1 to 5 Book Summary: “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni

February 28, 2013

As I come across great books I want to share them. Here is the next installment in my 1 to 5 Book Summary Series.

1 Big Idea

Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, is a departure from his typical style of leadership fables. In this book, Lencioni has created a manifesto of sorts, drawing on the major lessons, themes, and tools found in his previous works.

The subtitle indicates the main theme of The Advantage: organizational health. It is a subject often disregarded by leadership teams within organizations, despite its profound effect on any organization’s ability to succeed.

Lencioni sets out not only to advocate the importance of organizational health, but also to demonstrate its attainability. He breaks it down into five sections, the first four of which make up the “Four Disciplines Model”: Build a Cohesive Leadership Team, Create Clarity, Overcommunicate Clarity, Reinforce Clarity, and The Centrality of Great Meetings.

2 Best Stories

Lencioni’s book is laced with dozens of stories that effectively illustrate each point he makes—it is difficult to pick only the two best stories. 

Despite the importance of organizational health, Lencioni has found a “baffling” (1) amount of resistance to the concept. In a brief introductory section titled “Stooping to Greatness”, Lencioni describes an interaction he had at a certain client’s leadership conference, as he was sitting next to the CEO.

“This wasn’t just any company. It was, and still is, one of the healthiest organizations I have ever known and one of the most successful American enterprises of the past fifty years. In an industry plagued with financial woes, customer fury, and labor strife, this amazing company has a long history of growth and economic success, not to mention fanatical customer loyalty. Moreover, its employees love their jobs, their customers, and their leaders…

As I sat there at the conference listening to one presentation after another highlighting the remarkable and unorthodox activities that have made this organization so healthy, I leaned over and quietly asked the CEO a semi rhetorical question: “Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this?”

After a few seconds, he whispered, almost sadly, “You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.”

And there it was.” (1)

Throughout the book, Lencioni repeats the theme that organizational health requires a good deal of humility. Building a cohesive leadership team (the first of the four disciplines) in particular demands a selfless attitude. In a story titled “Floor Sweeper,” Lencioni describes one client that included “willing to sweep floors” as one of its core values. 

“Most companies would have describe it simply as ‘hard work,’ and few people outside the organization knew exactly what it meant…

In their case, the leaders described [it] as having no concerns about status and ego and willing to do whatever was necessary to help the company succeed. No job was beneath any employee, and even the highest-level executive had to be willing to do the most menial work if that’s what was needed.

The value was so powerful that the day after the leadership team established it, one of its members decided to quit because he just didn’t see himself as being a floor sweeper. Without bitterness, he acknowledged that he had an ego and that a big part of his career was building a resumé.  He didn’t want to hold the team back by being a misfit.” (100)

3 Key Takeaways

  1. Organizational health is for everyone. Allowing organizational health to diminish has profound negative impacts on finances, morale, and employee and customer relationships. “Anyone who has ever worked in an unhealthy organization knows the misery of dealing with politics, dysfunction, confusion, and bureaucracy.  As much as we enjoy making jokes about these artifacts of organizational plight, there is no denying that they exact a significant toll.” (12)
  2. It all starts with the leaders.  Organizational health is the product of a leadership team that works together to make things clear. This requires cohesiveness in vision for the organization, as well as in the relationships among the leaders.
  3. Six critical questions enable an organization to define and bring purpose to many day-to-day operations: Why do we exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How do we succeed? What is most important, right now? Who must do what? Anyone in an organization can operate effectively in alignment with the organization’s goals and values when the leaders have clearly communicated the answers to these questions.

4 Best Quotes

  1. “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.” (5)
  2. “Collective responsibility implies, more than anything else, selflessness and shared sacrifices from team members.” (24)
  3. “The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. [M]embers… are completely comfortable with being transparent, honest, and naked with one another… they say and genuinely mean things like ‘I screwed up,’ ‘I need help,’ ‘Your idea is better than mine,’ ‘I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,’ and even, ‘I’m sorry.’” (27)
  4. “The impact of organizational health goes far beyond the walls of a company, extending to customers and vendors, even to spouses and children. It sends people to work in the morning with clarity, hope, and anticipation and brings them home at night with a greater sense of accomplishment, contribution, and self-esteem. The impact of this is as important as it is impossible to measure.” (193)

5 Applications 

  1. Know your leadership team. Lencioni has leadership teams share their backstories with each other, and even take the Myers-Briggs personality test together. The simple act of sharing this information among some teams has often broken down longstanding walls between team members.
  2. Know why your organization exists. The purpose of an organization must be “completely idealistic” (82), it must be true, and it cannot be confused with marketing. The six primary reasons an organization may exist are: customer, industry, greater cause, community, employees, and wealth.
  3. Carefully define core values. Differentiate between aspirational values (ones you don’t have, but want to have), permission-to-play values (the minimum requirements for being a part of your organization), accidental values (unintended, evident traits that don’t necessarily benefit your organization), and core values—“Core values lie at the heart of the organization’s identity, do not change over time, and must already exist.” (93)
  4. You can never be too specific when articulating core values to your team. “Human systems are tools for reinforcement of clarity… And because each company is different, there are no generic systems that can be downloaded from the Internet.” (155)
  5. Make meetings effective and frequent. The final section of Lencioni’s book outlines how beneficial daily check-in, weekly staff, adhoc topical, and quarterly off-site review meetings are. They must be managed with efficient real-time agendas and must only involve the necessary people.

The Advantage is an excellent book for organizations of any size, but also for individuals of any occupation. The lessons are invaluable and can be applied to interactions of any kind. To learn more about the book, visit Patrick Lencioni’s site, or you can purchase the book on Amazon.


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