The Advantage | Patrick Lencioni

Author: Patrick Lencioni
Author: Patrick Lencioni

Main Theme: Organizational Health and Leadership
For People Who: Are looking for practical ways to make healthier, better, thriving organizations.

Without a doubt, The Advantage should be assigned reading for every leadership team. Why? Patrick Lencioni weaves together theory and practicality in such a way that it makes the reader hard-pressed to walk away empty-handed . As a pastor, I found enormous applicability for leadership teams in the church. So often pastors and church leaders concentrate on the spiritual side of the church to the detriment of their staff, employees, and overall organization and then wonder why they have so much turnover. For any leader, in any circumstances, the principles to developing a healthy culture seem so common sensical you can’t help but slap your forehead and say, “Duh! Why didn’t I think of this?” The Advantage will cause you to rethink how you lead your team, what you communicate, when you meet, and why you do what you do. And that is a good thing. Because it will help make you and your organization better by becoming healthier. Here is the premise of the book:

The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it. –The Advantage, pg. 1

Take-Aways

  • The level of trust a team has for one another is one of the most important, and difficult, steps a team can take. It is only when team members can speak “freely and fearlessly” that they truly become a team.
  • People can buy in to decisions a leadership team makes, even if they disagree with the decision, when they know their opinion has been heard and “unfiltered debate” has taken place.
  • Too often organizations use generic slogans and catch-phrases to communicate their core values. These values should communicate who you are, not what you believe. They define your organization and show what makes it unique from others like you.
  • If you’re core values can be exchanged for another organization’s with very little editing, then you haven’t discovered your core values. Core values are who you are without trying.
  • Numbers don’t inspire people (we’re gonna make x amount of $ this year). They may show if you are fulfilling your purpose, but numbers don’t provide “a guide to what ultimately matters most” (pg. 84) for an organization.
  • When everyone takes off their departmental hat and makes decisions based on what is best for the entire organization rather than just their department, a thematic goal arises that the entire organization can get behind.
  • Too often we try to cram strategic, tactical (to-do), and developmental meetings all into one and then wonder why people hate meetings. Separate them out. The answer isn’t less meetings, but more meetings with a direct focus and a clear purpose.
  • Over communicate values, over communicate goals, over communicate vision! When people tell you “I get it” it means they are just now starting to remember it. So communicate it again, maybe in a different way.

Brief Summary

The Case for Organizational Health

An organization has integrity – is healthy – when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense. –The Advantage, pg. 5

Immediately Lencioni begins building a case for the importance of organizational health. Too often people think their organization isn’t successful because they aren’t smart enough or creative enough or they don’t market enough. But what distinguishes successful organizations from others is not intelligence, but health. The defining factors are:

  • minimal politics [they trust each other and work toward a common goal],
  • minimal confusion [they are absolutely clear about who they are],
  • high morale [speaking freely & fearlessly lets people know they are heard],
  • high productivity [everyone is accountable to each other and pull each other forward],
  • and low turnover (pg. 6).

Few people talk about organizational health because it’s not very “sexy.” And while common sense and discipline don’t really make the front page of magazines, they do define successful organizations. The question is: Do you think the pursuit of health is worth reading this book. My answer is YES!

I’ve become absolutely convinced that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre or unsuccessful ones has little, if anything, to do with what they know or how smart they are; it has everything to do with how healthy they are. The Advantage, pg. 8

The Four Disciplines Model

Discipline 1: Build a Cohesive Leadership Team

An organization cannot be healthy if it’s leadership team [a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization. -pg. 21] does not adhere to five basic behaviors. Each one builds on the principle before it. You cannot master conflict (Behavior 2) before building trust (Behavior 1).

1. Building Trust: This isn’t the kind of trust you have when you fall backward into the waiting arms of your coworkers at a trust-building event, it is what Lencioni calls “vulnerability-based trust.” (pg. 27). This is when a team is comfortable with being completely transparent with one another. They are free to say things like “I messed up” or “I need help.” Trusting in this way even allows for spirited debate because each person is debating the ideas and not attacking each other. When that trust it established, it removes the illusion of harmony propagated by agreeing in the meeting and then complaining in the hallway around the water-cooler after the meeting. Two exercises are recommended: sharing your personal histories so that people know more about your upbringing and doing a personality profile. Using a tool like the Myers-Briggs will help each team member know how each personality in the room will interact with another.

We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt but assume the worst about others. –The Advantage, pg. 33

2. Mastering Conflict: If people on your leadership team are afraid to disagree with each other then you have some major problems. Will it feel uncomfortable, yes! Personally, I have always avoided conflict in the name of “choosing my battles wisely.” While that can be wise, it can also be foolish. If not given the opportunity to speak freely, a growing resentment for the team and the leader will fester in the heart of a team member until they explode (the rest of the team will wonder “Where is this coming from?”). Lencioni says that two people who have trust each other and have opposing views should feel “compelled to disagree with one another, sometimes passionately…” (pg. 44). If, for no other reason, a team should embrace unfiltered debate because:

When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer. –The Advantage, pg. 38 (even if it means someone else has the better answer)

3. Achieving Commitment: “It’s only when colleagues speak up and put their opinions on the table, without holding back, that the leader can confidently fulfill one of his most important responsibilities: breaking ties.” (pg. 48-49) It should be made perfectly clear at the end of each meeting what the decision is and that each person is committed to fulfill it.

4. Embracing Accountability: “Peer-to-peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on a leadership team.” (pg. 54) Lencioni uses a word not often used in a business book: love. Love for your team member, and the organization, should compel us to hold each other accountable for our commitments. When team members learn to hold one another accountable, they will get better or they will leave.

5. Focusing On Results: This is a tough lesson, but Lencioni lays it on the line:

No matter how good a leadership team feels about itself, and how nobel its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it’s simply not a good team. –The Advantage, pg. 65

The bottom line is that a team has to pull together to get the results they want to achieve. One member can’t say, “Well my department is doing great so it’s not our fault!” No, a great team is one that each member does whatever they can to make sure the organization, as a whole, succeeds.

Discipline 2: Create Clarity

Once a cohesive leadership team has been established and they practice the five disciplines, the team can jump the next hurdle of organizational health: creating clarity. Generic mission statements with catch phrases and buzz words slapped on t-shirts and posters don’t define an organization. There are six critical questions leadership must labor through to create clarity:

The point here is that alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of generic buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together…Clarity requires a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach. –The Advantage, pg. 77

  1. Why do we exist? In the end, people want to know that the organization they’re connected to are making a difference. What is the reason that your organization exists?
  2. How do we behave? There are four kinds of values an organization needs to think through:
    1. Core Values: Bahavioral traits that are inherent to your organization – it’s who you are without trying.
    2. Aspirational Values: These are behaviors that are nonexistent right now, but you’re shooting for them.
    3. Permission-to-Play Values: These are the most basic required values of an organization (e.g. integrity)
    4. Accidental Values: These values come out unintentionally and often don’t contribute to health
  3. What do we do? This is probably the simplest of all six questions because you’re simply stating what your organization actually does.
  4. How will we succeed? “An organization’s strategy is nothing more than the collection of intentional decisions a company makes to give itself the best chance to thrive and differentiate from competitors” or “strategic anchors.” (pg. 107) In my case, as a pastor, I ask the question, “What things do we need to do (actions) to help us achieve the goals and values God has given us?”
  5. What is most important, right now? What is the rallying cry for your organization right now? What’s the one thing that bubbles to the surface as the focus of your organization that, if you didn’t do it, would cause you to consider the next 3-6 months a failure?
  6. Who must do what? It’s not enough to have a title, you need to know your responsibilities. If leadership teams don’t know what they are responsible for then certain objectives will not be achieved because the responsibility will fall through the cracks.

Discipline 3: Overcommunicate Clarity

Great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else. –The Advantage, pg. 143. (Pastors are the same. We rarely if ever communicate something new. We simply remind people of what we have already taught for years, but in different ways with different texts.)

Lencioni gives the perfect illustration of overcommunicating: A wife asks her husband why he doesn’t tell her he loves her anymore and he says, “Well, I told you I loved you when we got married. I’ll let you know if it changes.” (pg. 142) It’s never enough for a leader to communicate something once. Key messages, vision, thematic goals, and strategy must be communicated through various channels and in different ways (but always the same clear message). The bottom line: don’t keep your people in the dark.

Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity

One of the best ways to reinforce clarity is by communicating your values before an applicant becomes an employee during the hiring process. Have you defined what the right or wrong person looks like for your organization? Skills can always be taught, but overcoming a person’s natural behaviors is incredibly difficult and usually ends up with the new hire leaving because they don’t feel they “fit in.” This chapter goes on to suggest practices for hiring structure, interviewing, orientation, performance management, compensation and rewards.

…the single most important reason to reward people is to provide them with an incentive for doing what is best for the organization. -The Advantage, pg. 164.

The Centrality of Great Meetings

If someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting. –The Advantage, pg. 174

Meetings are important. But sometimes they get made into, what Lencioni calls, “meeting stew.” This is when all kinds of meetings are crammed into one pot and ends up leaving a bad taste in every’s mouth. Four meetings are suggested:

  1. Daily Check-Ins: There’s no agenda here. It’s just touching base with people on a personal level to stay connected.
  2. Tactical Staff Meetings: Create a ‘real-time’ agenda where the team can share their top priorities that week. Then, for the good of the organization, spend time talking about “What’s most important now?” (pg. 179)
  3. Adhoc Topical Meetings: “The purpose of this meeting is to dig into the critical issues that can have a long-term impact on an organization or that require significant energy to resolve.”  (pg. 182)
  4. Quarterly Off-Site Reviews: Their purpose is to step back from the organization and look at the big picture.

Seizing the Advantage

There is just no escaping the fact that the single biggest factor determining whether an organization is going to get healthier – or not – is the genuine commitment and active involvement of the person in charge. –The Advantage, pg. 191

Ultimately the leader of the organization has to take point to guide the team into the waters of organizational health. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it take time to work through? Yes. But that is why we’re the leaders?

If you’re a pastor like me, I encourage you to take your staff team and/or your church board through this book and walk through it together. Wrestle with the ideas. How does the health of the “organizational” side of our church affect the “spiritual” side of our church? If you have miserable staff members that don’t like coming to work and can’t freely express their opinions to the pastor in the weekly staff meeting, I guarantee the “spiritual” side is suffering. Perhaps if organizational health was more of a priority we would have less church splits and less pastoral/staff turnover. Those consequences are real and tangible – so don’t you think picking up this book might be worth it for the health and future of your church?

INFORMATION AND PERSONAL RATING

General Information:

  • Title: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
  • Author: Patrick Lencioni
  • Published: 2012
  • 240 pages

Personal Ratings (1-10)

  • Applicability: 10
  • Readability: 9
  • Originality: 9 (lower if you’ve read other Lencioni books)
  • Recommendation: Yes!
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