Book Brief: The Motive by Patrick Lencioni

I am a BIG time fan of Patrick Lencioni - his books, his thought leadership and just him. He's a thought leader, sure. He's also genuine and passionate. He is a great friend to Southwest Airlines, and has been out to speak multiple times to our leadership group. He always brings at least one new tidbit to life about leadership.

Plus, he makes the best faces.

Lencioni sharing thoughts on The Ideal Team Player at an annual Leadership Summit; photos taken by blog author

I had the grand privilege of facilitating a debrief on stage with Patrick one year... fun + and an honor!

Lencioni has recently published a new book called, The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities. It's both an effort to build awareness on why folks aspire and take on leadership roles, along with a call-to-action on five areas leaders tend to avoid.

Patrick Lencioni is always a joy to read, and there are always a few tidbits to apply immediately and a few to file away in your pocket for future application. I always keep a few Lencioni tidbits of advice in my pocket for others, too. He believes that leadership should be simple, employee focused and business relevant. Yep, agree 110%.

As a quick reminder, Book Briefs offer talent-development specific application from business, leadership and sundry books. Not a review. Not a synopsis. A few bullets that you can apply to your daily Talent Development work. In this Book Brief I've got one point for you Talent Folks and one point for the leaders you support.

As in most of his books, Lencioni shares a short parable, then follows up the story with a lesson. In this book, he illustrates a leader who has taken on the top leadership role of a growing organization as his reward for top performance, and then finds that he's really not all that happy and notes that his company isn't performing all that great.




The parable illustrates the difference between two different types of leaders:

  • One is motivated to take on leadership as a reward for hard work or because of the power, influence or attention it brings. This is the reward-centered leader. This leader may feel like she's arrived and the role should be enjoyable. She avoids the unpleasant, mundane types of activities.

  • The other is motivated by service to employees and the company where she leads. This is the responsibility-centered leader. This leader believes her role is one of responsibility and doesn't shy away from the difficult, boring or uncomfortable activities.

Lencioni then highlights five activities that reward-centered leaders tend to avoid because they are hard or uncomfortable:

  1. Developing their team of leaders

  2. Managing their direct reports

  3. Running effective team meetings

  4. Having difficult conversations

  5. Communicating constantly with employees


I found this book interesting for the callout it makes about why we step into leadership roles. We read a lot of books and articles about what to do once we step into leadership or how to improve once we've won the role. I haven't run across many about why we should opt in to (or out of) leadership roles. The why makes such a big difference in ones' effectiveness as a leader. Leadership is oftentimes a lonely place, so choose wisely.

Tidbit for Talent Folks

There's just not enough you can do to help your customers - the leaders you support - with difficult conversations. There will always be difficult and uncomfortable conversations to be had, and we will always shy away from them. Lencioni says, "One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to confront difficult, awkward issues quickly and with clarity, charity, and resolve." (p 147).


We leaders need accountability to have the conversation and someone who will take a few minutes to help us plan out key talking points or quickly talk it through. I don't care how much training you've put us through and how many fancy, laminated job aids you've provided, we will shy away from the challenging, uncomfortable conversations. We are human. So Talent Folks, you're difficult conversation is to hold us accountable for having the difficult conversation. Help a brother or sister out, will ya? Yes, we might get snarky, but we'll ultimately appreciate your support. I'm sorry and thank you on behalf of all us grumpy leaders.

Tidbits for Leaders

Well, I could refer to the above tidbit… listen to your Talent Partners when they are trying to help you with those tricky conversations. But hopefully, you get that already. If not, see above and apply with responsibility-centeredness, please.

My favorite part of The Motive was the call-to-action on running effective meetings. Meetings, such a blasé part of the business day, and yet Lencioni is right, it's what we do. All. Day. And in today's (mostly) remote environment, we have gotten great at the brief, to-the-point meetings. We don't skip the chit chat, we just shorten it and then jump to the point. So those hour-long meetings have shrunk to 30 minutes. Which means more time in the day! NO! It means more 30-minute meetings. YAY!?? The reality is that meetings are how business is accomplished, so we should be experts in running super effective meetings. Yet we don't. We check our phones, check our mail, phase out and yes, I'll admit it, do other work assigned from other meetings. If we're not going to pay attention, why do we attend?

Lencioni posits that the quality of our meetings likely reflects the quality of our decision making (p 155). Ouch. I think I agree. This tidbit has caused me to pause this week before I send appointments and reflect: Do we need this meeting? Is the objective well defined? Will it take the whole hour, or can we cover the content and make a decision in 30 minutes? Are materials ready for those who prefer a pre-read. I certainly want to be a good steward of our time and mental efforts. I am committed to "designing and facilitating more intense, focused meetings." (p 157).

Thank you Patrick and team at the Table Group for another thought-provoking book to support leaders and leadership development. Cheers to you and all you do to help leaders take their roles seriously and continue to hone their craft.