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 this instance, Lencioni focuses on a common business problem for or challenge to leaders: How to identify "a reasonable number of issues that will have the greatest possible impact on the success of [their] organization, and then spend most [their] time thinking about, talking about, and working on those issues." Presumably Lencioni agrees with Stephen Covey (among others) that executives tend to spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. Of course, that sets a bad example for their direct reports. Viewed another way, some obsessions are productive...others are not. Extraordinary executives know the differences between the two types.
Here's the fictitious situation. Lencioni introduces CEOs of two rival firms in the Bay Area, Vince Green (Greenwich Consulting) and Rich O'Connor (Telegraph Partners) who have quite different obsessions: Green's are best revealed within the book's narrative; Green's are directly or indirectly the result what could be described as Greenwich Consulting's organizational inferiority complex insofar as Telegraph Partners is concerned. There is an early and significant development when O'Connor - struggling to cope with the pressures of trying to balance his family and his successful but demanding business - experiences what Lencioni characterizes as an "epiphany": the recognition of four basis activities ("disciplines, really") that guide and inform his leadership of Telegraph Partners thereafter. "He never certainly suspected that [his list of what become leadership obsessions] would become the blue-print of an employee's plan to destroy the firm."
Almost immediately, it becomes obvious that a new hire, Jamie Bender, "didn't seem to share the hunger and humility of his colleagues" at Telegraph Partners and that is a key point for reasons also best revealed within Lencioni's narrative. Recognizing the mistake, O'Connor must decide how to correct it. Over time, he and his colleagues become infected by what Lencioni describes as a "virus." What then happens - and does not happen - throughout the ensuing weeks allow Lencioni to dramatize both the importance of the four "obsessions of an extraordinary executive" to which the title of his book refers and the consequences when any one of them is compromised. He is a brilliant business thinker but he also possesses the skills of a master raconteur, introducing a cast of characters, conflicts between and among them, and then allowing "rising action" build to a climax (i.e. resolution) also best revealed within the narrative.
Of special interest to me is a conversation between Bender and Green when Bender explains each of the four disciplines with which O'Connor is obsessed. This conversation occurs late in the narrative and indicates that Bender understands the four disciplines and yet is unwilling and/or unable to master and then follow them. (This strikes me as an excellent example of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton characterize as the "Knowing-Doing Gap.") Bender's explanation seems somewhat didactic to me but, nonetheless, serves as a means by which Lencioni can summarize his key points. He adds a nice dramatic touch when O'Connor appears at Green's office and there is a brief encounter between him and Bender before he and Green meet. Although they and other executives are fictitious characters, each is credible as a human being rather than as a literary device.
As is Lencioni's custom in each of the other volumes in the series of "leadership fables," he then provides an "Organizational Health: The Model" section and supplementary material (Pages 139-180) whose value-added benefits will help his reader to make effective application of the lessons learned from the experiences shared by Rich O'Connor and his colleagues at Telegraph Partners as well as from what Vince Green finally realizes about himself and about the consequences of his own obsessions.
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Patrick Lencioni's other "leadership fables" as well as 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.