Lencioni Lessons: The Five Temptations of a CEO/Student Affairs Supervisor

I have once again devoured and truly enjoyed a management book by Patrick Lencioni. The author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting, Lencioni is great at making management principles accessible through the use of fables to illustrate the points he is trying to make. This particular book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, is about how to increase the productivity and effectiveness of a team through selfless and vulnerable supervision. I want to summarize the points made, along with their possible application and how I want to implement them with our group in the fall.
Temptation #1: Valuing status over results.
When asked what the greatest accomplishment of a CEO or supervisor is, the organization is in danger if the answer is status based. “When I was named CEO” or “When I was given an award” are fine answers for oneself, but bad for the organization. When trying to build an environment that gets good results, the leader of the group should be valuing those results when they come in.
For my part, I want to focus on what is best for my students, and emphasize recognition for the results that we do achieve. I’ve always been of the belief that this work isn’t about me, and I am so happy to work with professionals who feel the same, and allow the spotlight to stay on our students. We move so fast as an organization, we barely have enough time to make sure they’re learning from their experiences, let alone to tell them how much we appreciate the amazing work they do. I feel that in placing the emphasis on their work, the emphasis is shifted from my own. My job is to make them successful, and they should be told when they are.
Temptation #2: Valuing popularity over accountability.
How do you feel when you have to deliver feedback to staff, students, or student staff? Are you more concerned about the task at hand, or the relationship being at risk? Many leaders worry more about the latter, and that causes trouble for the organization. The effective supervisor sees the relationship between the two- if the staff member can’t count on you to hold him or her accountable for the work getting done, the relationship will disintegrate regardless. So emphasize the task, and the relationship will follow.
This is one that our office admittedly struggles with. We serve in both an advisory and supervisory role, and we straddle a dual task of encouraging independence and emphasizing adherence to departmental and divisional expectations. I am not afraid to confess that we have let the pendulum swing too far in one direction, and are working to nudge it back in the other one. I want to find a way to hold our students accountable for the tasks they are required to complete, provide constructive feedback, and to acknowledge the consequences of not fulfilling expectations. How can we hold students to a standard if they don’t know (a) what the standard is, and (b) how well they’re performing to it?
Temptation #3: Valuing certainty over clarity.
How long does it take to make a decision? This temptation actually hearkens back to some advice I got from another fascinating book I read this past year, Blink. More often than not, we can trust our instincts to make a decision. But in organizations, the desire to consult everyone, gather copious amounts of information, and make sure that everyone is happy with our decision (more on that shortly) can cause a kind of decision paralysis. When a staff member needs a decision, sometimes they just need an answer. This is not to encourage going rogue; rather, it is to reassure the novice supervisor that decisiveness is valued as well as being right. And if you are wrong…well, I’ll hit that point shortly.
This skill comes with time, I feel. When I first arrived in my position, I was terrified to be wrong. In many of my previous positions, I was either blazing a trail or following someone that, to be frank, wasn’t very good at his job. In this instance, I was both blessed and intimidated to follow someone who was very good at his work. The result? An extended period of trying to live up to the stellar example he had set. But as I settled in, learned the resources of my campus, and got more comfortable with my students, the decision-making got easier. I had to trust in my own ability to do the work I was hired to do, and the rest came gradually. I stumbled, of course, but I wasn’t shy about that and made sure the situation got fixed.
Temptation #4: Valuing harmony over conflict.
Oh, I am a big believer in this one. Too many supervisors are afraid to let people disagree about things. Too many people are afraid of this. But I have always been of the belief that discomfort leads to growth, and I don’t worry about encouraging it. Encouragement of harmony suppresses alternate viewpoints, creating the treacherous “echo chamber”. In an echo chamber, new ideas are squashed because they differ from what’s already being done, and disagreements devolve into resentment in the absence of an environment in which they can be resolved. By helping students and staff to uncover discomfort, and to help them be comfortable in doing so, decisions will be better thought out and representative of more opinions than settling for the harmonious solution ever will.
Do you encourage students to disagree in meetings? Or do you try to have them table issues that get contentious in favor of time? Perhaps you base decisions on a vote, in hopes that the issue will be based on consensus or majority rule?  This was addressed in greater detail in Lencioni’s Death by Meeting (another great read that I’m sure most reading this would appreciate), but to sum up- allow time for all to speak on an issue, and don’t squash dissention from the norm. Set the ground rule that whatever decision is made, stands, regardless of level of agreement. The ability to speak freely will help staff to feel that they are being heard, and the value of all opinions will help those who do disagree feel comfortable to express their opinions.
Temptation #5: Valuing trust over invulnerability.
The emphasis on tasks should not be mistaken for a lack of concern for relatability. Lencioni is of the belief that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable as a supervisor, allow your staff to see you in moments of weakness and admit fault, they will work hard for you. Working hard for someone that seems perfect is stressful and at times off-putting. That very principle makes it next to impossible for me to listen to the teachings of Steven Covey (minority opinion, I know, but I stand by it). Moreover, if you admit to weakness, it allows people with those strengths to fill in the gaps, thus allowing them to feel, and be, effective.
As I develop as a professional, I have gotten very good at admitting when I’m wrong. It’s never easy, but ultimately essential to moving forward with any task. And I find that when I can tell students I’m wrong, and rely on their strengths to solve problems, that our relationships are more effective as a result. Vulnerability doesn’t make you weak, as many believe. It provides a means to build strength in relationships that then allows staff to give good results. The process is truly a full circle one.
This past week at NPI, combined with a lot of reflection on my first year in my position, have given me a lot to think about regarding supervision. And The Five Temptations of a CEO is helping me to further define my style. It is my hope that this pair of experiences is going to make me an even stronger supervisor for my students and graduate assistant, and my hope that this reflection will help whoever reads this to evaluate and define his or her style.

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