Did you take on a leadership position for the right reason? There are many reasons one might put themselves in the position of being a leader, but it’s vital that those reasons, whatever they are, be deeply considered because if you’re not being a leader for the right reasons, you may potentially be in for catastrophic results. Steve Farber is joined by Patrick Lencioni, who is the Founder and President of The Table Group. Patrick encourages strong introspection to see if you’re being a leader for the right reasons. Through his story, he also demonstrates the pitfalls of not getting your motivation in order.
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Leading For The Right Reasons With Patrick Lencioni
My guest is the one and only, Pat Lencioni, who is a rockstar business author. You may be familiar with Pat as the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which was his breakout book and he’s written twelve bestselling business books. A couple of them were family books too. He’s sold over six million copies. He’s got a couple of books that are perennial bestsellers. He’s very much in demand as a speaker and his company, The Table Group, works with Fortune 500 companies and they do phenomenal work. He is also an old friend of mine. In fact, once upon a time, Pat Lencioni was a client of mine way back in the mid-‘90s. He’s an amazing guy. Our conversation spans the subjects far and wide from the current state of affairs in the COVID-19 situation all the way to the creative process, to a discussion about family, to what it means to be a leader and why some people should perhaps choose not to lead. It’s a great conversation. I know you’ll have a lot of fun joining us in it. Here’s my interview with Pat Lencioni.
Pat, thanks for being with me. It’s great to see you again.
It’s been way too long, Steve.
I want to start with a quick review of our connection. I’ll tell you the story of the way I remember it and then you told me the story of the way you remember it. It all started way back, I’m going to say around 1994 or 1995, somewhere in that ballpark because I was relatively new at the Tom Peters Company. I started there in 1994. You at the time were at Sybase. You hired us to come in and do some leadership coaching training for the people at Sybase. You were my client.
My wife, Laura, and I were talking about this. We’d been married two years. She remembers you and we saw you and I said, “I want you to be like him. We want more of him.” Steve, you had a big impact on my career because I remember watching you and thinking, “I like what he does and how he does it.” I did not know that I would ever be doing speaking and the things I’m doing now. You see people early in your life, they’re role models for you and they do things well and you think, “Maybe someday I could do something like that.” That was a big part of my early formation in this. I remember it as you do. We did these leadership classes. It was called FILM and we were doing leadership development.
What did FILM stand for?
The Fibonacci Institute of Leadership and Management. Fibonacci was the logo of the company.
It was that the nautilus shell, which was part of the Sybase logo. It was global. We ran a series of workshops for Sybase people from all around the world. I remember two things. One was we couldn’t go too fast in terms of pace because of the speech but we had to go fast in terms of content. No dwelling and a low corny factor. No corniness. These people want a straightforward one. You and I co-facilitated a good number of those.
It was fun. Who knew what we were getting into and what we’d go on and do? I remember the story that you told me about your son. Was it $11? How many bucks was it?
It’s a $12 check. First of all, this was back in the days where there were checks. What was the story? It was Jeremy, my youngest, and the context around did what you say you will do. I had told him that I was going to write a $12 check that he can send into this mail or the catalog or something like that. I said, “I’m going to write you that check,” and I kept forgetting. He kept asking and I kept forgetting. One day, he walked by me and this little voice walked by saying, “$12 check.” All the guilt came crashing down on my head and I sat and I wrote him the check.
How much of leadership do we learn reinforced or even new things from having been parents?
It’s interesting because those days for me were formative days because the FILM program for Sybase was rooted in Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s work, Credibility and The Leadership Challenge. Jim was the President of the Tom Peters Company at the time, my most significant mentor. His work deeply informs my work. That’s where I was learning it was by helping people like your team not just understand these ideas but begin to practice them. Those were significant days for me. You’re always a natural in front of the room. It sounds almost ridiculous to say it but watching you and seeing you light up and the fun that we had around it. I remember when that spark lit into a fire for you. Let me say it this way, “Now, look at you.”
When I look back, I never was planning a future. I always loved whatever I was doing. People often come to us. My company, The Table Group, had been around for several years. People say, “How can we build a company like yours?” We were like, “I don’t know.” In our first two years, we were fine doing what we did. We’ve always loved wherever we were at and we were never thinking of the next thing. When you were doing training for us and I got to train with you, I was like, “This is the best.” I never thought about where it would go. Thank God it went where it went. I’m happy now.You can replace professionalism with 'personalism.' Click To Tweet
We travel in the same circles. I would think it’s safe to say that your circles are quite a bit bigger than mine. The thing is that everywhere I go where I hear your name mentioned and people talk about your books, they heard you speak or whatever it might be, it makes me feel great. There are lots of different people in this industry as in any industry and there are some people who do well by assuming a persona and by creating something that they think people want to hear versus being authentically who they are. That’s who you are. You’ve always been such an authentic communicator and authentic believer in people’s capabilities to do great things. I’m happy for seeing what you’ve accomplished, not only you but you and your team. I knew your whole team, the original team. That was the Sybase team. You walked down the street and hung out a shingle, same crew and hit the ground running. It was fantastic.
Those are nice things that you said to me. They mean a lot, the authenticity and they try to be honest and believe in the people around me. That’s a wonderful thing for you to say. I appreciate that. One of the regrets I have, one of the difficult things, and it’s wonderful, but I hung that shingle up about the same day that my wife and I found out we were having twins. Since I’ve started this business and we’ve been traveling and we’ve done all this stuff, I have no time to do extra things, which I love because I’m involved in my kids’ lives. People like you, if I see you when I’m on the road someplace in an airport or at a venue, that’s about all I’m going to get. I’m racing back home for sports, youth group, school or team, whatever else it is. My kids are getting older and old enough that my wife can come to do some things with me. Maybe I’ll get to reconnect with a lot of my old friends like you and many others that I’ve not had any time to indulge in those relationships.
I know what you mean and here’s what I’ll tell you from my experience as a parent. The thread I want to pick up on again of how much we can learn about leadership from being parents, which is the thought that you put out there. I was a relatively young parent when we first met but I also started young. I had three kids before I was 30 years old. It was rare back then. It’s even rarer now.
It depends on what part of the country you’re in because there are certain parts of the country where that happens more in certain socioeconomic or cultural groups that do that. Living in major metropolitan areas, my wife and I got married when we were 27 and 25. You’d think I was 17 and she was 15 and people are like, “Why are you getting married?”
I married into three stepdaughters. One day, Jeremy did the math on this and he said, “Dad, do you realize that by the time Presley,” my youngest stepdaughter, “turns twenty, you will have been raising teenagers for 25 straight years?” It is true. His math was correct. They keep you sharp. I love teenagers, they’re hilarious. I love them for other reasons too, but that’s probably the main one. They grow up and they become real live adult human beings and it’s a wonderful thing. We’re empty nesters here, but we love getting together with our kids. You still have a couple at home. You still have that to look forward to. It’s a different phase. Not that this is not great now, but there’s something cool when they all go off on their own and you and your wife can look at each other and go like, “What do we want to do?”
We’re getting more and more time together and it’s great that I like her and I love her, but it’s great that I love spending time with her. During this shutdown that we’re in, when I’ll get off this call, I’ll have another one after we’re done. I will run around and find my kids and give every one of them a hug and do something fun just checking in with them. I’m loving this little time in that way. In between everything I get to reconnect and stuff. That’s something I’m trying to treasure because I know it won’t last forever.
Let me build on that a little bit as we expand that out from the Pat and Farber story and look at the world at large in these times, which some people are referring to as the new normal, which I take issue with. It’s the new abnormal because we tend to take the word normal and equate it with eternal, as in the new normal is the new eternal, as if it’s going to be this reality forever and it’s just not. It is going to end but there will be consequences both good and bad. What’s your take on where we are and what we should think about moving forward as human beings in general, but as business people in particular?
I love that you asked that because I wrote an article that I shared with my team that’s going to make its way into a podcast or an article or something. We’re not sure, but I talked about the suffering is still going on and God bless them. We’ve got to pray for those people that are suffering. We’re all starting to go, “I see there is a light down there and we’re going to emerge.” People are starting to go, “What’s it going to be like to come out of this?” I don’t want to go back to the old normal. I want to create a new normal, not the new abnormal but the new normal. There are a few things that I want to get rid of and not take with me into the next thing. This is a forward-looking thing. The new thing hopefully will be better and one of them is the idea of professionalism and this is right up your line.
I want to replace it with personalism. I’ve always been involved in the lives of the people that I work with, but not like I am right now and I’m not going to go back to the professional distance of like, “I know what your kids are doing and all that.” I’m going to lean so much harder into my people because during this time we’ve become ironically more part of each other’s lives because we’re sitting at home and doing this stuff and seeing one another’s kids and missing each other. I’m not going to go back to the old more regulated professionalism. We are family and we’re going to live into that. That’s one thing. I don’t want to go back and be professional after this. I want to be personal. The other thing is we have abandoned during this time and I want to abandon this idea of over-engineering things like, “We have to take months and months to figure this out and polish this up and do this.” We’re like, “Screw it. Put it out there.”
People understand, let them know. We have been more productive and more satisfied in serving our clients better than we ever have because we’re not doing all of those over-engineering processes. That’s another thing that I don’t want to do. I’m also not going to get on an airplane unless I have to. There are a lot of good reasons to get on airplanes. There’s also a lot of reactive getting on airplanes that we do because we’re used to it. I’m going to use social media more. I’m going to use Zoom and things like this. I’m also going to think more about the time I have with my family and with other close friends, and not be quite quick to sacrifice that in order to fly to Saskatoon, Canada for a twenty-minute meeting that I could have easily done another way.
It’s a wonderful irony that the physical distancing, the physical separation is encouraging all of us to be more connected to each other and in more personal ways, sitting in each other’s living room or whatever. Suddenly, it’s okay to have kids crawling over your head when you’re in the middle of a business meeting. There’s a wonderful personalness to that, versus the professionalism that would have made that not okay. Now, it’s a part of our experience with each other. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. You know the core of my work for a long time has been that love is the foundation of leadership and love is what creates great business and all of that.
As much as people might think that sounds like a cliché, it’s true. The L-word, with every talk I give and every executive team I work with, it’s like if you’re not loving the people you’re with, you’re not going to tell them the difficult news. You’re not going to challenge them to grow, it’s love. That’s what makes Southwest Airlines great. They love each other.
There are many examples of that. In my experience, the knee-jerk resistance to that idea is softening quite a bit, which is cool. What we’re seeing now, and I believe this is not an exaggeration, in an unprecedented way, literally the entire planet is faced with the same challenge. Because we’re all faced with the same challenge, our capacity to have empathy for each other is greater than it’s ever been. We can all relate to what we’re all faced with. It has never been that way before. Not only are people connecting using the technology for Zoom, but the question “How are you?” is more genuine than it’s ever been. I have to believe that there’s a good amount of this new level of compassion and empathy and love and connection that’s going to continue when we get back to breathing the same oxygen with each other. What do you think?
I hope so. I was talking to this with my team because we’re hanging out a lot more on Zoom and realizing that if we get too efficient, we’re not going to be effective. There needs to be more time to be together and talk about these things. My concern is that when this is over, when we go back, we start working again and the kids are in school, we’re going to face some problems. There’s going to be a worldwide social depression. I don’t mean economic, but people are going to get depressed because they’re going to go back to the old way of doing things and recognize that wasn’t all that great and that we have to go back and reclaim this new stuff that we have.
I worry about people going, “Get me out of my house. Come on, I need to get to work. I need to do this.” They’re going to go to work and go, “This is it? This is what I thought I missed so much?” The good news is healthy, vibrant organizations where people love each other and have real relationships with each other and pour into each other and pour into their customers and they get work done, they’re going to be glad to get back to work. There are a lot of people who worked in dysfunctional cold companies that it’s going to be super hard when this is over. Hopefully, we will push through it and embrace organizational health and openness because if we don’t, we’re going to experience some depressed people.
That’s an interesting perspective. I’m projecting ahead and thinking I’m on a team that now is virtual. We’re having these connections in each other’s homes and having conversations that we’ve never had before when we shared the same physical proximity. We get the green light, everybody goes back to work. We go back to work and those conversations stop because we’re not forced to have them in the same way. What you’re saying is that there’s going to be an adjustment period where people are going to have to come to terms with, “What is it about that that I loved and how do we continue that, ironically, without using the technology?” We want to continue with the technology, but for people who are together in physical proximity, how do we continue those conversations now that we can look down the hall and see each other there?
When I walk in my neighborhood, everybody I see, I don’t care if I’ve ever seen them before if they drive by in their car, we wave. There’s a solidarity that goes on. In three months, is that going to continue? We have to decide. People on my team have been more vulnerable because I’m seeing them in their house and they’ll say to me, “Pat, with the door closed, I’m struggling with some stuff in my family,” whereas they didn’t go to work and come into my office and tell me that. I hope that we push forward to a new normal, not go back to the old normal.
From a leadership perspective, we need to facilitate that.
By being vulnerable ourselves. It’s all about vulnerability.
It has always been true. What I find fascinating about these times is that is bringing into sharper relief what has always been true. It’s not that all of a sudden connection is important because we’re all facing this challenge. It’s not that all of a sudden love is important. It’s not that all of a sudden authenticity is important. It’s always been important. We’re collectively experiencing what it feels like and how great it is in that regard. It’s not to diminish the whole tragic part of this scenario, but that continuing and even deepening of those connections is going to fall on leaders who will do that by example, also look for opportunities to facilitate those conversations happening in the course of the way we do business.
I’m a Christian, a person of faith, and I find that more people are open to thinking about their faith lives right now than they were in the past. It’s mostly because in the old world we had far more distractions. C. S. Lewis once wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters. I don’t know if you ever heard of this, but it’s fascinating. It’s a fiction book about the devil and he’s teaching this junior devil how to get people to be miserable. The guy is like, “Should I do all these terrible things?” He goes, “No, just keep them distracted. That’ll be enough.” Do you know what I hope we don’t do after this is over? My kids play sports. I love sports, but I hope we watch less of them when this comes back. I don’t want to come home and say, “The Utah Jazz is playing the Phoenix Suns. I could spend 90 minutes watching this.” That means nothing.
A lot of people I know are watching less TV now. Even though you’d think all we’d be doing is watching TV, a lot of people are like, “It doesn’t satisfy me anymore.” I hope that many of the shallow distractions, there’s a place for them, but we weren’t overindulging in things that left us hollow at the end. I hope when this comes back, we turn off the TV more and play games with our families more and talk more. Going in the future, every three months we should have a one-week lockdown, where we all sit around and be with our families.
Maybe it’ll be a self-imposed lockdown. The idea of not going to the office, just staying home, hanging out with your family was something that many people yearned to do but felt that they would be judged harshly for doing that by their peers or by their bosses or whatever. Maybe we’ll be more encouraging to each other to take the time to do that.
I’m a reluctant convert to Zoom because, in the past virtual teams, I was hard on them because oftentimes we weren’t nurturing these relationships. You can’t be a virtual team and never be together but what I’ve seen is that Zoom and all these tools are not meeting tools. They are social interaction tools. In the future, if somebody says, “My daughter’s down today, I think I’m going to stay home.” I’m like, “That’s fine. You could get just as much done.” If we never see them and don’t get a chance to build those strong relationships, that’s not good. The world is changed. We have people here in the Bay Area who commutes two hours each way every day because that’s the only way you can find an affordable house. It’s like, “I have an idea. Work from home until noon, come into work and go home at 6:30 and you’re going to have all so much more time with your family.” We’re going to be a little bit more creative about that and we’re going to prioritize meaningful relationships over ceremoniously showing up for social protocol.
It’s funny because I had another flashback. Back in the mid-’90s, when you and I first met, and I first started at the Tom Peter’s company, this idea of working from home, it was starting to catch on. That was a long time ago. We’ve been talking about it for a long time now. All of a sudden, just like that, everybody has the experience of what that is and everybody’s seeing, “I am productive here that maybe we should do this more even when we don’t ‘have to.’”
Necessity is the mother of invention. I was not embracing virtual teams until I had to and I said, “Let’s get awesome at this.” It’s going to forever change the way we serve clients and interact with each other. In fact, I’m going to make my team stay at home some days just so I can see them. We have people with babies and we get to see them. We go months and months and never see them. Now we’re like, “Go get Ryder. We want to see him.”Necessity is the mother of invention, whatever field you're in. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk about books. The number of books that you have written is?
It’s twelve. It depends on how you count them. I’ve written a book for the church, a family book but if you add them up, it’s probably 12 or 13.
The Five Temptations of a CEO, is it the first one?
You sent me the manuscript for that when you were writing it. I’m like, “This is good.” If you look at all of your business books, they’ve all been fables as you’d like to call them except for one, The Advantage. It’s the same formula for me. All of my books have been fables or parables except for one. I only have four, but the same formula all but one has been stories and narratives. I’d love for you to share with our readers, I’m curious about this personally and also the people reading, what is your process like for creating these wonderful stories that have such rich content?
I’m an ENFP in the Myers-Briggs. The process is not a word that comes into play well for me. What does my lack of process look like? There are some consistency to that. First of all, I never thought I was going to write a bunch of books. The first one we wrote, we started our company and one of our first meetings, we said, “We should go to Kinko’s and make copies of this and hand it out to our clients.” Amy’s brother’s girlfriend’s best friend was Susan Williams who worked at Jossey-Bass. She read it reluctantly because Amy saw it at a Christmas party. She was like, “We like this.” I thought, “What do you know? They’re going to print it.” I thought that would be cool that they print it. Something else would come up and I’d go, “That’s interesting.” Somebody says, “That’s a book.” Many times during this process I thought, “I’m done,” and then something comes up that makes me feel compelled. Oftentimes I don’t think it’s a book, it’s an article. They’re like, “No, that’s a book.” I’m glad that other people pushed me to do things that I probably wouldn’t have done myself.
The process for me though is it starts with an idea and I talk to my staff about it. They’re like, “This is a book.” I might write a two-paragraph summary of what it’s about but what’s interesting, and this is not something I’d recommend to others, but I start talking about the title and the cover, not because I’m going to decide on it. If I don’t have something I’m looking at when I’m writing like this is what this is, some people start a business and what they want to do is they want to tell, “What are we going to call it?” It’s like, “Don’t do that because everybody wants to do that.” You’re like, “I’m going to make a movie. Who’s going to star in it?” “I’ll just write a screenplay.” For me, I need to know what this is going to look like when it’s done. I start going and it always changes. It takes about nine months for me to write a book but I don’t write full-time ever.
I’ll write for two days at a time and then I’ll put it away and then I’ll be in the shower and a new idea will come to me. When they invent a whiteboard in the shower and a video conferencing that goes above the waist, I’m going to get productive. My process is a pretty messy one. When I first started, I used to go to Napa and sit in a hotel for three days. I usually go to the lobby of the hotel though and write in the evening when people were mingling so I could be distracted. Now what I do is I go over to this hotel that’s about two miles from my home and another 2 miles from my office. I’ll write for two nights in a row and then people will come over and we’ll work on it. Then I’ll come home and have dinner and then my kids go to bed and then I go back. It’s a messy, inconsistent process, but it generally works out to about nine months of off and on writing and a lot of discussions.
A lot of discussion with your team. You’re not writing in a vacuum, bouncing the ideas off of people. They’re challenging you on some things and encourage you on others. The format of your fables, you have the story, then you have the model at the end. Where does it typically start for you? Does it start with the story and the characters and the arc? I know you like to write screenplays and all that too. You’re a creative guy in that respect. Does it start with the model and the ideas that you want to deliver to them?
The model and the idea. I have a book called The Motive that came out. I’ve been asked this question a lot, “Where did that come from?” I was in Palm Springs at a Big Men at Leadership Conference. I was talking to a group of twenty CEOs sitting around the living room in a big suite up in one of these rooms. They were asking me questions and I was puzzled by a number of the CEOs who were rejecting my advice out of hand. They were like, “I would never do that. Why would I do that?” You would relate to this because essentially they were saying, “What does that do for me? That doesn’t sound fun.” I remember saying to Karen Amador, who works with me, “Those people are CEOs for the wrong reasons. They did it for themselves.”
We get on the plane and we’re flying back. She’s like, “That’s pretty interesting. What do you think that is?” I’m going through and saying, “Let me see what’s the right reason? What are the wrong reasons?” By the time we get back to the office, the next day we go in and I go, “I was thinking about this.” Tracy, my editor and she is a very involved editor, she’s like, “That’s a book.” They will go into the conference room and they say, “Pat, write down the five things you think leaders who have the wrong motive do. Write down the things that the right leaders do. What is this?” That’s where it all starts. We get our hands around the model, but it’s not perfect.
I start writing fiction and through the characters, it goes back and forth. I have to say that I’m a fiction writer, but I’m a screenwriter because I don’t do much detail. I’ve noticed this. It’s almost all dialogue. Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors and it’s beautiful the way he describes things and people. Mine is like, “Bob was the CEO. This is what was going on with him.” Through their dialogue, you get to know them but I don’t do a lot of descriptions. I want to hear from you. I remember the first one you wrote, The Radical Leap and the surferwere living in San Diego and you spent a lot of time down there, but what is your process like?
That was funny you should ask because that’s my Lencioni flashback again. When I wrote that book and I gave you the manuscript for it and I asked you to read it, you were encouraging and you sent it to the editor at Jossey-Bass. You introduced me to Jim Levine, your agent, who became my agent for that book. He started shopping around and he sent it to your contact at Jossey-Bass. This was one of the greatest bits of rejection I ever got. She came back, Jim called me up and he said, “She passed on it.” I said, “Did she give me any feedback?” He said, “She didn’t like anything about it.” I said, “Really? How about the font?” He said, “The font was fine.”
Jim, our agent, he’s still your agent, right?
He is for the new book, yeah.
We love Jim. He’s earnest and says things the way they are. It’s a great story after you’ve done successful books.
Which I hadn’t at the time. Jim is our agent and I’m working on this book with my friend, Jay Jay French, the Founder of Twisted Sister. Jim is the agent for that. I introduced Jay Jay to Jim and then he repped us on that particular book.
Jim does a lot of eclectic stuff.
My new book is an agent by somebody else. I’ve worked with Jim for years and in those formative days, my process is different from yours. I tend to write in a vacuum. I have the kernel of an idea, like with The Radical Leap, the leap is love, energy, audacity, and proof. That’s the framework that we’ve been teaching for years to great results. At the time it was a conceptual thing that I wanted to flesh out. It was this story and the dialogue between the characters in the story where they gave me an opportunity to think it through and get clarity on it. There’s a thought and then it’s, “I wonder what I mean by that.” Setting up a vague story arc, characters would reveal themselves and then they’d get into dialogue and that’s where I got clarity on it.
My original plan for The Radical Leap was going to be two characters, myself because I narrate my own stories and Edge, who’s the main character of the surfer dude. It was going to be the two of us. It’s just the dialogue and a way to bounce ideas off of myself and it worked. In fact, there’s one story that I’ve shared with a few people over the years. The foundational thought behind my work is this phrase, “Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” Doing what you love is the foundation, but you’re using that to serve people and you’re serving people not because you feel obliged but because you want to have an impact. When you do have that impact, they reciprocate they love you in return. That’s the full circle. That line came to me when I was writing The Radical Leap. I was involved in the characters to such a degree that it was consuming every aspect of my psyche. It’s getting to know these people.
Kathryn Petersen, my main character who’s been in almost every one of my books in one way or another, but the main character in The Five Dysfunctions, she’s a hero. People talk about her.
Does anybody ever come up to you and say, “Have you talked to Kathryn?”
Yeah. I’ve had people that read my books and thought they were not fiction. I said, “No, they’re made up.”
People will say to me, I’ve heard this question a lot, “How’s Edge?” It’s like, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” It’s like, “Have you talked to Edge?” It’s like, “How does all the time strikes?” It’s a great compliment.
I wish I had a picture of my face when I was writing because you and I have similar personality styles. I know when somebody’s sad or somebody who’s happy or they’re having a dialogue, I know my face is betrayed, nobody else is watching me. I know I get animated about the characters.
You come up with a line or a paragraph, you go, “That’s good.” What happened was when I was writing Leap one morning before I woke up, I had a vivid dream. I still remember it vividly. I was taking a walk with Edge. We were walking through a neighborhood. We were having a conversation and I said, “Edge, this leap thing and all that, net it all out for me. What is it all about?” He said, “Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” You have those thoughts it’s like, “I’ll remember that.” I got out of the bed and I wrote it down. When I woke up for the day, I read that and I was like, “What does that mean?” It made it into the book and of all the things that I’ve ever written in all the ideas that I’ve ever put out there, that’s the one that gets quoted most often. That’s the one that people come back to.
You know why? It’s true on its face that it’s like, “That’s it right there.”
The process of it, the deep creative work is something that people don’t often attribute to somebody who’s writing a business book. When I look at your books, there’s this wonderful combination of challenging and important ideas with simplicity in the story that makes it accessible. To the point wherein the book, The Motive, you wrap it up with this wonderful thought about the end of servant leadership. Say a little bit about that.
I like to get people’s attention when I say that because they’re like, “What? Servant leadership is great.” It’s like, “The problem is there is no leadership if you’re not doing servant leadership.” By using that phrase, we imply that there’s some other way to do it. It’s like, “He’s a great leader. He’s a servant leader. Tell me somebody who’s a great leader that’s not a servant leader.” When we do that, we’re giving implicit permission for people to be something else. What I mean by that is that’s the only leadership there is.
I always try to be blatantly honest as to one of the reasons I love that, it’s so much my style. It’s finding the phrase that’s provocative in the way that it’s said and it reveals in an obvious truth underneath it. The Motive does that. The point of view of the book is stating something that should be obvious but it’s not until you hear it. Let me summarize it and tell me if I have it right. I’d love for you to expand on a little bit. There’s this old question that we always played around with, “Are leaders born or are they made?”
The answer to that question is yes. I’ve never yet met a leader who’s not born. Apparently, that’s a pre-req. That’s an old Jim Kouzes’ line that I put here on thought. The question, “Are leaders made?” It is the point of debate. Some people naturally have it and other people for the rest of us, there’s no hope. For people in the work that we do, there’s a belief that leaders can be made. We can all get better at it if we pay attention to it and study it. There is such a thing as a born leader like there’s such a thing as a born athlete or a born musician or whatever.
What they do with it is what matters. Hitler may have been a born leader.
The moral context comes into play and all of that. We can all get better at it, but the question that you pose in The Motive, if I have it right, isn’t so much, “Can leaders learn how to lead?” it’s, “Should they?” Some people maybe shouldn’t go down that path to begin with. That’s my take on the Gestalt of the thing. Am I in the right ballpark with that?
You’re right. Along the lines of what you said about saying that thing that provokes people. I spoke at a leadership conference in the summer. It’s a big leadership conference called The Global Leadership Summit, GLS. Their theme was everyone’s a leader or something like that. I stood up and said, “I hate to say this, but we should have fewer leaders in society than more.” They’re like, “Why?” I said, “If you’re not leading for the right reasons, it’s dangerous.” I talked about how I hate going to graduations where they say, “Go out and be a leader. You are a leader. You’re going to lead the world.” It’s like, “No.”
If you’re doing it for yourself because you want to be cool and be seen as a leader or have power or fun or authority, please don’t do it. Unless you sign up for the bad personal economics of leadership which is, “I’m going to give a lot more than I’ll ever get back,” it’s better that you don’t do that. It’s great when some CEO’s read that and go, “Half of me is not doing it for the right reasons, and this was a wake-up call and a shock to my system.” That’s what I want people to do is think about their motive, “What is the reason I’m doing this?” Too many of us do it for the wrong reason and it hurts people.
There are people who will hear that idea and read it and get it intellectually. The conclusion that they’ll come to is, “From now on, I have to pretend that I’m doing this for the right reasons.”
We go through five activities. We say that being a leader, being a CEO for instance, is a verb not a noun. It shouldn’t be called the Chief Executive Officer. That’s a title. It should be the Chief Executing Officer. You have to do things. If you think you can fake it, here are the five things and they’re not pleasant. I want people to go, “Not only do I not do it for the right reasons, but I don’t even want to fake that because it’s tedious or unpleasant or uncomfortable.” You are right. People could fake it. They could go, “To me, I’ll pretend as I care.” Were you willing to care enough to have difficult conversations with people? Were you willing to care enough to tell people things that are going to make you feel bad, but it’s in their best interest and we get into love like, “Are you going to love on that person even if you don’t like them?” A lot of leaders are like, “I don’t want to do that.” It’s like, “That means you don’t want to be a leader.”
Until you get it down to the verb of it, it’s one thing to say your motive could be wrong and then people will try to fake it, but it’s like, “Okay.” It’s like saying this, and this is a book I want to write someday about parenting or not even a book, I want to put something out. I say to people, “Do you love your kids?” Everyone says they do. I believe that they do. I say, “If you love your kids, here are the verbs and there are three verbs to love your kids. You have to spend time with them, to discipline them and to show them affection.” Some people are like, “I love my kids. I love the idea of having kids. They’re in accouterment and it’s a nice thing, but I don’t want to do those three things.” It’s like, “You don’t want to be a parent.” It’s a verb. When you break it down into the verbs, it’ll allow people to be a little bit more honest with themselves. I’ve had CEOs read this and said, “I hate running meetings. I hate giving people difficult information. I hate repeating myself because that’s boring.”
You’re over-communicating to get your idea across.
I don’t like those things. They say, “Maybe I shouldn’t be a leader.” That is when it becomes real. A lot of them though say, “I don’t like doing it and that’s a sign that I’d been leading for the wrong reason and I’m going to start leading for the right reason.” People have the capacity to become great leaders if they’re honest with themselves and vulnerable enough to admit they’ve done it wrong. In my career, I’ve had years where I was doing it mostly for the wrong reasons and my people suffered.
We’ve all been there. It reminded me of one of the things that I see happen in the cultural work that we do. There are executives, so-called leaders who will say, “We would like our culture to be more whatever it is, X, Y, Z. We want our culture to be more supportive. We want more collaboration. We want more innovation. We want to raise the level of our client service. We want to do all these things.” When the discussion comes down to, “These are the verbs for you. These are the things that you need to start doing differently in order to make that culture happen,” versus the original intent for some of these people is, “Who can I delegate this to?” It is one of the stopgaps in your model is that no delegating these particular things allowed.Other people can push you to do things you probably wouldn't have done yourself. Click To Tweet
You get this resistance, and this is the way I characterize the resistance when it comes down to that, this is essentially what these people are saying, “I don’t want to. You can’t make me.” It’s incredibly childish. It’s this idea that “I’m the boss I got here by not doing any of these things. Why should I change?” There’s a question here, which is, “I’m in a position of authority. I am the CEO. I hear what you’re saying. I’m not going to do those things.” Let me frame it this way. The greatest frustration with somebody like that is the people that work for him or her. What advice do you find yourself giving to people who are faced with that impasse?
What you do then, and I’m thinking about this off the top of my head, “Here’s when you abdicate.” They say they delegate, which they abdicate. They’re picking and choosing what they want to work on. I was the head of marketing for twenty years. Now I’m the CEO. I’m going to be the head of marketing with a nicer title and I’m going to focus on the things I like to do. It’s like, “No, you’re now the CEO. You have to let somebody else do that job. This is a different job.” I go, “I don’t want to.” I say this, “Here’s the thing. Because you have that job, nobody else can do these things because they don’t have the authority and here’s what happens when you don’t do them.” We talk about dysfunction and politics and people getting discouraged and good people quitting.
When I lay out the pain, that human pain and the organizational pain that they cause as a result of abdicating, that’s when that middle third of leaders they don’t want to, but maybe they’re willing to, will wake up. There’s that other third that is like, “I don’t care. I’ll let them suffer.” If they’re indifferent to the suffering of others, then they are going to continue to occupy that job and do it that way. There are some that want to be servant leaders. They’re like, “This is my job. It’s a burden and it’s a duty and I’m going to do it.” There’s some in the middle that is like, “I see a lot of other people having fun and picking and choosing what they work on.” There are the ones that go, ” I’m going to do this because it’s my privilege.” There are those ones in the middle when you call out the pain they’re causing to others are like, “I can’t do that.”
You’ve found a way to layout the evidence as to why somebody who’s resistant to this should consider a shift in their motive. When you layout all those pain points, which is helpful for me and I’ll tell you why. One of the conclusions that I’ve come to, I’ll speak for myself, maybe true for many people, but for me what I’ve realized is that I’m not in the business of convincing anybody of anything. What I’m in is the confirmation business. In other words, it’s those people in one of those categories that you mentioned that they already get it, but they haven’t heard it framed up that way.
When they do, they’re like, “That’s right. That’s the instinct that I’ve always had. That’s the impulse that I’ve always had but I didn’t pay attention to it for whatever reason. Maybe even because I thought that it was wrong. I thought you’re not supposed to do that because of all the so-called role models that I’ve had. None of them emulated this. I thought these feelings that I had, that you should connect with people and be honest with people and all these wonderful attributes didn’t have any place in business.” You come along and say, “They not only didn’t have a place in business, but that’s also the way you’re supposed to do it.” All the lights go on. I haven’t changed my DNA. I’m more emboldened to be who I always was but in a bigger way.
Saint Augustine was a fifth-century saint who said, “There’s a hole in everybody’s heart that can only be filled with God.” You can’t convince somebody of something. You help them see that and then they go, “I can see that.” When I write, I’m not trying to prove it. I’m saying, “This is what I see.” Do you know how many people come to me? My favorite compliment I get about my books is people go, “I knew that. I always thought that, but nobody articulated it that way so I could get it.” Samuel Johnson, the seventeenth-century writer, said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” I’m convinced that I’m reminding people of things that they already know, maybe that they’ve forgotten or gotten distracted from but that’s all we’re doing.
What’s beautiful about that is it’s powerful because I’m not going to say it creates great momentum, but it appears to because what happens is people get excited by that revelation that they have for themselves. They go headlong in and embrace it full bore. It can appear to others that this person has gone through some miraculous transformation when all they’ve done is acted in a way that they’ve always felt they wanted to do anyhow.
We were talking about Terry Pearce, who is a colleague of yours, and I knew Terry years ago. He passed away, God rest his soul. He wrote a book called Leading Out Loud. One of the things Terry talked about in that book, and this is impacted me and my career so much in the way I write, speak and consult, is anticipated by people’s objections. When I write my books, what I do? The reason why I write fiction has to be so I can, through my characters, be the people reading it and go, “I know you’re probably thinking this.” The characters represent the people reading it. They’re like, “That character said exactly what I was thinking.” If I wrote a pure prose book that was like, “Here’s what I think you should do this,” they’re going to be like, “You’re preaching to me.” I draw them out.
In the book, The Motive, the most powerful moment in the book, and this is some of the best fiction I’ve written here at the edgiest fiction, one of the characters says, “Do you know how I screwed up my life and my company’s life before and how I learned this the hard way?” That’s when we learn it is when somebody says, “Don’t take my word for this because I’m great. Take my word for it because I’ve suffered and I’ve learned. I’ve led for the wrong reason and a cause hurt in the people I work for.” That’s when people go, “Tell me more about that.” I don’t come into these books thinking, “I’m a great leader and I get this naturally.” It’s like, ” I’ve learned this the hard way and I prefer you not have to.”
The reason is it is part of the human experience. One of the things I learned from Terry, who I consider it to be a significant mentor for me and this was way before Brené Brown made this part of the international conversation, is one of the most powerful ways to connect with somebody as a human being in general but as a leader is through our vulnerability. The reason is that we are all flawed and as opposed to saying, as a leader, “I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that I appear to be flawless, that I appear to be the person who’s got it all figured out, the smartest person in the room, etc.” Ironically, if I’m good at that, I’m automatically suspect because everybody knows there’s no such thing. Instead say, “Here’s where I screwed up, here’s what I learned from it. I’m sharing that with you in the hopes that you’ll identify with it and maybe not make the same mistake that I did. The bonus to that is you and I are connected more deeply because we’re connecting human-to-human.”
That’s the beginning of everything we do at The Table Group with clients. We help them build healthy organizations, better teams, get clarity, communicate all these different things, build cultures, have better meetings and all that but it starts with the leader. Are you willing to be vulnerable with your team? If you’re not, you can’t build the trust where you can make the team well and make good decisions. I got into an inappropriate shouting match with my son, a great kid, Casey. When we settled down, it came down to this, “Casey, you need to be more vulnerable. You need to admit when you need help. You don’t ask for help because you think you have to prove yourself and it causes pain for you. It leaves others wondering what you’re thinking.” It was great to be able to talk about vulnerability. Saint Paul said, “I am strongest when I’m weak.” That’s one of those counterintuitive cultural things that are at the heart of all of this. It doesn’t mean you come to work every day and you go, “I suck at this. I suck at this too. I made another mistake. I screwed that up.” You have a competence problem, but you got to admit it when you do.
You mentioned the book, The Motive, The Table Group. What’s the best way for people to connect with you and your work and your team and all of that?
Go to our website, www.TableGroup.com. There are all free resources and other stuff. We’re launching new things at this time. One of the things we launched is we created a new community for consultants who do any workaround teams and organizations whether it’s HR, an independent consultant, they work OD at a company or even if they’re a leader who sees themselves in a consulting role. We launched this and thousands of people came on board. We’re trying to help them and pour into them because the world needs good consultants to speak into leaders. We call it CAPA, the Consulting and Practitioner Alliance. If you go to our website, you can see we do webinars, put out information. We want to pull together all the wonderful practitioners in the world and help them be better at what they do because the world needs it. That’s probably the biggest thing. We also have a podcast, which is fun but everything that they might be interested in is on our website and we don’t try to monetize everything. We try to give away as much as we can.Being a leader is not a noun, it's a verb. Click To Tweet
Thank you for that. Thank you for showing up in the way that you always do.
I appreciate this. This has been a blast. Your people must love reading these because this is so much fun to be part of.
Thank you for showing up fully like you always do. I appreciate it.
God bless you.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- The Table Group
- The Leadership Challenge
- Tom Peters Company
- The Screwtape Letters
- The Five Temptations of a CEO
- The Motive
- The Radical Leap
- Twisted Sister
- The Global Leadership Summit
- Leading Out Loud
- Consulting and Practitioner Alliance
- Podcast – At the Table with Patrick Lencioni
About Patrick Lencioni
Patrick Lencioni is the founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to providing organizations with ideas, products, and services that improve teamwork, clarity and employee engagement.
Lencioni’s passion for organizations and teams is reflected in his writing, speaking, executive consulting, and most recently his podcast, At the Table with Patrick Lencioni. He is the author of twelve best-selling books with over six million copies sold. His capstone book, The Advantage, is the pre-eminent source on organizational health. After sixteen years in print, his classic book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, remains a weekly fixture on national best-seller lists and his most recent release, The Motive was an instant best-seller.
The wide-spread appeal of Lencioni’s leadership models has yielded a diverse base of speaking and consulting clients, including a mix of Fortune 500 companies, professional sports organizations, the military, non-profits, schools, and churches.
Named in Fortune magazine as one of the ‘ten new gurus you should know,’ Pat and his work have been featured in USA TODAY, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Harvard Business Review, to name a few.
Prior to founding his firm, he worked as a corporate executive for Sybase, Oracle and Bain & Company. Pat lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four sons.
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