Updated: Nov 17, 2022
I’m passionate about investing in people to become everything they can be. That’s why Patrick Lencioni is, by far, my favourite author on leadership. His principles aren’t just for the best of the organisation; they’re for the best of people.
I love his approach which could be summarised by his statement regarding building healthy teams, “it is both possible and remarkably simple. But it is painfully difficult.”
Leadership is difficult, extremely difficult. As a leadership and management consultant with 20+ years of consulting experience, Lencioni knows how difficult it is to lead well. But that doesn’t mean leadership principles should be complex and impossible to understand.
He embraces the tension: leadership is both simple and difficult … at the same time. If you’re looking for leadership principles and frameworks to help you in your context, then I’m sure you’ll find Lencioni’s team model or pyramid extremely helpful, along with his other concepts. His books are easy to read as they are written as fables. For anyone interested in finding out more about Patrick Lencioni, here are some good places to start.
The Table Group
Lencioni is best known for his books. But they actually form part of the larger strategy of his company, The Table Group. If I was leading a Fortune 500 company with an immense budget for external help, I know who would be my first point of contact. The Table Group has great information on Lencioni’s books, Lencioni’s blog, ‘Pat’s Point Of View’ plus contact details for the 30 or so Table Group consultants based around the world.
Any Jim Collins fans out there? Jim Collins is probably second to Lencioni as most influential leadership authors in my life. His books include Built to Last, Good to Great and Great by Choice. In my opinion, his work has had a significant influence on Lencioni’s ideas. In particular, Lencioni’s first two questions of the six questions to create clarity, found in his book, The Advantage, are based on Jim Collins’ concepts of core purpose and core values from Built to Last. Lencioni explains as much in The Advantage. So, if you love Jim Collins’ work, chances are you’ll love Lencioni’s. And vice versa. Marcus Buckingham is another author worth checking out.
Here’s more information about The Advantage, Death by Meeting, The Ideal Team Player and Lencioni’s most well-known book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
The Advantage is my favourite Lencioni book. As much as I enjoy the fable-style of writing—which I believe he uses in all of his other books—The Advantage simply couldn’t be written as a fable. It would have been too long! It contains a summary of a number of Lencioni’s concepts and frameworks regarding leadership and organisational health.
He covers building a healthy leadership team by overcoming dysfunctions of a team, creating clarity in an organisation by discovering the six questions of clarity, how to communicate that clarity throughout an organisation and the importance of good meetings. Are you a point leader of a business, church or any other organisation? As in, are you numero uno? CEO? Senior Pastor? MD? Then this is particularly significant for you. Without context—and not wanting to play down the significance of the leadership challenges you’re facing—let me just say I wouldn’t be surprised if you read The Advantage and had a sense that what’s been troubling you is actually more of a symptom than a root.
In my opinion, The Advantage gets right to the root of what really makes great organisations great and every other organisation … yet to be great :)
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
The Lencioni team model is his best known work. The Lencioni pyramid which makes up The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is incredibly insightful for anyone who is leading—or part of—a team in any context. At the bottom of the pyramid is the first dysfunction of a team, absence of trust that leads to invulnerability. Second is fear of conflict that leads to artificial harmony. Third is lack of commitment that leads to ambiguity. Fourth is avoidance of accountability that leads to low standards. Fifth, at the top of the pyramid, is inattention to results that breeds individual ego. For an in-depth explanation, check out my summary of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
Death by Meeting
Another of Lencioni's books is Death by Meeting. If you could only see one piece of evidence to determine the health of an organisation, what would it be? The finances? HR process? Culture? No. According to Lencioni, from his experience, he would ask to sit in on the leadership team's regular meeting. That's where everything starts—good and bad. And in this book, Lencioni outlines four types of meetings a leadership team, or any other team, needs to have to avoid dysfunction and confusion and create clarity instead.
The Ideal Team Player
The Ideal Team Player is one of Lencioni's most recent books. The book came about after he spent years talking with leaders who had effectively taken The Table Group's core values and run with them. After insisting again and again that taking another organisation's core values wasn't the idea, he realised there was something in The Table Group's core values that went beyond the DNA of The Table Group. Because of their passion and focus on healthy teams, their core values also really worked as attributes of 'the ideal team player'.
People who are difficult to work with in a team are very weak in these areas. No-one is perfect in all three. But, someone who is strong in all three of these areas is likely to be a complimentary member of a team, rather than a toxic member of a team. The three attributes are humble, hungry and smart. Humble refers to character that is focused beyond self. It's ok, of course, for people to be focused on themselves above everything else. They might do well in different parts of life—they're just not usually great team players. Hungry refers to someone's work ethic. It's incredibly difficult to teach or impart work ethic. If someone is hungry to contribute and succeed—individually and for their team—then they are likely to be a good team player. Smart isn't referring to intellect, it's referring to emotional intelligence. People smart is another way that Lencioni phrases it.
Putting candidates through the lens of these three characteristics is helpful for any role where someone will be part of a team. They're also incredibly helpful attributes to think through when looking at potential future leaders of your organisation, particularly when considering who could step into a role on the executive leadership team
So, that’s a quick overview of Lencioni’s books The Advantage, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting and The Ideal Team Player. Even though The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is most clearly team-based, all of Lencioni’s work has a theme of team. In my opinion, The Advantage is just an organisational extension of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting focuses on the main context that determines whether teams succeed or fail (meetings) and The Ideal Team Player explains what to look for in people to give you the highest chance of leading a successful team.
Group cohesion—whether in a leadership team or across a whole organisation—looks like a group of people rowing in the same direction. If that sounds like a dream, then get into Lencioni’s work and see what happens! Great, healthy teams—and great organisations—that are rowing in the same direction don’t just change their organisations.
They change the world.