The Motive by Patrick Lencioni Summary

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The Motive by Patrick Lencioni
Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities

My Thoughts

Patrick Lencioni’s writing style is enjoyable and he makes it easy to learn and apply the lessons in his books. He starts with a brief and interesting story about a struggling CEO. After the story, he summarizes the lessons in a way that makes them relatable and applicable. Patrick wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read on hiring and recruiting employees. See my summary of The Ideal Team Player for reading on that topic.

Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s summary of The Motive.

“Lencioni thrusts his listeners into a day-long conversation between rival CEOs. Shay Davis is the CEO of Golden Gate Alarm, who, after just a year in his role, is beginning to worry about his job and is desperate to figure out how to turn things around. With nowhere else to turn, Shay receives some hard-to-swallow advice from the most unlikely and unwanted source – Liam Alcott, CEO of a more successful security company and his most hated opponent.

Lencioni uses unexpected plot twists and crisp dialogue to take us on a journey that culminates in a resolution that is as unexpected as it is enlightening. As he does in his other books, he then provides a straightforward summary of the lessons from the fable, combining a clear explanation of his theory with practical advice to help executives examine their true motivation for leading. In addition to provoking listeners to honestly assess themselves, Lencioni presents action steps for changing their approach in five key areas. In doing so, he helps leaders avoid the pitfalls that stifle their organizations and even hurt the people they are meant to serve.”

©2020 Patrick M. Lencioni (P)2020 Recorded Books

Click here to listen to an audio version of this summary.

My Favorite Quotes

  • Your job as the CEO is to do things that nobody else in the company can do.
  • If you are having bad meetings, you are making bad decisions. You’re almost certainly not talking about all of the right things.
  • Just because someone is in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s and has lots of experience doesn’t mean they do not need to be managed. Management is not a form of punishment or a sign of a lack of trust.
  • Good leaders are far more concerned about employees being uninformed than they are about being criticized for redundancy.
  • It is important for leaders to surround themselves with people who will be honest with them.

Key Questions

  • Why are your meetings boring and a waste of time?
  • Why do you want to become a CEO?
  • The best athletes in the world pay people a lot of money to coach them. Why in the world would you think the head of marketing or sales doesn’t need coaching?
  • Do you feel that spending time developing your team members’ interpersonal dynamics is superfluous or a waste of time?
  • Do you organize team-building activities that are fun but largely ignore uncomfortable conversations about their collective behaviors?
  • Do you believe that providing individual guidance and coaching to your people is somehow beneath you or not worth your time?
  • Do you feel that you should be able to trust them to manage themselves?
  • Do you justify not knowing what your direct reports are doing by claiming not to want to be a micromanager?
  • Would you rather learn to live with a person’s difficult behaviors than endure an awkward and potentially emotional discussion with them?
  • Do you find yourself venting about your direct report’s behavioral issues rather than talking with them directly?
  • Do you complain about your own meetings being boring or ineffective, and do you long for the end of them?
  • Do you allow your people and yourself to check out during meetings, or perhaps skip them from time to time for more important work?
  • Do you resent having to repeat yourself, complaining that your employees don’t listen?
  • Do you look for new messages and ideas to communicate because you get bored saying the same things again and again?

Table of Contents

Introduction

People who are motivated by notoriety, status, and power won’t embrace the demands of leadership when they see little or no connection between doing their duties and receiving those rewards.

The Fable

  • Your job as the CEO is to do things that nobody else in the company can do.
  • If you are having bad meetings, you are making bad decisions. You’re almost certainly not talking about all of the right things.
  • If your meetings are bad, there is a good chance that your executives are having bad meetings with their teams.
  • If we don’t understand why we are leading in the first place, the lessons in this book will not make sense.

The Lesson

Making organizations healthier boils down to reducing politics, confusion, and dysfunction; and increasing clarity, alignment, and productivity.

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.

Patrick Lencioni says that one of the best leaders and CEOs in the world is Alan Mulally. My summary of American Icon highlights some of the key things Alan did to turn around the Ford Motor Company when he became the CEO.

The Two Leadership Motives

There are only two fundamental motives that drive people to become a leader.

  1. Responsibility Centered Leadership. They want to serve others. To do whatever is necessary to bring about good for the people they lead. They understand that serving others is the only valid motivation for leadership.
  2. Reward Centered Leadership. They want to be rewarded. They see leadership as a prize for years of hard work. They are drawn by the trappings of attention, status, power, and money.

When leaders are motivated by personal rewards, they will avoid the unpleasant situations and activities that leadership requires. This leaves the people they lead without direction, guidance, and protection.

For example, if a father believes dads shouldn’t have to frequently sacrifice their own interests for the needs of their kids. The most you can expect from him is begrudging compliance as a father. Only by shifting his attitude about what it means to be a parent can that dad become a good one.

Reward-centered leaders delegate, abdicate or ignore situations that only the leader can address. This leaves a painful and destructive vacuum in the organization.

Over time, those who chose to embrace responsibility-centered leadership will come to see activities and situations that they once viewed as tedious and unpleasant as the real work of a selfless leader. They will eventually start to enjoy them.

The Five Omissions of Reward-Centered Leaders

These are the situations and activities that reward-centered leaders tend to delegate, abdicate, or ignore.

  1. Developing the leadership team.
  2. Managing subordinates (and making them manage theirs).
  3. Having difficult and uncomfortable conversations.
  4. Running great team meetings.
  5. Communicating constantly and repetitively to employees.

The omission of one or all of these areas may be an indication of an improper motive for leading.

Note that this is not a list of the primary responsibilities of a leader. That topic is discussed in another of Patrick Lencioni’s books, The Advantage. These are simply the most common omissions that reward-centered leaders find to be tedious, uncomfortable, or hard.

1. Developing the Leadership Team

The leader must take personal responsibility for, and participate actively in, the task of building her or his team.

Reasons why an intelligent executive would allow someone else to assume responsibility for building their team.

  1. They don’t see it as being central to the success of the organization.
  2. Leaders realize that effective team-building always involves emotional and uncomfortable conversations.

Leader Reflection and Call to Action

  • Do you feel that spending time developing your team members’ interpersonal dynamics is superfluous or a waste of time?
  • Do you organize team-building activities that are fun but largely ignore uncomfortable conversations about their collective behaviors?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may have the wrong motive for leading.

2. Managing Subordinates (and Making Them Manage Theirs)

Just because someone is in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s and has lots of experience doesn’t mean they do not need to be managed. Management is not a form of punishment or a sign of a lack of trust. It is the benefit of direction and guidance.

The best athletes in the world pay people a lot of money to coach them. Why in the world would you think the head of marketing or sales doesn’t need coaching?

What Managing Individuals is About

  • Helping them set the general direction of their work.
  • Ensuring that their work is aligned with and understood by their peers.
  • Staying informed enough to identify potential problems and obstacles as early as possible.
  • Coaching leaders to improve themselves behaviorally to make it more likely that they will succeed.

More Thoughts on Managing Individuals

  • CEO’s often have far too little understanding of what their executives are working on.
  • Trusting someone is not an excuse for not managing them.
  • Helping subordinates establish a direction and knowing how they are progressing is far from micromanagement.
  • A leader must ensure that their subordinates one level below are managing their people too.
  • Managing someone is not a punitive activity nor a sign of distrust. 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/

Leader Reflection and Call to Action

  • Do you believe that providing individual guidance and coaching to your people is somehow beneath you or not worth your time?
  • Do you feel that you should be able to trust them to manage themselves?
  • Do you justify not knowing what your direct reports are doing by claiming not to want to be a micromanager?

If you answered yes to these questions, then your motive for leading may be off.

3. Having Difficult and Uncomfortable Conversations

If the CEO isn’t confronting people about their issues, he can’t expect anyone else will.

One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to confront difficult, awkward issues quickly and with clarity, charity, and resolve.

Failing to confront people quickly about small issues is a guarantee that they will become big issues.

Leader Reflection and Call to Action

  • Would you rather learn to live with a person’s difficult behaviors than endure an awkward and potentially emotional discussion with them?
  • Do you find yourself venting about your direct report’s behavioral issues rather than talking with them directly?

If you answered yes to these questions, your leadership motive may need to be adjusted.

4. Running Great Team Meetings

Meetings are the most important work that a CEO does. Bad, boring, and ineffective meetings are the CEO’s fault.

Can there be a more critical, central, or indispensable activity within an organization than a meeting?

In so many organizations, the people responsible for making meetings more effective and less boring, often complain about them the most.

Too many leaders tolerate awful meetings rather than making them as focused, relevant, and intense as they should be.

A leader seeing his or her meetings as drudgery would be like a doctor seeing surgery that way, or a teacher thinking about class lectures that way, or a quarterback seeing football games that way.

The best place to observe whether a leader is good at their job is at a meeting.

When leaders allow bad meetings, these are the results.

  1. It leads to bad decision-making. If meetings are not engaging, the quality of the decisions made in them will be sub-par.
  2. It sets the precedent for the rest of the organization.

What is tolerated at the top of a company is often the celling of what can be expected deeper within it.

Leader Reflection and Call to Action

  • Do you complain about your own meetings being boring or ineffective, and do you long for the end of them?
  • Do you allow your people and yourself to check out during meetings, or perhaps skip them from time to time for more important work?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may have a problem with your leadership motive.

5. Communicating Constantly and Repetitively to Employees

The majority of CEOs underestimate the amount of communication that is necessary.

Some studies say that employees have to hear a message seven times before they believe executives are serious.

No reasonable person has ever left a company because management communicated too much. It is always better to err on the side of over-communication.

Another reason that CEOs fail to communicate enough is because they get bored of their own messages.

The reason a CEO communicates to employees is to ensure that people are aligned with, and have bought into, what is going on. To help them understand where they fit into the success of the enterprise.

Good leaders are far more concerned about employees being uninformed than they are about being criticized for redundancy.

Leader Reflection and Call to Action

  • Do you resent having to repeat yourself, complaining that your employees don’t listen?
  • Do you look for new messages and ideas to communicate because you get bored saying the same things again and again?

If you answered yes to these questions, your motive for leadership may not be quite right. You need to change your attitude about communication and see it as a tool for helping others understand and internalize important ideas.

Imperfections and Vigilance

It is critical that responsibility-centered leaders understand that the people they lead are probably not telling them the unvarnished truth about their own behavior as leaders.

Leaders will get a lot of unwarranted compliements from employees.

It is important for leaders to surround themselves with people who will be honest with them.

The danger of leading for the wrong reason is high, not only for individuals but also for society as a whole.

Related Book Summaries

Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 8th book read in my 2021 reading list.
Here is a list of my book summaries.

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