Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Five Temptations

I stumbled across a book at the library last week called The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni. Intrigued by the title, I checked it out and took it home. It turned out to be both a good book and a quick read.

The ideas in the book are neatly encapsulated in “The Model”, a short section towards the end of the book. The model lists the five temptations:

  • Choosing status choosing results
  • Choosing popularity over accountability
  • Choosing certainty over clarity
  • Choosing harmony over productive conflict
  • Choosing invulnerability over trust

I’ve been thinking about my own strengths and weaknesses and how they manifest in this particular model.

Status over results

I don’t think that this is particularly a problem for me. My primary motivation for work these days is paying for my children’s autism therapy, not moving ahead in the world. I have worked with (and for) people for whom this was a primary motivation. The big problem that I saw coming out of this was risk-aversion. They didn’t want to do anything that might endanger their status.

Popularity over accountability

It is tempting to try and be friends with the people who work for you. When everything is going well, it isn’t a problem. But when there are problems, it usually makes the problem harder. I have, and do, struggle with holding people accountable, but popularity isn’t the core of the problem. The core of the problem for me lies in temptation number three.

Certainty over clarity

I am fairly risk-averse by nature. In my early years as a manager, I put off a lot of decisions that I should have made because I wanted to be absolutely sure that I was making the right decisions. With the help of a good therapist and some good managers, I’ve gotten a lot better at this in the past five or six years. The desire for certainty made it harder for me to hold people accountable. Because I was waiting to be certain, I didn’t commit to a decision and make it clear to the team. Since I hadn’t given them clarity, it didn’t seem fair to hold them accountable. That’s a point that the author calls out explicitly, and it really rings true for me. While I have improved here, this is still something that I need to watch out for.

Harmony over productive conflict

This is another one that poses a challenge for me. I spent 2002 working on a Masters degree in counseling (then my kids were diagnosed with autism and I realized this wasn’t a viable career change, I never went back for the second year of the program). One of the more interesting things that we did was something called the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode instrument. It rates you in various styles of handling conflicts. It took me a while to make sense of my results. My two high areas (much higher than the others) were Avoiding and Competing. In fact, they tied each other for #1. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that it did fit. I preferred to avoid conflict if possible, but once it was clearly unavoidable, I became very competitive and tried to “win”. In fact, I tended to come out swinging for blood. Neither of these are terribly effective ways of handling conflict, and now I know that I need to watch that carefully. As a manager, I need to make sure that I don’t squash the conflicts that a team needs to go through in order to evaluate alternatives and reach good decisions. At a previous company I watched one of the senior executives squash any conflicts that involved his staff. It prevented some serious personnel problems from getting solved. I work hard now to distinguish between unproductive conflict that needs to be squashed and productive conflict that needs to be fostered.

Invulnerability over trust

I’ve made deliberate choices to be vulnerable. As I see it, in order to be invulnerable, I would have to behave as though I didn’t trust anyone. That’s just too depressing of an assumption for me. Assuming that people aren’t trustworthy, and then acting accordingly makes me unhappy.

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