Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities

Patrick Lencioni asserts that there are only two motives that drive people to become a leader.1 I have worked with both.

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Emotional Intelligence and Communism

I was teaching Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to a group of Christian executives. The attendees were gathered from various locations throughout Europe. I took my usual approach to present the topic, explaining that leaders who adjust their behavior to the needs of those they lead – self-regulation – are better at motivating others. I demonstrated through research and several true stories that this leadership behavior often generates a greater level of worker satisfaction that results in a higher level of productivity for the organization. As I labored on, Branko, who grew up under the communist regime in Serbia, became visibly agitated. He knows well the communist philosophy, tactics, and terminology of motivation. Finally, when he could no longer endure my presentation, he raised his hand and blurted out, “Your approach to Christian leadership is severely flawed. Your teaching implies that our ultimate motivation for practicing self-regulation is to get more productivity out of people so that the leaders and their organizations can be more successful.” “Yes,” I said “that’s correct.”  Do you have a problem with that?” “Yes,” Branko said, “I have a big problem with that. The kind of leadership you are proposing is virtually the same as the ‘carrot and stick’ approach that our communist dictators have used for decades to oppress the masses.”

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The “Matt Foley” Flaw and Genuine Motivation

Leaders are mistaken to think that people are not motivated.  Rather, people are simply longing for needs they cannot name. Twenty years ago, the late Chris Farley performed a comedy routine on Saturday Night Live. The sketch depicted a family with two delinquent teenagers. Dad hires a speaker, “Matt Foley,” to motivate his kids into better behavior. In addition to his disheveled and overweight appearance, Matt shouts insults at the teenagers, frequently loses his temper, and wallows in self-pity. Foley’s trademark line is warning the teenagers that they could end up like himself, being “35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, and living in a van down by the river!” The routine concludes when his speech has impacted the teenagers, but only because they don’t want to be like him.

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