Book:  The Motive

Author:  Patrick Lencioni

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Lencioni, P. (2020). The motive : why so many leaders abdicate their most important responsibilities : a leadership fable. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • The primary motive for most people to be a leader is the rewards that it brings with it. Things like notoriety, status, and power. But people who are motivated by these rewards won't embrace the demands of leadership when they see little or no connection between doing their duties and receiving those rewards. They'll pick and choose how they spend their time and energy based on what they are going to get, rather than what they need to give to the people they're supposed to be leading. (pg. x)

  • Managing individuals is about helping them set the general direction of their work, ensuring that it is aligned with and understood by their peers, and staying informed enough to identify potential obstacles and problems as early as possible. It's also about coaching leaders to improve themselves behaviorally to make it more likely they will succeed. I have found that CEOs often have far too little understanding of what their executives are working on, and they justify this by declaring that they "don't like to micromanage" or by claiming they "trust their direct reports." Of course, trusting someone is not an excuse for not managing them. And helping subordinates establish a direction and knowing how they are progressing is far from micromanagement. Leaders must also ensure their subordinates one level below are managing their people too! This is one of the most overlooked responsibilities I can find among senior leaders, especially CEOs. Managing someone is not a punitive activity, nor a sign of distrust. And it doesn't change based on a person's seniority or tenure. Management is the act of aligning people's actions, behaviors, and attitudes with the needs of the organization and making sure that little problems don't become big ones. Avoiding this is nothing but negligence. (pg. 144)

  • A leader seeing his meetings as drudgery would be like a doctor viewing surgery that way. Meetings are the setting, the arena, the moment when the most important decisions take place. What could be more important? The best place to observe whether a surgeon is good at his job? An operation. What is the best place to observe a leader? A meeting. When leaders accept the less-than-amazing status of meetings, the results are two-fold. First and most important of all, it leads to bad decision making. The fact is, if meetings are not engaging, it's completely logical to conclude that the quality of those decisions will be subpar. I cannot fathom, or measure, how to adequately gauge the impact this has on performance and success of an organization. But it is undoubtedly enormous. (pg. 155)

Other Key Ideas:

  • "I told my board when I took over that their input, outside of a major catastrophe, would be limited to our quarterly meetings. It was one of my conditions for taking the job. They didn't like it much at first, but now I think they're relieved." (pg. 36)

  • "You are supposed to have the most painful job in the company. See, if the CEO isn't confronting people about their issues, as unpleasant as that might be, he can't expect anyone else to. It sucks, but it has to happen." (pg. 69)

  • "I didn't say I'm doing my people's jobs. I'm just coaching them, making sure they have a good plan and that I know about my big issue before it's too late to do something about it. That's not micromanagement. No, it's management. The only people who call it micromanagement are employees who don't want to be held accountable. Just because someone is in his forties or fifties or sixties and has lots of experience doesn't mean he doesn't need to be managed. It's not a form of punishment or the sign of a lack of trust. It's the benefit of direction and guidance. It's a sign of neglect for a CEO to stop managing people just because he can get away from it." (pg. 93)

  • If you're having bad meetings, you're making bad decisions. There is no getting around that. And you're almost certainly not talking about the right things. And if your meetings are bad, then there is a very, very good chance that your executives are having bad meetings with their teams. And it cascades from there. The person who is responsible for making your meetings more effective is you - no one else. You can't delegate that job. It's your and yours alone. (pg. 99)

  • I've come to realize that some leaders fail to achieve organizational health because they possess an almost unconscious unwillingness to do the difficult tasks and confront the challenging situations that are required to bring it about. This unwillingness flows from a flawed - and dangerous - motivation for becoming a leader. (pg. 129)

  • When leaders are motivated by the personal reward, they will avoid the unpleasant situations and activities that leadership requires. They will calculate the personal economics of uncomfortable and tedious responsibilities - responsibilities only a leader can do - and try to avoid them. This leaves the people in their charge without direction, guidance, and protection which eventually hurts the organization as a whole. (pg. 132)

  • In some cases, leaders delegate team-building to their head of HR. Let me be very clear; this does not work. And that's not a knock against HR folks. If people on a leadership team don't believe that the leader sees team development as one of his or her most critical roles, they're not going to take it seriously, and it's not going to be effective. The leader simply must take personal responsibility for, and participate actively in, the task of building his or her team. (pg. 142)

  • One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to confront difficult, awkward issues quickly and with clarity and resolve. Everything from a team member's annoying mannerisms to poisonous interpersonal dynamics and politics. There isn't a leader out there who hasn't balked at a moment when they should have "entered the danger" and had a difficult conversation about these things. I know almost no executive likes to do this. Most loathe it. And yet, when leaders dodge these situations, they jeopardize the success of the team and the organization as a whole. Justifying the cowardice of avoiding difficult conversations by claiming not to have time or energy or interest is absurd, because it is built upon the ridiculous notion that the ignored issue won't eventually degrade the organization's performance. (pg. 148)

  • Failing to confront people about small issues is a guarantee that they will become big issues. And if you're not a responsibility-centered leader, one who understands that if the leader doesn't do it, no one will, then you're probably going to find a reason to ignore those messy issues and do something else. There is nothing comfortable about turning a man or woman whom you know, someone who is of similar age to you, and who is talented in their own right, and telling them something that makes them feel momentarily bad. (pg. 150)

  • When you accept bad meetings at the executive level it sets the precedent for the rest of the organization. What is tolerated at the top of a company is often the ceiling of what can be expected deeper within it. That's not to say that some managers won't try to make their meetings more effective than their boss. But it's unlikely that they'll feel much pressure to do so. Contrast that with a manager whose CEO runs fantastic meetings. He or she is likely to want his or her meetings to measure up to those standards. (pg. 155)

  • Many CEOs refuse to repeat themselves again and again and again. There are a few reasons for this. Many of them worry that they're going to insult their audience by repeating a message. They forget that employees hate not knowing what's going on in their organization and that no reasonable human being has ever left a company because management communicated too much. "That's it. I'm going somewhere where leader tell me something once and never repeat it again!" Though it is always much better to err on the side of excessive communication, most leaders are far more comfortable on the other end of the risk profile. Another reason CEOs fail to communicate enough is that they get bored with their messages. "Haven't we done this presentation about our core purpose and values enough? What else do we have?" They fail to appreciate that the purpose of communication is not their own entertainment. Nor is it simply the dissemination of information. The reason a CEO communicates to employees, at all levels, is to ensure that people are aligned and have bought into what is going on and where they fit into the success of the enterprise. It is an emotional and behavioral process more than a transactional and informational one. And it requires real, repetitive, sometimes tedious work from a leader. The very best leaders understand this and don't hesitate to repeat themselves. They are far more concerned about employees being uninformed than they are about being criticized for redundancy. (pg. 159)

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