Inspired by the Church’s simple truth
Patrick Lencioni talks about his revived faith and its effect on his work
by Steve Givens
Bestselling author and popular business and leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni believes in the power of a good story.
“Certainly, Jesus is the greatest teacher of all time, and he did it through stories often,” he said in a recent interview with Catholic Digest. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, your father will always forgive you,’ but the story of the prodigal son helps you remember it.
”Lencioni is perhaps best known for his books that, with novel-like stories of bad example, teach lessons of leadership within the world of work. The books include The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting, and The Five Temptations of a CEO.
About six years ago he co-founded an apostolate called the Amazing Parish, which is helping pastors and their leadership teams learn how to build healthy organizations, inject prayer into everything they do, and evangelize and disciple one another so they can make their parish excel at doing it, too.
He is the founder of the Table Group and the author of 11 books that have sold more than 5 million copies and have been translated into more than 30 languages. The Wall Street Journal called him “one of the most in-demand speakers in America.” He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four boys.
Q Where were you raised? Tell me about your family of birth and your own spiritual and Catholic foundations and practices.
A I was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, which I like to say is a little slice of Oklahoma in California. A lot of “ag and oil,” but it became a sprawling suburban town. I’m one of three kids in an Italian-Irish family. I was raised Catholic and never left the Church, but I have certainly grown in my faith as I have gotten older and now understand the centrality, the power, and the unadulterated truth of the faith. That’s had a profound impact on my life in the past 10 years. I always went to Mass and always took it seriously but never understood it as well as I should have. I’m finally getting to the point where I understand how deep it is and how much I don’t know.
Q What nourishes you the most in your faith right now?
A There are so many things, but just the truth of it — the simple truth of what Jesus taught us and how the Church is the only way to true peace and happiness. After 53 years of being on earth and trying a lot of different things and wondering why they didn’t work, what you realize is that Jesus told us from the beginning what we need to do to be happy and peaceful. It’s crazy that in 2019 we are still wrestling with the same things people wrestled with 2,000 years ago. So just the timeless purity of the truth is where I am. It’s all the Holy Spirit. It’s God opening doors. When you seek him, he shows you things, and I think I am seeking him more than ever. And I don’t want to stop.
It’s God opening doors. When you seek him, he shows you things.
Q How does your reinvigorated faith play into how you approach work, running a company, and maintaining a busy schedule as a writer and speaker?
A I think the way that my faith impacts my work is through understanding that everything you do in life is a ministry. Whether you’re a plumber, a baker, a doctor or — in my case, a thinker and consultant around issues related to work — it’s all a ministry, and God has a place for us. My purpose is to fulfill that and be a responsible steward of the talents he gave me.
So, while I have some interesting perspectives and ways to look at work, and people respond to those, that’s a gift from God, and he didn’t give me that gift to make me rich. He gave me that gift to help other people so that ultimately they can know him, too. So, if I’m helping a team at a Fortune 500 company become more healthy and more cohesive, hopefully they are seeing the truth of Christ in that. We are meant to work with others well, and we are meant to heal and grow as human beings. Work is supposed to be dignified, and all of this leads to God. To be aware of that now gives my work new meaning.
Q How did you land on the idea that fiction-al storytelling and specifically telling the stories of dysfunction could be a powerful tool for growth and improvement?
A When I first came up with an idea around leadership and told somebody about it, they said, “You really need to write a book about this.” When they convinced me to do it, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to write one of those books that people don’t finish. I have too many of those books — especially business books — on my shelf, the kind where you read the first 15 pages and go “I think I got it,” and you keep reading and go “I think they’re repeating themselves.”
I really wanted to hold people’s attention, to have them enjoy the process of reading, and I think that will help them learn better. So I decided to use my fiction writing skills to tell as realistic stories as I could so that people could actually learn the model that I was trying to convey.
We found there were a lot of people who appreciate that because it makes the process of reading my books less painful. A lot of schools have students read them; they learn better that way because they remember the characters and can relate to them. Sometimes they relate to the struggling character in a way that I don’t think they would if I was just telling them how to do it.
Work is supposed to be dignified, and all of this leads to God.
Q Is there an element of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels to this?
A I can’t say I was always aware of that, but Jesus told stories because it’s the most effective way to learn. As far as the content goes, when I first started I didn’t realize that all knowledge was biblical and anything true finds its roots in God.
Ken Blanchard (author of The One Minute Manager) told me that people were reading my books because they were biblical. I now realize that ideas I teach, like humility and vulnerability, come from Jesus. Jesus was the model of humility. The apostles had “good conflict” and talked about holding each other accountable. All these principles are timeless and biblical. My job is to work with very smart people who might be overcomplicating things and point things out to them that they’re missing.
Samuel Johnson once wrote that people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. We’re always looking for something new, but the truth is timeless wisdom that comes from God.
The truth is timeless wisdom
Q How can older people, approaching retirement or already there, apply the principles you teach into their later years?
A Most people who are getting ready to retire should keep two things in mind. One is that retirement should be a shift to doing what they are called to do that maybe in the past they had to sacrifice because of financial issues. It should be a “re-firing,” not a retiring.
When people retire, they often end up watching a lot more television and sitting a lot more, but I think retirement should be an opportunity to get out and do whatever God is calling you to do. It’s a new opportunity to discern God’s will in our lives. All of the principles I use can be used in families, nonprofits, churches, and any mission-oriented work.
My book The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family can be applied to a retired couple, too, sitting there and thinking, “What is our rallying cry right now? What do we want to focus on?” If we don’t live intentionally, we usually start to lose our way. Retirement can be a time when people stop living intentionally.
Q What can retired individuals bring to their parishes and communities, and how can they make sure they don’t bring the dysfunctions of their past careers with them into a new setting?
A It’s really important to remember that God did not make us to dread work and that dysfunctional, painful realities in the workplace are not how it should be. It often is, which is why there’s so much demand for my business. There’s a lot of dysfunction out there. So don’t assume that dysfunction is inevitable and don’t assume it’s everywhere.
What a great opportunity it would be to start a new venture — whether a business or a nonprofit or whatever it is — and to do it for the right reason, to create a really healthy work environment for others and to not be so overly financially focused but more mission driven. Retirement can be the time to launch that new thing that’s going to make a difference and do it right.