What’s Your Working Genius?

by Zach Montroy

Many of us have simply accepted the fact that, as soon as Sunday rolls around, we begin to dread the work week ahead. However, the reason often remains elusive. Maybe you’re working for a decent company. Maybe you’re doing work that’s within your area of expertise. Maybe it’s difficult to find anything wrong with what you’re doing…but you still feel drained at the end of the day. 

As an executive leadership coach, I work with individuals and teams to help them discover their best working life. Sometimes, the reason that folks feel discouraged isn’t because the work is awful – it’s simply not tapping into their working genius. 

This doesn’t need to be the case. I believe that once you discover your unique abilities and contributions, you can invest those skills both to build companies and gain satisfaction in your work. Discovering your working genius is a great way to shore up this area of self-awareness and redirect your efforts towards a fulfilling work existence.

What is Working Genius?

The concept of working genius was created by Pat Lencioni – you may remember him from his bestselling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The concept explains how we work together, and why you’ll feel fulfilled when performing certain tasks and discouraged when doing others.

To begin thinking about your own working genius, consider how you might describe your unique abilities. What are you best in the world at? The goal is to discover these abilities and then figure out how to put them to daily use. Our goal is for folks to do most of their work within their genius. When people spend most of their time in their working competencies, they won’t produce their best. When they work primarily in their area of frustration, it quickly leads to burnout.

Pat uses a simple analogy of a Yeti coffee mug to crystallize the concept. When you fill up your Yeti with hot coffee and place the lid on top, your coffee will stay hot for a long time. This is how it feels to be living within your working genius. You stay motivated, energized, and continually ready for more.

What happens if you pour in hot coffee, but leave the lid off the mug? The coffee will stay hot, but not nearly as long. This best explains the experience of living within your working competencies. These are those areas where you’re skilled and practiced, but not energized. After an extended period of working only within your competencies, you’ll be checking the clock and waiting for Friday rather than feeling excited to go to work.

Finally, how long would the coffee stay hot if you drilled a hole in the bottom of the cup? That’s the effect that working frustrations have on your daily satisfaction. You feel exactly like that cup – drained and exhausted. 

How Can the Idea of Working Genius Help Your Team?

The concept of working genius has increased application when you lead teams. When you force others to work in your personal working genius you’re lacking the self awareness to understand how it drains them…and saps your organization of the energy it could enjoy. Understanding the principles of working genius will help you to see the arc of the work you do, and how to pair individuals with each other. 

The Six Working Geniuses and the Arc of Work

So, what are the six working geniuses? They are as follows: Wonder, Invention, Discernment, Galvanizing, Enablement, and Tenacity. Each of us can identify two working geniuses, two working competences, and two working frustrations from this list.


Those with this working genius see the world in terms of possibilities. They see opportunity all the time. 


Those with a genius of invention can take a new concept and actualize it. They can evaluate – how will this solution deliver on its promise? 


These folks can harness the creative process to determine if this idea has merit. Is it a workable solution long term?


When it’s time to get the team on board, it’s important to recruit those with this working genius. They can assemble the troops.


Now it’s time to begin implementation. These geniuses are first to volunteer. 


The work isn’t finished until it’s finished…and those with this working genius make sure that things cross the finish line before the team moves on.

The Stages of Work

Every project moves through three stages – Ideation, Activation, and Implementation. As you might expect, Wonder and Invention fit neatly within the first stage, Discernment and Galvanizing within the second, and Enablement and Tenacity within the third. When you understand the working genius of each of your team members, it becomes clear – pairing them and assigning work becomes a matter of best fit.

Need Some Direction?

Most of us have the agency to decide how we do our work. However, we also have others around us that, when we know their genius, can activate it so that we’re better able to leverage the power of our team’s genius collectively.

If you’d like to do a deeper dive into your team’s potential, I’d love to talk. Feel free to reach out and schedule a phone consultation. Follow us at The Intention Collective for resources to scale and grow your team with health and sustainability. 

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