IMG_1207There is not one single trait that characterizes an extraordinary executive. A lot of research has been done about it, and yet, it remains ambitious to try to boil it down to a distinctive set of characteristics. What we know from research and from my own experience working with leaders in start-up and multinationals is that you need great answers to the “Who” (or “Why”), “What” and “How”; or in other words your identity – both from an organizational and an individual perspective. I remembered a book that I very much enjoyed reading: “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive” by Patrick Lencioni.

The author presents two corporations in his leadership fable: Greenwich Consulting, led by Vince Green, and Telegraph Partners, led by Rich O’Connor. Their approaches to management and leadership couldn’t be more different. The key focus of the book is with Rich and his leadership team at Telegraph; Rich is the extraordinary executive who instills positive energy into the organization with every action in order to build and maintain a healthy organization. Rich has written his four disciplines on a yellow sheet of paper. His leadership team attributed a certain obsession to Rich regarding the famous yellow sheet.

Rich’s and Vince’s paths cross, when Jamie, a former Greenwich employee, is hired into Telegraph as Vice President of Human Resources without Rich’s involvement. For Rich and his leadership team, Jamie’s actions and behaviors soon become a threat in various dimensions: Their careers, the company’s revenues, and their beliefs.

Rich’s model of the four disciplines aims at establishing sustainable organizational health. The simple framework helps focus on the main factors of organizational health; helps reduce complexity and can be used as an assessment or design tool.

These are the Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive:

Discipline 1: Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team

Cohesive teams build trust, eliminate politics, and increase efficiency by

  •  Knowing one another’s unique strengths and weaknesses
  •  Openly engaging in constructive ideological conflict
  •  Holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions
  •  Committing to group decisions

Discipline 2: Create Organizational Clarity

A healthy organization minimizes the potential for confusion by clarifying

  •  Why the organization exists
  •  Which behaviors and values are fundamental
  •  What specific business it is in
  •  Who its competitors are
  •  What it plans to achieve
  •  Who is responsible for what

Discipline 3: Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity

Healthy organizations align their employees around organizational clarity by communicating key messages through

  •  Repetition: Don’t be afraid (and don’t get bored) to repeat the same message, again and again
  •  Simplicity: The more complicated the message, the more potential for confusion and inconsistency
  •  Multiple Channels: People react to information in many ways; use a variety of mediums
  •  Cascading Messages: Leaders communicate key messages to direct reports; the cycle repeats itself until the message is heard by all

Discipline 4: Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems

Organizations sustain their health by ensuring consistency in

  •  Hiring
  •  Managing performance
  •  Rewards and recognition
  •  Employee dismissal

Needless to day that Rich’s company, Telegraph Partners, was more successful than Vince’s company, Greenwich Consulting. Download Rich’s yellow sheet that could be the linchpin to your sustained success.

Creating and sustaining organizational health requires conscious effort, positive energy, focus and tools. It is not so much about what methodology a leader applies; it rather is about his/her consistency, sustainability, energy, values, behaviors and attitude. The importance of the corporate “Who”, i.e. what the firm stands for in terms of their values and key behaviors, cannot be under-estimated. All actions (“How”) and products (“What”) need to fit with the “Who”. And it is the leadership team’s foremost accountability to ensure this.

The values and traits of an extraordinary executive –his/her inner work – are essential. Rich is phenomenal at self-managing his ego and energy blocks. In the real world it is very humbling to meet someone like him. It’s the little things that make a big difference, e.g., focus, solution-orientation, alignment with overarching goals, ego-management, courage, solution-orientation and optimism.

Healthy organizations are unified, not splintered by politics and infighting. The tone from the top determines the energetic state of an organization. Rich involves his entire leadership team in the decision-making process; after intense and open discussions, everyone commits to and acts on a joint decision. This is a great and easy way to align and synchronize the thinking, feeling and acting. Executives with a big ego (I have heard of them …) might miss the crucial non-technical aspects of making the four disciplines work; which involves a risk of failure.

Find out what you can do to build and sustain organizational health. Let’s see how the framework of the four disciplines can be applied to you and your organization. Contact me.

Be smart. Wishing you the ability to spot the few things that will make the difference in your organization and then concentrate on doing them,