The Five Temptations of a CEO

Sarah Fischer / 1st November 2013 / Comments: 1 / Book Review

5-Temptations-of-a-CEOThe Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni is another business self-help book to address a CEO’s demons and propel him/her to lead the next Apple or Google. That is, unless you notice (which I didn’t) the small text under the title that categorizes the book as “a leadership fable.”

When I started The Five Temptations, I was surprised by the format. This new style of business fiction is intriguing: the first and largest section of the book dramatizes its topic through the late-night conversation between CEO Andrew O’Brien and mysterious BART employee Charlie Pierce.

The Premise

The fiction introduces Andrew, who is nervously awaiting his first annual board meeting as new CEO of his current company. On the Bay Area Rapid Transit headed home, he meets a mysterious janitor named Charlie, who describes the five temptations with a sense of uncanny knowingness. Charlie leads Andrew through a process of self-examination, encouraging Andrew to see where he’s fallen prey to the temptations, and how he can change to properly lead his failing company. The author introduces supporting characters along the way, but focuses on Andrew (and the reader) thoroughly learning the five temptations.

The Highlights

The book condenses a CEO’s challenges into five main points. CEOs must:

  1. Focus on their company’s health over their own advancement
  2. Keep their employees accountable, even if it means sacrificing popularity
  3. Give clear instruction even if the CEO doesn’t have all the information
  4. Promote healthy conflict among direct reports so issues don’t get buried
  5. Be open to constructive conflict with employees, overriding a desire for invulnerability.

Leadership and this sort of pattern setting certainly come from the top down. However, since these temptations aren’t limited to CEOs, knowing at least these five (there are probably more that aren’t explored in Lencioni’s book) will help everyone spot and compensate for them when working in a team. For example, if I see a lack of productive conflict when working with others on a project, I can make changes in my own behavior to foster a more open environment.

A CEO succumbing to any or all of these temptations will have the greatest impact on a business, but really no one at any level of a company is immune. My biggest lesson from this book came from temptation #3: choosing certainty over clarity. I prefer having all the information possible before making a decision, which often leads to waiting too long to decide, or getting too many conflicting inputs that cloud the facts.

This book is directed towards CEOs, but anyone in or aspiring to leadership can succumb to the temptations, so it’s worth knowing which one you’re inclined to, how to spot it, and what the remedy is (which is where the self-assessment is invaluable).

Pros and Cons

Pros: The sections that provided a recap of the temptations and a self-assessment were really helpful in summarizing the information. These sections help the reader pinpoint which temptations to work on.

Also, story format helps cement the subject matter and gives it context. I want to read more of Lencioni’s books to see if and how he applies this writing style to other business situations.

Cons: the book’s first 101 pages are given to The Fable, which, if you don’t learn best through narrative, is a huge chunk of book that’s really of no use to you.

While I didn’t not like the narrative format of the book, the third section left me wishing the author had spent the first 100 pages giving more insight into each temptation, used case studies, or expanded on the topic instead.


Regardless of format, the lessons in The Five Temptations of a CEO are applicable and noteworthy (“noteworthy” as in tape your temptation(s) to your monitor as a daily reminder). While the book is intended for CEOs (hey – look at that! It’s even on the cover), everyone in leadership faces these temptations, whether they manage a team of one or lead a company of ten thousand. We have a tight-knit team here at Wheelhouse, and it’s helpful for me to know the temptations that my team members face so I can understand and support them better. I also agree with the advice that CEOs can have direct reports fill out the self-assessment and compare notes.

Final verdict? The book is a quick read with potentially big return on investment for your company.

Resources for The Five Temptations and information about Patrick Lencioni’s other works are available at The Table Group’s website. Let us know what you think of the book and the five temptations in the comments below!

By Sarah Fischer