The Challenge We All Face as Geniuses


Nobody writes a better business fable than Patrick Lencioni. For over 20 years he has used his gift as a storyteller to share compelling insights on team and organizational dynamics. Whether you need insights into team building, effective meetings, or consulting, he provides practical approaches. His most recent book, The 6 types of Working Genius, continues his contribution to better understand what drives job performance and satisfaction.


The fable Lencioni uses to illustrate his model is based on his own experience which enhances the authenticity of his message. He shares the increasing frustration in his own role as leader of a small but successful consulting company. He acknowledges his work situation contains many positive elements including strong personal relationships with his team, and yet something was missing. As he digs deeper with his team to understand his predicament, he experiences that “aha” moment that too much of his work role requires him to spend time in an area that he neither excelled nor enjoyed. Through that process, he and his team identify 6 different types of work and reorganize their work roles to maximize the time spent in areas of strength. The result is a much more happy and productive staff.


In both the business fable and in real life, Lencioni rightfully claims the insight and the approach to be a game changer. Equally important, the approach creates a positive impact on family and community organizations like churches and charities. Life is simply better, more productive, and more enjoyable when we operate out of our talents and strengths, our “working geniuses.”


At the team or organizational level, this truth also helps us explain why we fall short of our goals. If we don’t have diversity in our strengths, we will be unable to meet all the challenges required to complete important initiatives.


The Working Genius model offers a way to identify our strengths, weaknesses, and even our mediocre areas. According to the model, the 6 geniuses* divide into 2 for each category (“genius,” “competency,” and “frustration”) for most people. In looking at the different geniuses, some people will be able to quickly sort into the 3 categories. Others may wrestle a bit with the classification as they may see a bit more complexity and range in their passions and performances.


Lencioni aligns his 6 working geniuses with the 3 core stages in almost any endeavor: ideation or identifying possible solutions, activation or evaluating ideas and rallying people around the best ideas, and implementation. If your team does not possess strengths in each of these stages, your likelihood of excelling is greatly reduced.


The model also challenges the way we think about developing people, especially in organizational settings. Entry-level positions are often characterized by detailed work that may simply not be using that person’s talents. The result is they perform poorly and never get the opportunity to exercise their genius and show the value they can offer the organization.


While the 6 working geniuses are a solid contribution to the conversation on teaming, employee engagement, and leadership development, the book also seems to offer an additional and, perhaps, unintentional lesson – the challenge of seeing our own situation clearly. The foundational principles of placing people in their strengths and using that to build high performance teams have been widely discussed for a number of years, but Lencioni’s personal “aha” moment was not an intellectual one. Undoubtedly, if he had been asked prior to that moment, “is it important to place people in jobs that match their strengths?” he would have replied, “certainly.”


Yet, in his personal story, he experienced frustration in his work because he was not able to see more quickly that he was spending too much time working outside his strengths. If a leading thinker like Lencioni struggles to see this problem, what does that mean for the rest of us? Clearly, we need help to overcome our natural tendencies to get so wrapped up in our work that we don’t reflect on the changes we need to make. Also, we need to recognize that organizational life frequently limits our opportunity to experiment with different approaches. We need to customize our jobs to maximize our strengths.


Tools like the Working Genius can help us be more intentional and to create one of the most important conversations that needs to take place in our families and organizations.


*6 Types of Working Genius

Wonder – pondering and speculating and questioning the state of things, asking the questions that provoke answers and actions

Invention – coming up with new ideas and solutions

Discernment – assessing an idea or situation, even without a lot of data or expertise

Galvanizing – rallying, motivating and provoking people to action around an idea or initiative

Enablement – providing people with support and assistance in the way that is needed

Tenacity – pushing things across the finish line to completion