10 Things I Learned from “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive” by Patrick Lencioni

"The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive" by Patrick Lencioni

My interest in Persuasion and getting people moving, getting them working and improving, overlaps with business and leadership.

I follow a number of successful entrepreneurs on Twitter. Many of them know that reality is flexible, that we create (and live by) our own limits.

Image "Put your hands up in the air" by Thomas Leuthard, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Image “Put your hands up in the air” by Thomas Leuthard, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

Inspiring people to push past those self-inflicted limits is one view of Persuasion, and important for any self-starter like yourself.

Another aspect of persuasion, especially in larger businesses, is change management.

Large organizations naturally drift in many different directions as people interpret goals their own way. Changes in an organization can be catastrophic and costly as the new rules or structure are poorly communicated.

No one knows quite what the new changes are, why the changes happened, or how employees should even support the changes.

After all, change creates a cognitive load. Change is tiring and confusing. It’s easier to maintain the status quo, dragging our feet until we begrudgingly, minimally accept the change.

This behavior is costly to any organization.

Change Management tries to combat this by getting buy-in from employees. Giving the employees a sense of ownership over the outcome, and an understanding of why the decision was needed and why it was made, can make all the difference in the world.

Starting where the subjects are in the emotional and factual journey, and leading them to the desired outcome, is Persuasion 101:

  • Including the emotional “why” of the change
  • Pacing and Leading the employees
  • Framing the various outcomes
  • Reciprocity of trust
  • Authority of the decision makers

Change management incorporates these persuasive ideas, and more.


With Change Management on the brain, I picked up a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.

"The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive" by Patrick Lencioni
“The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive” by Patrick Lencioni

The book is a short story about two rival firms. The two company’s industry is never disclosed, allowing the reader to fill in details to make it relevant to their own life (Stories are persuasive because they allow readers to identify with the characters and fill in details from their own life — that’s persuasive maneuver in writing).

The first firm works long hours and never seems to get ahead of its rival. The second firm seems to succeed without struggle. That drives the first firm crazy.

Ten Things I Learned from The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

  1. Executives should focus on making their organizations healthy, not smart. The smarts can come from down the chain. The leaders’ jobs are to focus on the human problems and culture, to keep employees engaged and working, even when the company faces difficulties. What frame are people working within? Are they fearful of their futures or are they confident in the organization?
  2. Executives like those in the book tend to believe their work matters greatly to the company. And of course, their work does matter. But is it micromanagement, or is it leadership?
  3. The successful firm’s CEO, Rich, takes an active role in hiring everyone in the company. One of his methods to keep the company healthy is to ensure hiring candidates are a strong cultural fit and that they embody the company’s values.
  4. “Less rope. Senior people should get less rope, because in the process of hanging themselves, they snag other people too.” (p33) It’s windy at the top, as they say.
  5. Good executive teams argue about strategic decisions until a decision is reached. From that point forward, everyone supports that decision. There are no inter-office politics between departments. This idea isn’t new. That doesn’t make it easy. This is embraced with change management, where people (or teams) feel like they’ve been given a voice and they’ve been heard, even if their idea didn’t win out.
  6. That leads to the first obsessive idea: Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team. This includes personality tests such as Myers-Briggs, so team members can better understand one another. Leaders that understand decisions and one another have more authority among the people under them. Small conflicts above creates larger conflicts in the trenches below.
  7. The second: Create Organizational Clarity. A business must live by its mission statement and its values. Goals, roles, responsibilities are structured and followed. There is no confusion about who does what job.
  8. Obsessive Idea número tres: Over-communicate Organizational Clarity. Make sure everyone in the company understands what the company stands for and how they play a role. It should never be a question who performs what role, or why that role exists.
  9. Four: Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems. Candidates and employees spend a lot of time ensuring everyone is on the same page as the company, so that efforts aren’t wasted or unproductive. In the fictitious company of this book, it’s a 90 minute meeting for every employee, every quarter.
  10. Employees in healthy organizations should be continually reminded of the organization’s guiding values and mission. These messages should come in multiple formats and mediums, from all levels of leadership, and be simple and repetitive to ensure they’re understood. Leadership at all levels needs to give the same message so that lower rungs of the organization don’t see conflict above them.

I’ve certainly not done justice to the story in Lencioni’s book, or possibly even to his 4 Obsessions. The themes within are explored more deeply than what I’ve covered here. Upon a second reading, many of the ideas become more concrete.

I devoured this book. If you’re interested in business systems or if you’re in a leadership position, this is a highly-recommended read.

Have you read The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive? What stands out to you? What did I get wrong? I’d love to read your thoughts, please leave us a comment on the blog!

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