Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Patrick Lencioni - The Advantage

The best business books are the ones that make you think you can solve all the world's problems in one go. Patrick Lencioni's book does exactly that. It offers a magic bullet  (well, four magic bullets) for solving all the organizational problems in the world. 

Unlike most management authors, Lencioni doesn't claim that his suggestions are based on extensive research or data. He provides no graphs or exhaustive tables to back his premise. He says his ideas are based only on his extensive experience as a consultant. A few simple models suffice to illustrate his concepts. 

Perhaps that's what makes the book so compelling. A book written in accessible language is such a rarity in the field of management that you're tempted to hold it up and proclaim it a model for everybody else to follow.

Lencioni's premise is simple. He says that there are two things that leaders can focus on to improve their organization's performance. They can either focus on their organization's "smartness", which is the usual stuff like Finance and Marketing and Strategy. Or they can focus on their organization's "health", which is the touchy-feely stuff like mutual trust, lack of politics, high morale, low turnover, etc. 

The mistake that most leaders make, says Lencioni, is that they focus on organizational smartness at the cost of organizational health. They dismiss the latter as touch-feely - mostly because they don't know what it's all about. He illustrates this with an example from I Love Lucy. 
Ricky, Lucy's husband, comes home from work one day to find his wife crawling around the living room on her hands and knees. He asks her what she's doing. 
"I'm looking for my earrings," Lucy responds.
Ricky asks her, "You lost your earrings in the living room?"
She shakes her head. "No, I lost them in the bedroom. But the light out here is much better."
Good for the Lucy-like-leaders in the world that Lencioni can tell them how to look for the earrings in the bedroom. He offers a four-discipline model for organizational health:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team
  2. Create clarity
  3. Over-communicate clarity
  4. Reinforce clarity
Lencioni's themes are simple and have been around for a long time - well-aligned leadership; organizational simplicity; good communication; good systems and processes. His success lies in putting these themes together into a model that is easily understood. He also illustrates his ideas using examples from his consulting career.

His ideas will not be very acceptable to self-important leaders who want to create a hero culture in their companies. He is very clear that great organizations are created by great leadership teams, and not by great leaders. The only way the CEO contributes is by ensuring that the conditions are right for the creation of a great team. 

I would recommend this book both for current leaders who're trying to make their organizations more effective; and for wannabe leaders who want to understand leadership better.
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