Book Summary: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

Great read on the mindset and practices to drive cohesion, alignment, and clarity in your team and organizations. Short book with powerful insights. I hope you enjoy!

The following are the passages I most enjoyed from the book The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni. All content credit goes to the author.


Framework: The Four Disciplines

DisciplineKey Traits
Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership TeamCohesive teams build trust, eliminate politics, and increase efficiency by…
– Knowing one another’s unique strengths and weaknesses
– Openly engaging in constructive ideological conflict
– Holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions
– Committing to group decisions
Create Organizational ClarityA healthy organization minimizes the potential for confusion by clarifying..
– Why the organizations exists
– Which behavioral values are fundamental
– What specific business it is in
– Who its competitors are
– How it is unique
– What it plans to achieve
– Who is responsible for what
Over Communicate Organizational ClarityHealthy organizations align their employees around organizational clarity by communicating key messages through… 
Repetition: Don’t be afraid to repeat the same message, again and again
Simplicity: The more complicated the message, the more potential for confusion and inconsistency.
Multiple Mediums: People react to information in many ways; use a variety of mediums.

Cascading Messages:
– Leaders communicate key messages to direct reports
– the cycle repeats itself until the message is heard by all
Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human SystemsOrganizations sustain their health by ensuring consistency in…
– Hiring
– Managing Performance
– Rewards and Recognition
– Employee dismissal

Introduction

If everything is important, then nothing is.

  • Every organization provides its leader with more distractions and concerns than one person can handle. 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.
  • All successful organizations share two qualities: they are smart, and they are healthy. An organization demonstrates that it is smart by developing intelligent strategies, marketing plans, product features, and financial models that lead to competitive advantage over its rivals. It demonstrates that it is healthy by eliminating politics and confusion, which leads to higher morale, lower turnover, and higher productivity.

The Drive for a Healthy Organization

  • A healthy organization is one that has less politics and confusion, higher morale and productivity, lower unwanted turnover, and lower recruiting costs than an unhealthy one.
  • The first step is to embrace the idea that, like so many other aspects of success, organizational health is simple in theory but difficult to put into practice. It requires extraordinary levels of commitment, courage and consistency.
  • The second step is to master these fundamental disciplines and put them into practice on a daily basis.

DISCIPLINE ONE: BUILD AND MAINTAIN A COHESIVE LEADERSHIP TEAM

The essence of a cohesive leadership team is trust, which is marked by an absence of politics, unnecessary anxiety, and wasted energy.

  • Politics is the result of unresolved issues at the highest level of an organization, and attempting to curb politics without addressing issues at the executive level is pointless.
  • When an executive decides not to confront a peer about a potential disagreement, he or she is dooming employees to waste time, money, and emotional energy dealing with unresolvable issues.
  • Cohesive leadership teams, on the other hand, resolve their issues and create environments of trust for themselves, and thus for their people. They ensure that most of the energy expended in the organization is focused on achieving the desired results of the firm.

How Do You Assess Your Team for Cohesiveness?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are meetings compelling? Are the important issues being discussed during meetings?
  • Do team members engage in unguarded debate? Do they honestly confront one another?
  • Do team members apologize if they get out of line? Do they ever get out of line?
  • Do team members understand one another?
  • Do team members avoid gossiping about one another?

DISCIPLINE TWO: CREATE ORGANIZATIONAL CLARITY

Organizational clarity is not merely about choosing the right words to describe a company’s mission, strategy, or values; it is about agreeing on the fundamental concepts that drive it.

  • Organizational clarity provides employees at all levels of an organization with a common vocabulary and set of assumptions about what is important and what is not.
  • Organizational clarity allows employees to make decisions and resolve problems without constant supervision and advice from managers.
  • Organizational clarity allows a company to delegate more effectively and empower its employees with a true sense of confidence
  • Truly nimble organizations dare to create clarity at all times, even when they are not completely certain about whether it is correct. And if they later see a need to change course, they do so without hesitation or apology, and thus create clarity around the new idea or answer.
  • Clarity provides power like nothing else can. It establishes a foundation for communication, hiring, training, promotion, and decision making, and serves as the basis for accountability in an organization, which is a requirement for long-term success.

How Do You Assess Your Organization for Clarity?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why does the organization exist, and what difference does it make in the world?
  • What behavioral values are irreplaceable and fundamental?
  • What business are we in, and against whom do we compete?
  • How does our approach differ from that of our competition?
  • What are our goals this month, this quarter, this year, next year, five years from now?
  • Who has to do what for us to achieve our goals this month, this quarter, this year, next year, five years from now?
  • Why Does the Organization Exist, and What Difference Does It Make in the World?

DISCIPLINE THREE: OVER-COMMUNICATE ORGANIZATIONAL CLARITY

Within companies that effectively over-communicate, employees at all levels and in all departments understand what the organization is about and how they contribute to its success.

  • Within companies that effectively over-communicate, employees at all levels and in all departments understand what the organization is about and how they contribute to its success. As a result, there is a strong sense of common purpose and direction, which supersedes any departmental or ideological allegiances they may have.
  • The first step is to embrace the three most critical practices of effective organizational communication: repetition, simple messages, and multiple mediums.
    • Repetition: effective communication requires repetition in order to take hold in an organization.
    • Simple Messages: clear, uncomplicated messages about where the organization is going and how they can contribute to getting there.
    • Mediums: Leverage multiple channels of communication as a unique opportunity to reach employees and make messages clear.

On Cascading Communication

  • After virtually every executive staff meeting that takes place in any organization, there are key decisions that have been made and issues that have been resolved, which need to be communicated.
  • The key is to take five minutes at the end of staff meetings and ask the question, “What do we need to communicate to our people?” After a few minutes of discussion, it will become apparent which issues need clarification and which are appropriate to communicate. Not only does this brief discussion avoid confusion among the executives themselves, it gives employees a sense that the people who head their respective departments are working together and coming to agreement on important issues.

How Do You Assess Your Organization for Effective Over-Communication?

  • Ask your employees if they know why the organization exists, what its fundamental values are, what business it is in, whom its competitors are, what its strategy is, what the major goals for the year are, and who is responsible for doing what at the executive level. Then ask them how their job affects each of these areas.

DISCIPLINE FOUR: REINFORCE ORGANIZATIONAL CLARITY THROUGH HUMAN SYSTEMS

Build a sense of that clarity into the fabric of the organization through processes and systems that drive human behavior.

  • An organization that uses human systems properly maintains its identity and sense of direction even during times of change. It ensures that employees will be hired, managed, rewarded, and, yes, even fired for reasons that are consistent with its organizational clarity.

Hiring Profiles

  • One system is an interviewing and hiring profile, which is based largely on the fundamental values of an organization. Healthy organizations look for qualities in job candidates that match the values of the company. They ask behavioral questions of interviewees and probe for evidence that the candidate has the potential to fit within the organization. After interviews have taken place, interviewers debrief with one another, paying special attention to the assessments of colleagues regarding the candidate’s alignment with fundamental values. This group consultation helps organizations avoid making costly hiring mistakes, which take months and sometimes years to correct.

Performance Management

  • Another system that serves to reinforce an organization’s clarity is its performance management process. This is the structure around which managers communicate with and direct the work of their people. It serves to help employees identify their opportunities for growth and development, and to constantly realign their work and their behaviors around the direction and values of the organization at large.
  • The best performance management systems include only essential information, and allow managers and their employees to focus on the work that must be done to ensure success.

Rewards and Recognition

  • This system has to do with the manner in which organizations reinforce behavior. Healthy organizations eliminate as much subjectivity and capriciousness as possible from the reward process by using consistent criteria for paying, recognizing, and promoting employees.
  • Decisions about bonuses and other compensation are based on the same criteria used in hiring and managing performance. This helps employees understand that the best way to maximize their personal rewards is to act in a way that contributes to the company’s success, as defined by organizational clarity.
  • Recognition of employees is designed around the organization’s values. These not only provide incentives for employees to emulate the right behaviors, but they also serve as a high-profile means of promoting the values themselves.
  • Finally, no one is promoted in healthy organizations unless they represent the behavioral values of the organization. Management discusses candidates for promotion not only in regard to their contribution to the bottom line but also in terms of their impact on reinforcing the clarity of the organization.

Dismissal

  • Healthy organizations use their values and other issues related to organizational clarity to guide their decisions about moving employees out of the company. Not only does this provide an effective means for identifying problems before they become too costly, it helps companies avoid making arbitrary decisions about an employee’s suitability for remaining within the organization.

How Does an Organization Assess Itself for Human Systems?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a process for interviewing candidates and debriefing those interviews as a team?
  • Are there consistent behavioral interview questions that are asked across every department?
  • Is there a consistent process for managing the performance of employees across the organization?
  • Do we spend time evaluating employees’ behavior versus the organization’s values and goals?
  • Do managers and employees willingly participate in the system?
  • Is there a consistent process for determining rewards and recognition for employees?
  • Is there a consistent process for evaluating promotion candidates against organizational values?
  • Are there consistent criteria for removing employees from the organization?
  • Are employees ever terminated because they are a poor fit within the organization’s values?

Conclusion

Because every organization is different, each will struggle with different aspects of the model.

Some leadership teams have an easier time building trust than others but lack the discipline and follow-through to put processes and systems in place. Others enjoy strategic planning and decision making but lose interest in repeatedly communicating their decisions to employees.

Whatever the case, executives must keep two things in mind if they are to make their organizations successful.

  • First, there is nothing more important than making an organization healthy. Regardless of the temptations to dive into more heady and strategically attractive issues, extraordinary executives keep themselves focused on their organization’s health.
  • Second, there is no substitute for discipline. No amount of intellectual prowess or personal charisma can make up for an inability to identify a few simple things and stick to them over time.

I greatly enjoyed the simple, yet powerful concepts shared by the author. A reminder to stay focused and discipline to drive clarity and alignment throughout the organization.

All content credit goes to the author. I’ve simply shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time!

Alberto

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