As a highly successful business author, Patrick Lencioni may well need no introduction, although his individual style – imparting lessons through business fables – is very much a personal hallmark. From my first encounter with his book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team (which my colleague, Chris Rogers, reviewed here), I was immediately drawn to the way that he delivers his lessons in the form of a story, complete with characters, drama and plot. I had to consciously leave aside my reservations that his approach omitted the structure, methodology and models to support his argument… but as it turned out, I did not have to wait too long to sigh with relief. I found everything I sought at the back of the book.

It helped to draw me in that the first two dysfunctions he tackled were lack of trust and avoiding conflict, themes and experiences that chimed with my own thoughts and frustrations when dealing with many global senior managers and executives. Won over by the style and approach, I read on through the remaining dysfunctions and found myself appreciating a very satisfying read. (Satisfied enough to turn to some of his other works, where I found rich material on a range of approaches and ideas to free up thinking, manage meetings and handle change.)

His most recent book, Getting Naked: A Business Fable about shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty, differs from his earlier output. Rather than the global CEO/CIO population, Lencioni has aimed this book at “anyone whose success is tied to building loyal and creating sticky relationships with the people they serve” – including not just service providers of many stripes but also people in his own trade: consultants.

At the heart of this book is the message and learning point that we help others (and ourselves) more effectively by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Lencioni’s argument is that, as service providers, we will get better results if we let go of our basic fears – fear of feeling (or looking) inferior, of being embarrassed, and of losing the client. The last of those is, of course, what all too easily leads us to behave in ways that doesn’t serve them – and, by extension, us – at all. There’s a human logic to us doing that, but it’s not one that serves business logic well. Nor does it really serve either the supplier or client.

As the author himself said in an interview about the book with the Willow Creek Association:

So many service providers and consultants feel the need to demonstrate that they have the right answers and that they don’t make mistakes. Not only do clients see this as inauthentic, they often feel that they are being condescended to and manipulated. We’ve found that what clients really want is honesty and humility.”

Lencioni’s lesson here is that if you can overcome your fear of losing the business, you can find the confidence and honesty to tell them the truth they need to hear – something that any good Trusted Advisor would advocate. (And something that the client is almost certainly not only dependent on hearing, but willing to pay for.) You’d probably also take a short-term cut in fees to maintain the relationship in the longer term, and tackle the awkward or difficult situations that will inevitably turn up at some point rather than circling round them, avoiding the very things that need to be addressed.

Most of us are so obsessed about avoiding being embarrassed that it triggers behaviour that work against us. Afraid of making a momentary mistake or misjudgment, we withhold our suggestions. As a result, dialogue is hampered and ideas don’t flow. Too embarrassed to acknowledge mistakes, we do everything we can to avoid making them – and learn a great deal less as a result. And our anxiety to have our expert status acknowledged, we duck chances to do simple things that would genuinely help where we’ve (wrongly) drawn the conclusion that doing them would somehow be ‘beneath us’.  Ultimately, we’re so busy avoiding making a dozen little mistakes that we wind up making two or three enormous ones.

This is a book whose themes of truth and authenticity have applications that go far beyond the consultant/client relationship. Honest, well-meant truths are things that should be more plentiful in all our relationships: all we need do is overcome our fears – which are mostly fears of being ourselves. If you start off by brushing yourself under a metaphorical carpet, you can all too easily wind up weaving ever big rugs to hide all the problems under: hardly the most productive use of anyone’s time and energy.

In my view, this book represents a great start in the right direction on a whole number of levels, advocating a healthy pragmatism and addressing a whole number of leadership and business management taboos.

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