Book Review: The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 23, 2020

I recently heard Patrick Lencioni give a speech about his latest book: The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities and immediately bought the book!  It is, by far, his shortest book with the main premise centered around the “why” one chooses to be a leader. 

Is it for the glory, prestige, or “rewards” for achieving the pinnacle of success OR is it for the responsibility of leading a successful organization?  Those “reward-centered leaders” believe they can pick and choose what they want to do, abdicating five core responsibilities that cannot be delegated:

  1.  Developing the leadership team.  Often delegated to HR or an external consultant, the leader has to spend time developing their team members’ interpersonal dynamics and collective behaviors.
  2. Managing subordinates.  We are not talking about micromanaging highly paid executives!  The leader needs to set the general direction of the work ensuring that it is aligned with and understood by their peers and stays informed enough to identify potential obstacles and problems as early as possible.  And the leader needs to make sure their subordinates one level below are managing their people too.
  3. Having difficult and uncomfortable conversations.  While having difficult conversations is certainly one part of managing a team and subordinates, the leader must confront difficult, awkward issues and behaviors quickly and with clarity, charity, and resolve. Left unaddressed, these issues eventually degrade the organization’s performance.
  4. Running great team meetings.  Meetings are one of the most unpopular and underestimated activities in business.  Yet this is where leaders make critical decisions and set the tone for all of the meetings within the organization.  If team meetings are boring and a chore to get through, the fault rests squarely on the leaders’ lap!
  5. Communicating constantly and repetitively to employees.  Just because a leader has expressed themselves once or twice, doesn’t mean that people heard it or understand it.  Employees have to hear a consistent message at least seven times before they believe executives are serious about it.  Leaders need to have a consistent drumbeat – and if they get bored saying the same thing, they need to get creative in their messaging.

These five areas are not a list of the key responsibilities of the leader of an organization (that would be in his book, The Advantage), yet they are good reminders of specific situations and responsibilities that leaders avoid all too often.

What I found most compelling in Lencioni’s speech was his speculation on leading in the post-COVID world is that these five areas are even MORE important. He said,

“Leadership and the way we run our organizations and lead and manage our people has changed in a way that I don’t think it will ever go back.  CEOs have become far more human – exceedingly human – in the way they manage their people, compared to the way they did four months ago.  Just having to deal with people in their homes and knowing that people are going through difficult things medically or interpersonally, or in their families and the uncertainty. I think any good CEO will look back and say, ‘Well, I have never cared more and known more about my direct reports and other people in the organization. And I’ve never poured myself into this…the people because they need it.’  And there’s not really a good reason not to do that.

Here’s the thing: As things open up again and as our businesses get back going…We are not going to go back to the old way of leading and managing people in relationships. Just don’t go backward in intimacy.  It’s like you don’t break up with somebody in a relationship… So if we’ve gotten to know our people and they are more human, and we are more interpersonally connected, we are not going to go back to the old way of managing.  Good employees are not going to stand for that and neither should you.

I think there’s going to be a new normal where people say, ‘If I’m going to work there, I’m going to work for people that care about me and that I care about and we are going to be completely human at work.’

I think that we will look back in 30 years and say, ‘That’s when business – when organizational life – became more human, and it pivoted and it didn’t go back.’

Okay, so it’s a competitive advantage to be a CEO and to create a culture where you’re actually pouring into your people, even more than you did before.  And the good news is you’re going to get more commitment from them. More loyalty, more productivity, more innovation. This has been the period of the greatest innovation in my company’s 24 years – in these last four months.

But it’s not happened without accident. We have been more frank with each other and more involved in one another’s lives and more completely immersed personally. And that’s led to great results….It’s time to take on this new level of intense responsibility.”

I couldn’t agree more, Patrick, and I appreciate your reminders on my motive to lead others!


KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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