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.

The Only Two Motives to Lead

Leader Motive #1

Bud worked in the Reagan administration in the 1980s. He has since held several high-profile roles in both the public and private sectors. He has repeatedly spoken out with clarity on principled matters, even when his position was not “woke” at the time. Occasionally he has been criticized for his convictions, only to be exonerated when the truth was eventually exposed.

Bud is also a serial entrepreneur. He has taken great delight over the years to entrust the leadership reigns of the organizations he started into the care of a younger generation. He consistently extends mercy in massive supply to others. For example, Bud started a program for parolees of the California State prison system to help former inmates become fulfilled and fruitful citizens, and to reduce the number of those who return to prison. Bud is a leader who will give others the shirt off his back. I know, because he provided tangible support to me during a rough patch in my career.

In The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities, Patrick Lencioni described the first motive that drives leaders. Like Bud, these leaders understand that sacrifice and suffering are inevitable in this pursuit, and that serving others is their motivation for leadership.

Leader Motive #2

The second basic reason why people choose to be a leader – the all-too-common one – is that they want to be rewarded.

They see leadership as the prize for years of hard work and are drawn by its trappings:

  • attention,
  • status,
  • power, and
  • money.

Jerry was appointed CEO of a mid-sized company that had struggled under former leadership. Initially, morale improved because Jerry surrounded himself with a talented senior staff. But soon cracks began to appear. Staff noted that Jerry was quick to shift the blame for mistakes and take the credit for successes. He gradually increased his personal expense account to purchase lavish perks while holding his senior team to manage austere budgets. He fired key team members with a misguided confidence that they could be easily replaced. He borrowed money to the point that the company was under water. The board eventually invited Jerry to resign as the organization struggled to forge a viable future.

As I remember Bud and Jerry in light of Lencioni’s assertion that there are only two motives that drive leaders, I ask myself, “Which motive drives you?” A sober evaluation of my own leadership track record reflects some of both. Certainly an opportunity for assessment and plenty of room for growth going forward.

1Patrick Lencioni, The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities, Wiley and Sons, 2020.

1 Comment
  1. For me there is a third motive: “A call from JESUS on my life to go.” This call was absolutly essential for me and certainly the first of the three motives. In some ways the other two where dependent on the first one and I enjoyed when it happened, when the efforts where recognised. The reward was often not necessarly from others but when I saw what I was able to achieve or even failed to achieve was motive enough to keep going.

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