Patrick Lencioni & The 6 Types of Working Genius

Patrick Lencioni has devised an intriguing productivity tool, based on six types of working genius, that has wide applicability in teams and organizations. He is among the handful of leading management writers who can distill new concepts into a digestible form.

The full title of his book is The 6 Types of Working Genius [:] A Better Way to Understand Your Gifts, Your Frustrations, and Your Team. He explains the concept in his signature fable style. In this case, 75% of the book is “the fable” and 25% is “exploring the model.” Lencioni has explained in interviews that he adopted this model as he wants his books to be highly readable—which they are. 

He has a knack for writing in a very clear style and explaining concepts that stick. In this book, he comes up with a unique model, but very relatable—his skill is that the idea immediately resonates with your own experience and you think, “That makes sense!”

A strength is that the working genius concept is applicable to teams and organizations, not just to an individual. The book is focused: he explains the types of working genius and related concepts about work. This is a welcome contrast from other top authors, such as Marcus Buckingham, where his recent book Love + Work was like panning for gold; readers needed to sift through “wyrd” spirituality and rants about the educational systems in order to get to the nuggets (see blog posts).

Lencioni explains that his book is based on two undeniable truths. First, “people who utilize their natural, God-given talents are much more fulfilled and successful than those that don’t” [1]. Second, “teams and organizations that help people tap into their God-given talents are much more successful and productive than those who don’t” [1].

He discusses work and the notion that for many people it is chronically frustrating and challenging. Lencioni argues that it doesn’t need to be that way. He points out that “each of us enjoys different kinds of work, and then figuring out which kind suits us best” [179]. That is the foundation of Lencioni’s six working geniuses.

Lencioni defines working genius as “a God-given talent, a natural gift that gives you energy and joy and that you’re usually good at doing” [128]. Here are the six types of working geniuses:

  1. Wonder (W) – “involves the ability to ponder and speculate and question the state of things, asking the questions that provoke answers and action” [181].
  2. Invention (I) – “is all about coming up with new ideas and solutions” [182].
  3. Discernment (D) – “is related to instinct, intuition, and uncanny judgment” [182].
  4. Galvanizing (G) – “is about rallying, motivating, and provoking people to take action around an idea or an initiative” [182].
  5. Enablement (E) involves providing people with support and assistance in the way that it is needed” [182].
  6. Tenacity (T) – “is about the satisfaction of pushing things across the finish line to completion” [182-3].

Lencioni then addresses the issues of “Genius v. Competency v. Frustration:”

  1. Working Genius – people generally have two types of working genius; they give joy, energy & passion [183].
  2. Working Competency – neither miserable nor joyful, but things we can do fairly well [183-4].
  3. Working Frustration – two types of work that drain our joy and energy [184].

He explains that there are responsive and disruptive geniuses. The first respond to eternal stimulus (W, D & E). By contrast, the disruptive geniuses generally initiate or provoke change when they see a need (I, G & T) [185].

There are three phases of work. Lencioni points out that “what sets the Six Types of Working Genius apart from other tools is its application to the specific activities involved in any kind of group work” [193].

There are three phases of work:

  1. Ideation (W, I) - identifying needs and proposing solutions; innovation [193].
  2. Activation (D, G) – evaluating and rallying people.
  3. Implementation (E, T) – getting things done [194].

He believes there is a missing piece in most organizations. The activation phase exists so that people can avoid jumping straight from idea to implementation [194-5]. He notes that "simply by understanding the nature and importance of activation, many teams are able to realize immediate and significant improvement in the success of their initiatives” [195].

The six working geniuses occur in the sequence he has outlined: “What’s most important to remember is that, in one way or another, every team project, every group program, every collective endeavour involves these six activities, and that they generally come about in this order” [198].

What if there are gaps in a team? Lencioni suggests three approaches. First, hire people. Second, borrow someone from within the organization. Third, “find people within the team who have the missing genius in their areas of competency” [200].

In terms of effectiveness with a team, he advises constructing “The Team Map.” This is a visual portrayal of the collective geniuses and frustrations of team members [206].

He relates the six working geniuses to “organizational health.” The six Geniuses apply as follows:

  1. A team cannot be cohesive unless it understands and taps into other people’s geniuses [215].
  2. It’s central to productivity [216].
  3. Fundamental to employee retention, engagement, and morale [215].
  4. More effective meetings [215].

Lencioni’s closing reflects his belief that this approach to working genius can help people, “because I believe God gives people gifts so they can use them to do good, and I hope that insights that they get from this book will allow them to do just that” [224].