In that first book, Les drew upon his years of experience and multiple start-ups and maps out the familiar trajectories that start-ups follow as they mature, reach the pinnacle of Predictable Success, and the wane that can follow afterwards. It is, in itself, a very good book and provides an excellent model that organisations can measure themselves against. Doing so can lead to valuable reflection and debate in the boardroom – never a bad thing.
In this second book, The Synergist, Les takes a less organisational perspective and switches his attention to the individuals who populate these teams and companies.
Readers who are familiar with the glut of Jung based and other twin axis personality typologies such as Myers-Briggs, Insights, Social Style, are going to face an initial hurdle here.
As I read Les’s observations on the Visionary, the Operator and the Processor I was unconsciously trying to pigeonhole these into pre-exisiting labels from other models. Yellows, drivers, analyticals and the like. This says something of the prevalence of twin-axis, oppositional personality typing within the consulting and training world right now. The Synergist book does not seek to establish a physical juxtaposition between the roles it observes, it only needs to recognise the inherent and crippling tensions between them.
The other challenge is this. There are essentially only three personality types, not four, not sixteen or, good grief, thirty-two.
Three. Visionary, Operator and Processor.
The Synergist it seems to me, is predominantly a role, not a type. It is a “Learned role” which powerfully enriches and transforms the “interaction between the Visionary, Operator and Processor.”
Les observes that there may be natural synergists out there but they are rare. Instead, The Synergist suggests that the Synergistic skills and offerings can be learnt and developed. We can all build up our “Synergist muscle.” There is an invitation here. We can each choose take up the Synergist role at varying times, to contribute to the effective management and leadership of our teams and organisations. Les suggests something of a tipping point. Once a third of an organisation are enabled and motivated to take on Synergistic roles then the impact escalates markedly.
Les McKeown provides clear practical steps to enable anyone do so. And to what end? Nothing less than “Transfroming the group by transcending personal agendas.” The beauty of The Synergist is this promise that we can all build up our “Synergist muscle” by first becoming aware and then practicising and reviewing their own implementation of The Synergist Toolkit, nine skills and a commitment presented in Chapter 8 of the book.
The commitment is to the enterprise and positioning the enterprise above personal agendas.
The toolkit explores the role of
- Time management
- Priority management
- Crisis management
- Conflict management
- Difficult conversations
- Communication skills
The first four represent personal self-leadership disciplines; the latter five enable the Synergist to lead the team.
None of these are particularly new and if this is where the book ended then it may well have been underwhelming. Where the learn is found is in chapter 10, The Secret Garden, where these tools are implemented synergistically to unlock stuck teams. The toolkit is used to ensure that a rhythm of Investigation-Interpretation-Implementation is properly adhered to – a process which is then further broken down into three sub-component parts for each stage.
Les goes further and identifies what those component parts will look like – how will we know if we are doing this properly and what behaviours would we expect to see?
The Synergist is an engaging read. Les’s style is personable and in places refreshingly idiosyncratic. he has a lean writing style which ensures that he makes his point and moves on.
The book can be read as a provocation to stimulate further consideration and reflection or it could be taken as a manual by really working through the latter chapters and explicitly mapping out the synergistic tools and behaviours onto our own management teams.
There are plenty of models and resources to draw upon as well.
This is a well written, enjoyable and provocative read. I recommend it.
By way of a personal note, I first met Les when we were both presenting at the Do Lectures in September 2011. His brilliant 20 minute talk, touching upon both of his books, can be found here.