The Five Temptations of a CEO

The Five Temptations of a CEO

For many executives the light is best in places like marketing, strategic planning, and finance – safe havens from the painful darkness of behavioral self-examination. Unfortunately they find little opportunity for meaningful improvement in these areas.

Leadership is about motivating others to achieve superior results. It demands that individuals rise above the following five inherent temptations. However, having the temptations is not why leaders ultimately fail. Leaders fail because they are unwilling to put their temptations on the table for others to see. The key to success is not to avoid the susceptibility to the five temptations. The key is to embrace the self-examination that reveals the temptations and to keep them in the open where they can be addressed.

Temptation 1: Choosing status over results

The first temptation is the temptation to focus on an individual’s career and status above the company’s results. This leads to complacency, a lack of focus and can cause results to slip. An executive must embrace a desire to produce results up and beyond his desire to protect the status of their career. Great CEOs should be almost overwhelmed by the need to achieve something. That is what drives them. Achievement. Not ego. Executives have to be careful not to try and preserve their status by rewarding people who contribute to their ego instead of those who contribute to the results of the company.

Temptation 2: Choosing popularity over accountability

It is extremely important to hold people accountable and punish individuals who fail to deliver. Otherwise, you risk losing credibility with people and come across inconsistent and unfair.  Keep employees informed about what is expected and remind them of those expectations constantly. Have clear consequences for when they fail, whether financial or otherwise.  It can be difficult but people aren’t going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail.

Temptation 3: Choosing certainty over clarity

Some executives fear being wrong so much that they wait until they’re absolutely certain about something before they make a decision. That makes it impossible to hold people accountable – You can’t hold people accountable for things that aren’t clear. Without accountability, results are a matter of luck. The most important thing a CEO can say is “I was wrong”. If you are not comfortable being wrong, you cannot make tough decisions with limited information. You can only move forward in the face of uncertainty if you are willing to make mistakes.

Temptation 4: Choosing harmony over conflict

The only way to come to a good decision quickly is to extract all of the honest opinions out of people efficiently. Truly successful executives almost never make a decision without having the full benefit of everyone’s ideas. This can be achieved by using “productive ideological conflict” – the passionate interchange of opinions around an issue. By being afraid to entertain conflict, i.e. putting ideas on the table where they might be challenged, executives do not benefit from various opinions and input of their team. When all available knowledge is considered, the chances of optimal decisions are greater – not to mention the likelihood of confidence in those decisions. Tolerate and welcome discord – Tumultuous meetings are often signs of progress.

Temptation 5: Choosing invulnerability over trust

Getting results, holding people accountable, creating clarity for your people, engaging in productive conflict with them all depends ultimately on vulnerability and trust. It’s about risking and building trust. And before people trust you, you have to trust them. You have to be vulnerable. People who trust each other are not worried about holding back their opinions or their passions.

Overcoming the 5 Temptations:

This blog post was written by Brendan Daly after incorporating some of the concepts and ideas from the book “The Five Temptations of a CEO” by Patrick Lencioi