ of the organization should be on the head of the top executive as for the actual workload in terms of the number of files handled, the number of telephone calls he has to answer etc. The idea is, the top leader should function more like the think tank, than carry out the day to day responsibilities. The thinking process requires a relaxed atmosphere. He need not work hard; but he must work intelligently. His ability is in extracting the work, improving the productivity of the organization. Once he creates the team, to the best of his ability and judgment, the onus is on the team members to carry on happily together. It is a good education for the team members to know the strengths and weakness of each member. Ideological conflict is good when it helps the cause of the organization. Behaviors and actions may vary to some extent, but on the whole they are committed to group decisions. The cohesive and healthy team is able to fight off the virus that made efforts to contaminate the team spirit.
2) Create Organizational Clarity
After reading this book, I am able to recollect some of my own past experiences and complicated situations that I underwent. If I had gone through the contents of the book earlier, I would have been in a better position to solve the issues. If you place yourself in the place of the problem-man, and think the issue from the perspective of that individual, probably you are inching towards the solution. One or two such positive moves and you have clinched the issue. Lencioni explains how writing up vision and mission statements is the usual practice in setting up the identity of the company and its long term goal. It was trendy a few years ago and everyone did it. The CEO of the rival company said it was mentioned in Build to Last which all management people knew well and could readily recite. That was the end of the journey for him. But in fact, it should be the beginning. These statements are not wall-hangings. What is to be noted is the CEO’s obsession to implement the contents of the mission and vision statements into action plans. Any confusion in implementing the plans can be sorted out by the team members who are seized of the issues.
3) Over-Communicate Organization Clarity
This is an enjoyable book, but demands the serious attention of a student of management and also those holding managerial positions. It has many applicable tips that are worth communicating to all the rungs of the organization. When one reads this book, the compare and contrast position goes on continuously in the mind of the reader. If you are in a managerial position, you have certainly come across some of the situations mentioned in the book. The book highlights cross sharing to help internal communications to reinforce which Lencioni has introduced the character of Jamie in the early stages of the book. But any form of cultural changes starts from the very top of the tree, i.e. from the CEO. His convictions and style of functioning influence and create impact at all levels. Another issue emphasized by Lencioni over which I am in complete agreement, is the obsession for over-communicating! They say, ‘a lie repeated from thousand platforms becomes the truth.’ For the purpose of this article, not its content, but the strength of its over-communication needs to be understood. For organizational clarity, over-communicating is one of its strengths. The obsessed CEO avails every opportunity, every occasion, every meeting and different levels of reception and send messages down the ranks, until each and every employee which he considers and treats like the precious assets of the Organization get at them. Can there be a more ideal situation for the Organization?
4) Reinforce Organizational Clarity Through Human Systems.
The model and the application tools in the back of the book are helpful. The book contains some profound executive learning points. When two friends read the book, it becomes the topic of conversation. The management and supervisory team will find the contents of this book an invaluable source for fostering meaningful discussions on leadership and corporate values. “Obsession.” is a great quality that stimulates the thought process. Such thought processes pave way for action processes. The wise saying slightly modified, reads— when the thoughts are changed, the mind is changed, when the mind is changed, the employee is changed, when the employee changes for the better, the Organization to which he belongs will also change for the better. The success of the organization lies in teamwork and proper communication between the team members. They need to understand the values of the Organization and comfortable in working with each other. To earn large revenue and a big chain of clients are important aspects of the Organization, but if you make efforts to achieve them at the cost of the health of the Organization, you commit the serious error, that will prove dear in the long run. Patrick’s explanation and the method to define clarity and communicate vision and mission of the Organization are very important. This book helps us to frame own models and find answers to the problems. Lencioni does not write sitting on an ivory tower. He comes to the brass tracks and the points enunciated by him help reinforce organizational clarity through human systems. He makes you aware as to what happens to an Organization, when every employee gives his hundred percent for the growth of the Organization.
At the end of the day, the human beings, the employees and the managerial staff are like the mirror of the organization. The mirror should be kept clean so that it reflects the correct picture, without fault. I admire the style in which the CEO of the successful company made sure that the human systems were in tact and they were used to reinforce organizational clarity. The staff needs to be groomed in their respective disciplines under the watchful eyes. The recruitment process, rewards and recognition and performance management and finally the worst thing that can happen to an individual- but very necessary from the health point of view of an Organization-the dismissal, all need to be followed as per the set procedures.
All the above exercises are carried out to preserve, protect and promote the health of the Organization. Culture of any Organization is hard to change and if it is good and stands the test of time, why should it change? But an Organization is subject to the influence of so many external factors and conditions. The industrial and internet revolutions have contributed a lot to change in culture of the so-called traditional Organizations. The survival instinct for any Organization is of supreme importance. The obsession of the CEO may be to preserve the culture or change the culture of the Organization, depending on the demand of the times. In the face of stiff pulls and pressures and devastating competition, the CEO has to keep the Organization on tracks. He has to lead by example. Value-based culture that emerges from the top and filters through the lowest ranks is not easy to maintain. The tender sapling has to be watered and nurtured with loving care. It also requires great personal sacrifice and courage. Few are able to run the marathon successfully. The employees can build an organization, just as sometimes it is claimed by some trade union leaders that the employees can break it. But the new class of autonomous workers who have developed a sense of belonging to the Organization and have the confidence to take decisions that are relevant to the goals and values of the organization as a whole, are the true assets of any Organization and the Lencioni’s successful CEO is aware of their importance and role. But the four principles are not rocket science. Patrick Lencioni is the first person to tell you so.
Lencioni, Patrick: Book: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (September 1, 2000)