The Motive | Reflections & Notes

Patrick Lencioni. The Motive: A Leadership Fable. John Wiley & Sons, 2020. (174 pages)


The Motive is the shortest and simplest book I’ve written to date, but I suspect that it may be the most important. That’s because the danger of leading for the wrong reason is so high, not only for individuals, but for society as a whole. (169)

I concur. It is the shortest. And the simplest. And, yes, the most important. I have also heard Lencioni say that if you were to start with any of his 12 books, start with this one. I also concur. Not only will it introduce you to the genre of Lencioni and the Table Group–a very compelling and effective parabolic approach to leadership books–it will strike at the heart of the issue, one’s “why” they lead in the first place. This comports with my experience amongst the organizations I have consulted and the leaders with whom I have worked.

The question of “why” speaks of “reason,” “purpose,” “aim,” and now “motive.” As a consultant, I’ve used this question to expose the hopes and fears of a leader, and the purpose and reason behind decisions. As a pastor, I’ve used this question to guide my talks, and in getting to the main issues when counseling parishioners. It is the single most powerful question you can continually ask of yourself, your colleagues, and your organization. Most poignantly, I also read this book during the COVID-19 crisis and lock-down, and so the lessons here seem prescient and paramount (especially when Lencioni asked to do a thought experiment about the motives of a President).

While I commend this to you for your consideration as I have done with other books, I also commend this to you for your transformation, so that this world can be a better place.


The Fable

[Write down what you do as a CEO, then order them according to “enjoyment” and “importance.” For example:]

“It’s not babysitting. It’s management. And it’s your job.” (51)

“I learned that I am supposed to have the most painful job in the company.” (58)

“You’re not delegating. You’re abdicating.” (84)

“Here it is in a nutshell. You are doing the things you like to do. You aren’t doing the things your company needs you to do.” (87)

“It’s a sign of neglect for a CEO to stop managing people just because he can get away with it.” (94)

“If you’re having bad meetings, you’re making bad decisions. There is no getting around that. ” (99)

“Yes, it really should be the chief executing officer. It’s about doing the job, not just having the job.” (116)

The Lesson


Exploring the Two Leadership Motives

Reward-centered leadership: the belief that being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable, free to choose what they work on and void anything mundane, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. (135)

Responsibility-centered leadership: the belief that being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging (though certainly not without elements of personal gratification). (135)

Or imagine two candidates for president of a country. (137)

[via: ugh.]

The Five Omissions of Reward-Centered Leaders


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’r enot going to take it seriously, and it’s not going to be effective. (142)

  • Do you feel that spending time developing your team members’ interpersonal dynamics is superfluous or a waste of time? (143)
  • Do you organize “team-building” activities for your team that are fun but taht largely ignore uncomfortable conversations about their collective behaviors? (144)

If you answered yes to these questions, you may have the wrong motive for leading, and you have a serious decisions to make. (144)


…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. (145)

| There is a secondary aspect of managing individuals that a leader must fulfill: they must ensure that their subordinates one level below are managing their people too! (145)

…few “kings” want to be managers. (146)

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. (146)

  • 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? (147)

If you answered yes to these questions, then your motive for leading may be off. (147)


One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to confront difficult, awkward issues quickly and with clarity, charity, and resolve. (148)

…actually 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. (148)

Failing to confront people quickly about small issues is a guarantee that they will become big issues. (150)

I have to admit that I don’t like doing this, and I used to be really, really hesitant to do it. Until one (150) day I realized that holding back and avoiding those conversations was actually an act of selfishness. I wasn’t avoiding those conversations for the sake of my employees’ feelings, but for my own! In the end, I was trading off my discomfort for theirs, leaving them to experience even greater pain when their shortcomings manifested themselves during a performance review, a compensation discussion, or worse yet, an exit interview. Ouch. And that’s to say nothing of what it did to the organization as a whole. (151)

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

If you answered yes to these questions, this may be an indication that your leadership motive needs to be adjusted. (153)


…the people responsible for making meetings better–more effective and less boring–often complain about them the most! (154)

  • 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 those 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. (157)


  • 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? (162)

If you answered yes to these questions, your motive for leadership may not be quite right. (163)

Imperfection and Vigilance

It’s important to understand that even those who seem to master responsibility-centered leadership are not immune from slipping. Because we human beings are fallible, and prone to flattery and fatigue, even the best of us can slide almost unconsciously into reward-centered leadership. (165)

The Surprising Danger of Fun

Fun-centered leaders can easily justify their behavior or minimize the harm it cases because, after all, they’re not as ego-driven as others who want attention and status. But the vacuum created by leaders (167) who avoid important activities simply because they don’t find them enjoyable or entertaining is no less problematic. (168)

The End of Servant Leadership

I believe it’s long past time that we, as individuals and as a society, reestablished the standard that leadership can never be about the leadership can never be about the leader more than the led. Employees need to point out reward-centered leadership when they see it in their managers. Executives need to commit to changing it when they realize it is true about themselves. And citizens need to speak out against it when they see it in their appointed and elected civil servants. (170)

| If we can restore the collective attitude that leadership is meant to be a joyfully difficult and selfless responsibility, I am convinced that we will see companies become more successful, employees more engaged and fulfilled, and society more optimistic and hopeful. Perhaps people will stop using the term “servant leadership” altogether, because everyone will understand that it is the only valid kind. And that is certainly worth doing. (170)

About VIA

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