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National Leader of the Month for October 2007


Patrick Lencioni

LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to experience the leadership insights of National Leader of the Month Patrick Lencioni: read them below and listen to excerpts from a conversation on leadership between Brian McCormick and Patrick Lencioni. To listen to the podcast, copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software: http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss. In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click here Patrick Lencioni audio.

Honoring Patrick Lencioni

Speak with Patrick Lencioni for a few minutes and three traits--humility, faith, and practicality--become apparent. For a man who has achieved such great success, his modesty is refreshing. He comes across as humble about his own accomplishments and also strongly emphasizes the positive results that a culture of humility can create for individuals and organizations. Patrick's deep faith is also transparently displayed in his discussions, and this faith is a model for others. Though he speaks with modesty about his ability to "boil" the complicated into practical, useful terms, it is a remarkable skill indeed. For the positive leadership he exemplifies, Patrick Lencioni is the National Leader of the Month for October 2007.

Patrick Lencioni's Story

Asked to share a story that encapsulates what he is all about, Patrick Lencioni chronicles his experience coaching his kids' soccer team. "Here I am as a best-selling author on teamwork and leadership, and I volunteer to coach my sons’ soccer team (my twin boys). I don’t know a heck of a lot about soccer: I played it for two years when I was a kid, and I didn’t follow it very much [growing up]. We had twelve boys on our team, and we were in a competitive league with other very good coaches and nice people who knew a lot about soccer....I remember thinking, 'Maybe it's not about soccer. Maybe it's about teamwork, and maybe it's about inspiring these kids to be more than they think they can be.' Through often humbling experiences and hardworking experiences and doing some things that were a little bit kooky (in terms of bringing the boys together and talking about attitude in life), we built a little team that was really, really good and won most of its games. Most importantly, every one of those kids wanted to play again on the same team. The majority of them said, 'We don’t want to play on another team. We don’t want to stop playing. We really want to keep being on this team.' It was beyond soccer. It was something about being part of something bigger (where they were growing). I am tough on them sometimes, and I think, 'These kids are going to hate playing for me.' I came to realize that 'everybody wants to become the best version of [himself or herself]' as Matthew Kelly, my friend, says. Sometimes I think we overestimate the power of knowledge and specific technical skills and underestimate the power of being a role model and just leading, trying new things, and putting ourselves out there....I chose kids on the team for their attitude—who I thought would listen and try hard. Some were not very fast and some were not that skilled, but it was so great to coach and lead a bunch of kids who wanted to be there and were willing to be team players more than individuals."

About Patrick Lencioni

Author, Speaker, and Consultant

Place he calls home: Alamo, California, USA

Birthday: July 23, 1965

Family: married to Laura; four sons

Favorite book: the Bible

Current personal passion: my family

Dream: I think I’m living it. Husband. Father. Manager. Author. Consultant. I might like to make a movie someday.

What have been the turning points in your life? marriage, starting my own company, and becoming a father

Favorite quote/attributable to whom? “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”--Samuel Johnson. I just am overwhelmed by how much knowledge we all have and how educated we are and how little of that we actually use. I think there is such a premium on remembering things at the right moment, so we can tap into [our knowledge]. That’s really what my work is about is trying to net things out for people and reduce a lot of complication down to those things which truly matter because I find success in my life and in my faith (and everything else) is really about remembering what's most important: not about accumulating more knowledge. You have your consulting, and you just released your newest book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,...to great fanfare. Can you talk a little bit about that notion of boiling things down to their essence? I love it when people will read one of my books and say, “I think I knew all that stuff. I just don’t know why I'm not doing it.” And I consider [hearing] that a great compliment. I don’t pretend to be creating a lot of new, new information: I’m not a researcher [in a certain sense of the term]. I am a field researcher, and I just see in people's behaviors that they are not behaving in a way that’s consistent with producing the kind of results they want. I just call that out to them, and they find it insightful, so I'm thankful for that. But I don’t think it is about inventing a lot of new things; [rather], I think it is more about framing things in a way that people can use. In The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, I make it very clear [that]... I'm just going to try to remind people of things they probably already know. People say, “Why am I not doing this stuff? This is so simple and yet I'm not doing it. I have to get back to the basics.”

Place in the world you would most like to visit: Napa Valley. Why Napa Valley? It has nothing to do with wine because I really don’t drink much wine, and I don’t drink any when I go up there. I can get to Yountville in Napa Valley (which is a little north of the town of Napa in the heart of the Napa Valley) in about 45 minutes from my house. When I go there I feel like time stops, and it’s beautiful but there is kind of an orderly beauty to it; it’s beautiful hills and trees and everything, but then there are these amazing vineyards. For me, it allows me to do my best thinking and to relax. My wife and I have been going up there for years. We don’t [go up there] so much any more—because we’ve got four little boys—but that’s where I started doing a lot of writing. [With] my [young] family, I can't do that anymore, but I just love it up there because it makes me feel like I'm in a different world and time stops. I place such a premium on that because life is just running so fast all the time right now. [With regards to the writing experience for you], is it something where you can simply sit down and words spill out of you, or do you need to remove yourself at all from some of life’s distractions? How does that experience go for you? It’s a little bit of a mix for me. I'm easily distracted--that’s my personality style--so I need to get away. But I can’t stay away for too long because it’s interacting with people that spurs my thinking. What I often like to do--and I don’t do it enough lately--is when I go to a hotel I like to go sit down in the lobby at night. There are still people walking in and out of the lobby and distracting me, and I can talk to the front desk or just watch people, and it provokes my thinking. So I like to be, if you will, away from family and friends whom I would not be able to work around because I enjoy their company too much. But [I do not like to be] holed up in a room by myself; as an extrovert, that just drains me of my energy. [In other words], I like to retreat but not too far: the human contact...makes me think better.

What experiences have been vital to your development? Twelve years of Catholic education and two years as a management consultant at Bain & Company. [Bain] was the hardest two years in my career and probably the most valuable. I a good week, I worked 65 to 70 hours (and a few time 90 hours). It was not very pleasant at times. It was difficult and slightly demeaning at times because I was right out of school, but the rigor of the job and the discipline that it taught me (and what I had to learn on the fly), I draw on to this day. No job has ever been difficult since I left that job, so it is kind of like boot camp. People say, “Would you want to do it again?” No, but it is probably the best thing I ever did, and it taught me a rigor and a way to think of things and analysis that serves to this day. I think the key to my work is that though it’s in the softer realm of business, I don’t approach it in a touchy-feely way, and I get that from Bain.

Your most admired leaders (living or deceased) and why? John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. They cheerfully stayed true to their beliefs and inspired others to better lives. Could you talk about what personal traits you think allowed them to stay true to their beliefs, and can you also talk about how those two then have inspired you? The thing about John Paul II and Ronald Reagan (and I think this is so critical for any leader) is this: They have core beliefs, and whether or not those beliefs are popular, they are more important than that. Of course they had great faith in God, which I believe is critical, and when you look back at when Reagan and John Paul II died, there is all this adulation and these amazing ceremonies. I always remind people [that] they were hated in the media. They were vilified for not being flexible and not going with the times, and it would have been very tempting (as it is for all of us and I know that I struggle with this) to soften their stances on things. [The human tendency of many to take a softened stance would have occurred] not because it was right, but because it would make people like them and make them less uncomfortable. [Yet] neither of them did that, and in the end they achieved greater good [by remaining true to their conviction]. The two of them together really brought down a very difficult situation in the eastern part of Europe with communism, the violence, the suppression, and the censorship there. They [achieved what they did] by not wavering, and yet they were both affable and loving people. I think they really liked their adversaries and those that didn’t agree with them. They weren’t bitter, but they weren’t wavering. I think in this era of political correctness and compromise and waffling, there is something to be said for kindly, lovingly sticking to what you believe is true. In the end it produces good things and wins the admiration of people even though “way back when” that admiration didn’t seem so readily available. For me, I struggle with the need to be well liked, and sometimes I think my skin is too thin. I think that’s probably why I admire them so much because I try to draw on the principle of people like that who could stand in the face of great criticism and say, “I can’t deny what I think is best (or what I think is right)." That reminds of a poster I used to have hanging on the wall that said, “Doing what is right isn’t always easy, but it's always right.” We think that all the battles have been fought in life, but we all confront these things everyday in little ways and sometimes in big ways. So are we going to do what is right, or are we going to do what is easy?

What would you consider to be some of the leadership highlights of your life? [A highlight for me is] watching the people I manage grow and flourish. I think that I'm a closet career development advocate. I just love talking about career development and helping people find their passion in life. And I love hiring people, thinking they are capable of something, and then watching them take on a leadership role and develop [a confidence] and an expertise and notoriety in their career. [It is rewarding] seeing them become something that they didn’t see in themselves but was always there...I have these wonderful people whom I work with who are so talented and so wonderful and have qualities that I wish I had. Many of them started in administrative roles or in other things and today are considered to be experts in their field. There is probably nothing more rewarding than that for me because they look back and recall that at the time they didn’t want me push them sometimes. [However], they are really glad that I did, and they deserve a lot of credit for having the courage to follow through.

Looking at some of the clients that you have worked with in the past, I am curious: What was it like working for the military academy at West Point? I taught classes there and visited and spoke at an event there, and I also did a session for the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg in North Carolina. What struck me about both of those organizations--and it was far and away the most impressive aspect of what I saw--was that the humility there was undeniable. Here were leaders in our military--very high ranking [leaders] and kids at the academy who were the cream of the crop in their high schools. Nowhere have I ever gone where people were so respectful and gracious and hungry to learn from others. It made no sense to me that these generals and leadership experts--people who have often created new ideas around leadership that the rest of the world is looking for--were hungry to learn from me and my theories. Frankly, it just made no sense, but what it said to me was [this]: they really want to get better, and they are willing to learn from anyone. That impressed me more than anything. I have been in environments where people had a lot less reason to be proud and could be arrogant, and these young people--men and women--were so humble and gracious. It made me feel good about my country, and it made me feel very good about the people going into leadership who will be in the private and public sector for many years.

What are some of your other goals on the horizon over the next few years? I think there are two things primarily (or maybe three). We want to continue to do the work we do for organizations: help CEOs and leaders and organizations build the kind of effective cultures that produce more and make people better at those organizations. We are also going to take a look at three different things: faith, [family, and the less fortunate]. Faith is helping churches run their organization more effectively. We have done a lot of that, and that’s something that is near and dear to my heart. [Regarding] family, we think that there are a few basic principles from business that families could easily utilize to make them stronger organizations. Families are the most important organization in our lives, and yet we usually run them in a very reactive, scattershot manner. [Additionally], there is the less fortunate. We would like to do some work around providing clearer, simpler answers around how maybe we can do more to help the less fortunate. We are staying in our business and we're doing faith, family, and the less fortunate in the new year.

Patrick Lencioni and Leadership

Is there any important piece of advice that you have been given that you could share? A good friend of mine who wrote a book on coaching and leadership—his name is Daniel Harkavy—said “give your best to your best.” What he means by that is when balancing family and work and faith, don’t short shrift those parts of your life that are most important. I feel like I am a better consultant and writer if I am giving the appropriate amount of time and energy to my faith and my family. It's so tempting and easy to cut those things because we have work to do, and I think it’s a shortsighted trade off. So “save your best for you are best” is what he said, and I think it's true.

Books you recommend for aspiring leaders: A Call to Joy - Living in the Presence of God and The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose by Mathew Kelly and Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard. Mathew Kelly is one of the best writers I know of. He writes from a spiritual and self-improvement basis. He is a Catholic Christian writer and his books just make it clear about what's important in life, what we need to keep focused on, and how to improve ourselves as people. Mathew Kelly talks about the four areas of our lives that we have to master: spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual. It is simple stuff, but it’s something I can get my hands around. Then, Ken Blanchard wrote a book Lead Like Jesus. I'm a Christian, of course, and as Ken says, “Christ is the best leadership role model of all time, it really boils down to what Christ did.” So for me those are the important books in my life that speak to leadership and things around becoming a better person.

Your advice to aspiring leaders: Be humble and hungry. By humble, I mean "that you do not believe that you are inherently a better or more important person than the people you lead." So you see yourself as their equal (or better yet as their servant) as Ken Blanchard's book talks about. On the other hand, though, to be a great leader you have to recognize that the words and actions that you choose and that you take are going to have a great impact on the average person. And you have to be both [humble and hungry] at once which is hard because people who are really humble often times think, “Well, who am I to lead people and get up in front of people and really inspire them?” While on the other hand people who are not terribly humble but are confident in getting up and inspiring people often think, “Why I must be a pretty special person.” And so to be a great leader you have to simultaneously embrace both of these concepts. As Jim Collins likes to say: “Reject the tyranny of the ‘or’ and embrace the genius of the ‘and,’” and simultaneously be humble to the people you lead, but also be comfortable being out front. That’s part of what hunger is about: wanting to drive things forward but not in the ego sense. Hunger is also not being complacent and not needing others to provoke you to greater action....You can be hungry to achieve a lot but humble enough to recognize that you are not more important than others. That’s what keeps you in balance as a leader. I enjoyed hearing you touch on humility just as Herb Kelleher...did. That was one of the things that I think has made him so successful....Through his self-deprecating humor, [Herb] has really advocated using humility...as a leader. Southwest Airlines is probably one of the best examples [of a company effectively exhibiting humility]. [Southwest is the] most successful company in American history in the last 35 years financially and otherwise. It is [one of] the largest air carriers in the United States, and yet if you walk the halls as I’ve done—because I’ve worked with them—it reeks of humility. There is not a sense of arrogance there, and that comes from Herb [Kelleher], Colleen [Barrett], one of the other [employees] early on, and the CEO today, Gary Kelly. So Southwest is a great example of the power of humility.

What are the traits you consider most important in a leader? Humility, drive, and compassion. Of the three, would you identify one as being more important than the others? Probably not. I would probably say they are kind of like the three legs of a stool. It would be easier for me to say compassion because I think that’s near and dear to my heart. I think we all need to be that way, but when it comes to being a leader, if you don’t combine humility and drive, any one of those taken away kind of leaves you short; [therefore], I don’t think I would put one ahead of the other. Which of the three do you think we possess more innately, and is there one of the three that we may have a shortfall of right now in America? I would say most people who identify themselves, especially early in life, as wanting to be leaders have drive. Very few people are sitting on the couch watching cartoons, or playing video games, saying, “Boy, I really want to be leader.” So I don’t think drive is what's missing. I think later in life it is [sometimes missing]. As we grow up the management food chain (or the leadership food chain), I think sometimes we lose that drive. I think most of us have an inherent sense of drive if we think of ourselves as leaders. I think of that humility thing: really embracing your own humility and vulnerability, and understanding that it is those people in life who are comfortable with their weaknesses, who are usually the strongest. The ones that can be readily [transparent] or very upfront about what they are not good at and can ask others to help them and can acknowledge others who are better than they are the best leaders. So I think humility is often missing. And then compassion just turns all of that into [this]: we are leading for something that’s good. I am aware of the fact that some of this might sound somewhat clichéd, but it is how I feel about leadership.

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