Book of the Month: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: by Patrick Lencioni
Like every Patrick Lencioni book I’ve read, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive takes the form of a fable to impart Lencioni’s unique take on leadership. The crux of Lencioni’s message is that organizations attain their greatest health, and by extension, profitability, when the leaders of those organizations simplify, streamlining those areas to which they devote their attention and efforts, almost to an extreme degree. He identifies four key disciplines which warrant the focus of extraordinary executives:
1. Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team – Among other things, this involves creating a culture of vigorous debate to ensure that leadership teams do not suffer from their own insulation. Too often, debate is viewed as a sign of conflict, rather than what it really can be--a critical part of the decision-making process, necessary to ensure that issues are viewed holistically and approached strategically.
2. Create Organizational Clarity – Organizational clarity can be defined through establishing answers to the following six questions:
1. Why does this company exist?
2. How should we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What is most important right now?
6. Who must do what?
Answers are intended to be succinct. Lencioni does not speak of mission statements, but for many companies the answers to these questions would be an extension of mission, vision and value statements.
3. Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity – According to Lencioni, the extraordinary executive ensures that answers to the above questions pervade the organization such that whether it be the CFO or the mail room attendant, each team member can clearly understand and espouse what amounts to the company’s most fundamental tenets, mission, and methods. This is how organizational unity and cohesion take root.
4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity Through Human Systems – This is where the rubber meets the road. Processes must be established to ensure that new employees are never hired without strong alignment to the organization’s fundamental values. Onboarding these new employees must occur in a systematic way to ensure that the organization’s learned culture is conveyed and absorbed most effectively. Performance review and feedback processes will help to keep individuals accountable to the company’s values and mission.
Executives manage so many aspects of their businesses, that the prospect of devoting focus to as few as four areas might at first seem impractical, if not altogether irresponsible. However, Lencioni makes a strong case that actually the opposite is true. By focusing on these four areas, executives can avoid becoming spread too thin or distracted, and instead devote the lion’s share of their energy to only those areas that will have the most dramatic impact on their company’s health, and by extension, the bottom line.