Hungry, Humble & Smart Teams

Patrick Lencioni is a wise and savvy management consultant – and not just because he’s wildly successful. His best-selling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is outstanding and has helped numerous organizations for more than two decades. I’ve found it useful over the years, assigned to me and assigning it. Reviews have been consistent: it is clear, understandable, actionable and effective. People, at least in my experience, read it and engage with the material. Sometimes that is more than half the battle.

In 2016, Lencioni penned The Ideal Team Player: How To Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues. It follows a similar model to his prior efforts, with an extended parable providing the bulk of the narrative structure. Lencioni explores simple truths explained through action and illustration with memorable messaging. The book is not a non-fiction argument filled with charts and data. It is a fable, a story to illuminate and illustrate. Easy to follow, it takes a basic premise – jackasses on a team cause problems – and spins out multiple strategies and tactics to figure out what is needed to build a strong team. The book gives us characters, scenarios and choices. And somehow, regardless of context and the particulars, it feels relevant.

The “story” centers on Jeff Shanley, a successful entrepreneur, business leader and consultant, who takes over a family-owned construction company from his uncle, Robert. None of Robert’s children were interested in the business. Jeff’s challenges – and there are many – emerge and become focused on assembling the right team to move forward. The viability and profitability of the business depends upon talent, not a specific technical skill or solving a particular problem. As Jeff stumbles toward his gaining his footing and directing the enterprise, interviewing this employee and that potential employee, he comes to recognize three key traits as essential: humility, hunger and smarts. Few of us have all three in abundance. Most of us need help with at least one. As they develop and emerge in a group, great teamwork can result.

Treating everyone with respect and consistency across role and relationship is at the heart of being humble. Shaney doesn’t want anyone who demeans others or flatters. He wants decency, colleagues who treat support staff and clients with the same degree of respect and consideration. As for hunger, it is all about continuous improvement and desire to be better and win. Smarts is more than intelligence. It’s self-awareness and attention to others – people smarts – and using one’s brain to think things through. Jackasses do not have these traits.


Of greatest interest to me is a brief and intriguing section on application of the theory. It includes a self-assessment, questions for interviews during the hiring process and ideas for how to implement the thinking as part of professional development. Of course, there are also videos, TED talks, workbooks and other assets for those that want to spend more money. Keeping it simple, I’m keen on seeing how my team responds to the fable. Will keep you posted.

The consistent impact of Lencioni’s work is a powerful reminder of the power of stories, of narrative, to convey meaning. Data is essential. On its own, however, data does not lead to actionable change. Stories, in particular stories informed by data, can lead to change – and lots of book sales.

David Potash

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