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Book Summary – The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive - Book summary

A healthy organization—like a healthy body—can function optimally, and is more resilient to threats and challenges. Using a fable, Patrick Lencioni explains the concept of organizational health and how you can build it with 4 key steps. In this free version of The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive summary, we’ll outline the four disciplines at the heart of creating a world-class organization.

Introduction: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

Organizational leaders often find themselves overwhelmed by too many challenges and priorities. They focus on intellectual issues like strategy, marketing, and product innovation, neglecting the item with the biggest impact on their company—organizational health.

Patrick Lencioni uses a fable to show how organizational health affects a range of organizational outcomes, how such health is developed, reinforced and damaged.

The story is about 2 rival CEOs. Vince Green (CEO of Greenwich Consulting) has been struggling to grow his company, and is constantly overwhelmed by competitive analysis, client demands, technology advancements, etc. On the other hand, Rich O’Connor (CEO of Telegraph Partners) has an amazing team that seems to effortlessly convert their clients into raving fans. For years, Vince has been trying to uncover Rich’s secrets. As the story unfolds, we learn the truth behind Telegraph’s success, and how Rich had crystallized/adopted 4 disciplines to shape Telegraph’s culture and management processes.

The 4 Disciplines behind Organizational Health

A healthy organization is whole and consistent: its culture, management, strategy and operations all fit together coherently. To achieve this, you need the focus and diligence to consistently adopt 4 disciplines.

Here’s a quick overview. In our full version of The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive summary, we’ll further break down the observable behaviors for each discipline, and the action steps you can take to start developing them.

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive summary - The 4 Disciplines

1. Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team

A cohesive leadership team requires trust, the removal of politics, and efficient decision-making. This is the most critical discipline that supports the other 3 disciplines. However, it’s also the hardest to achieve since it requires a high level of commitment from every member of the executive team.

The biggest obstacle to trust is politics. Politics come from unresolved issues among top leaders in an organization. When senior leaders avoid conflict or hide their anger/resentment, the problems fester and small issues get amplified down the line. Employees waste time/energy fighting over things they can’t resolve, leading to distrust, disillusionment, and fatigue. The best employees eventually leave.

On the other hand, when leaders take the responsibility to resolve their differences and present a coherent voice, their teams can focus on delivering results. People thrive and stay with the organization.

2. Create Organizational Clarity

Organizational clarity is about agreeing on the fundamental concepts that drive your decisions at all levels. It’s not about clever slogans on T-shirts and posters to market your mission, values, strategy, goals and objectives.

Such clarity makes it easier to choose between conflicting options. For example, Telegraph ran out of space in their current building and had to decide between (i) shifting 2 departments offsite or (ii) moving the entire company. Within 25 minutes, they decided to move the company to a specific location—a decision that would’ve taken most companies weeks or months. The Telegraph team could make decisions quickly because they were crystal-clear about who they were and what mattered to them. They chose to move the entire company because they valued team integration over convenience, and they chose a practical location because they valued humility and customer intimacy over prestige and luxury.

In our complete 12-page summary, we’ll elaborate on (i) the observable behaviors/outcomes of organizational clarity, and (ii) the questions you can start ask to start developing clarity.

3. Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity

Once you’ve obtained clarity, the next step is to convey it consistently and continually so it’s crystal-clear at all levels of the organization. At Telegraph, Rich dedicates a third of his time to interview potential hires and orientate new hires to Telegraph’s way of life. Each morning, he’d spend 2 hours with newly-hired senior partners/managers to share the company’s history, values, purpose, etc. The same message is reinforced (with slight variations) in all his staff meetings, speeches, emails and personal interactions. Rich’s managers adopt the same practice, albeit with their own personal style.

4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems

Communication alone isn’t enough. To sustain your health, you must build the clarity into 4 processes and systems that drive human behaviors: hiring, performance management, rewards/recognition and dismissal. The challenge is to do so without creating too much bureaucracy.

Getting the Most from The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights from the novel. For more examples, details, and actionable tips, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 12-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive summary - book summary bundle

An organization’s health can be a strong competitive advantage, but there’s no short-cut to building a healthy organization. Leaders need the commitment and discipline to continually focus on the 4 areas above. The fable illustrates the dynamics in a healthy organization, shows the 4 disciplines at work, and demonstrates how seemingly-small misalignments can add up to derail an originally-healthy organization. You can purchase the book here to read the full novel, or check out more information at

Check out more summaries of books by Patrick Lencioni: Death by Meeting , Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions by a Team ,  The Ideal Team Player , and The Advantage.

About the Author of The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is written by Patrick Lencioni–an American author and consultant, best known for his works in business and team management. He is the president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm specializing in executive team development and organizational health. Previously, Lencioni worked at the management consulting firm Bain & Company, Oracle Corporation, and Sybase, where he was VP of Organization Development.

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive Quotes

“There is no substitute for discipline. No amount of intellectual prowess or personal charisma can make up for an inability to identify a few simple things and stick to them over time.”

“It is actually more important for leaders to focus on making their organizations healthy than on making them smart.”

“If everything is important, then nothing is.”

“Cohesive teams fight. But they fight about issues, not personalities.”

“Organizational clarity is not merely about choosing the right words to describe a company’s mission, strategy, or values; it is about agreeing on the fundamental concepts that drive it.”

“No single concept can summarize a company’s strategy, yet every decision that a company makes contributes to or is a function of its strategy.”

“Without clear ownership, accountability becomes difficult, even within the best team.”

Click here to download The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive summary & infographic

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