This is one in a series of "leadership fables" in which Patrick Lencioni shares his thoughts about the contemporary business world. His characters are fictitious human beings rather than anthropomorphic animals, such as a tortoise that wins a race against a hare or pigs that lead a revolution to overthrow a tyrant and seize control of his farm.
In his Introduction to this book, Lencioni observes that all chief executives who fail -- and most of them do at one time or another - make the same basic mistake: "Essentially what they are doing is putting the success of their organizations in jeopardy because they are unwilling to face - and overcome - the five temptations of a CEO." Briefly, here's the fictitious situation. Lencioni introduces Andrew O'Brien who is about to complete his first year as CEO of Trinity Systems, a position to which he was promoted after four years with the company. He is about to participate in the first board meeting in which he will be held accountable for the results of an entire fiscal year. "Those results, as he had grown accustomed to saying, were `unspectacular at best.'" He dreads the meeting. Almost immediately, it becomes obvious that Andrew's career is in serious jeopardy...and he knows it as he leaves the office shortly after midnight and takes a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter train to return home.
What then happens allows Lencioni to dramatize for C-suite executives - and especially for CEOs - the importance of recognizing and then resisting the aforementioned temptations. Once aboard the train, Andrew meets and engages in a conversation with Charlie that continues when they are joined by the Bald Man, the Stylish Man, and the Tall Man. As a result of this extended conversation, Andrew has the business equivalent of a religious epiphany: he realizes why his leadership as CEO has been, until now, "unspectacular at best" and also realizes what needs to be accomplished during the board meeting the next morning.
Lencioni adds a nice dramatic touch when there is a brief encounter in the hallway after the board meeting. Andrew sees a maintenance man hanging a photograph, "wearing the same color shirt that Charlie wore the night before... Turning toward the end of the hallway, Andrew saw the old man turn the corner. He yelled `Sir?! Charlie?' The old man did not answer or reappear. Andrew sprinted to the end of the hall, turned the corner, and saw no one." The significance of this moment is best revealed within the narrative, as are the circumstances at Trinity Systems three years later, examined in the final chapter.
At least 8-10 years ago, Lencioni apparently made a conscious decision to address especially important business issues by creating a human context for each rather than merely offering answers to questions or prescribing solutions to problems. To me, this is one of the greatest benefits of a business narrative, in this instance of a leadership fable: Creating a series of real-world situations (albeit portrayed fictitiously) that readers can identify with emotionally as well as rationally. He is a brilliant business thinker but he also possesses the skills of a master raconteur as he introduces a cast of characters, develops conflicts between and among them, and then allows "rising action" to build to a climax that is also best revealed within the narrative. Unexpected plot developments engage the reader even more.
As is Lencioni's custom in each of the other volumes in the series of "leadership fables," he concludes with a section -- "The Model: A Summary of Why Executives Fail" (Pages 111-130) -- whose value-added benefits will help his reader to make effective application of the lessons learned from Andrew's experiences as he struggles with various temptations as well as with the consequences of his decisions...and non-decisions. The questions posed in the self-assessment section are especially well devised. Easy to ask, of course, but difficult to answer.
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Patrick Lencioni's other "leadership fables" (especially The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive) as well as Ram Charan's Know-How, Adrian Slywotsky's The Upside, Michael Ray's The Highest Goal, David Maister's Practice What You Preach, Bill George's Authentic Leadership and his more recently published True North, James O'Toole's Creating the Good Life, and Michael Maccoby's Narcissistic Leaders.