Q&A with Patrick Lencioni, Author of The Advantage
Unlike my other books, The Advantage is not written as a fable because the nature of the subject it covers is just too broad to fit into one story. In the past, I've taken on slightly more contained and limited issues--teamwork, meetings, employee engagement--but this time I'm taking a much more holistic, comprehensive approach to improving organizations. Still, I've used stories about real organizations to bring the points to life, and I'm hoping that readers enjoy those stories and find them helpful in learning and applying the principles.
Do you consider your company healthy?
Yes, I consider my company healthy. And like any healthy company, we're messy and imperfect. We argue sometimes, we make mistakes, we try things that don't work. But we know who we are, what we believe in, and what we're trying to accomplish, so we're able to recover from setbacks quickly and grow stronger through conflict and adversity. I'm glad to say that we've always believed in living the principles that we espouse. And though we can sometimes forget and feel like the cobbler's children without shoes, we have certainly worked hard to become a healthy organization, and we continue to do so every day.
Having worked with companies for so many years, is there anything that still surprises you?
Yes, I still get surprised by what I see in companies I work with, even after all these years. Some of that surprise is just a function of the fact that no two people, and thus no two organizations, are exactly alike. The nuances are interesting and keep me on my toes. But ironically, the biggest surprise I get is being reminded again and again that even the most sophisticated companies struggle with the simplest things. I guess it's hard for me to believe that the concepts I write and speak about are so universal. I don't know that I'll ever come to terms with that completely.
How can someone who's not in the upper levels of their organization make an impact on its health?
While it's true that no one can influence and organization like the leader, and that without a leader's commitment and involvement, organizational health cannot become a reality, there are many things that employees deeper in an organization can do to make health more likely. First, they have to speak truth upward in the organization. Most leaders, even the struggling ones, want to get better. They're not leading and managing in the way they really want to, even if they don't come out and say so. When an employee is courageous and wise enough to come to them with respect, kindness and honesty, most leaders will be grateful. Without honest upward feedback, a leader cannot get better. Beyond that, people deeper in an organization can focus on making their own departments healthier, and not getting too distracted or discouraged by their inability to change things outside of their "circle of influence", as Stephen Covey says. By focusing on their own departments and their own areas of influence, they provide others in the organization with an example to follow, and they put themselves in a position to be promoted and to have even greater influence.
What's something I can do tomorrow morning to get started?
The first thing anyone can do, immediately, to begin the process of making their organizations healthier, is to begin with themselves and their team. A leader has to understand and embrace the concept of being vulnerable, which inspires trust on the leadership team. That trust is the foundation for teamwork, which is one of the cornerstones of organizational health. If a leader cannot be vulnerable, cannot admit his or her mistakes, shortcomings or weaknesses, others will not be vulnerable and organizational health becomes impossible.