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I recently read Patrick Lencioni’s latest book from 2020 called The Motive. It’s probably the best CEO leadership book that I’ve ever read. I’ll now try to explain the book’s concept and why it can help new and experienced CEOs figure out their motives for becoming or being a CEO.

Theory of reward-centered leaders

The book talks about a concept called the reward-centered leader, where the person in the CEO role approaches the role as an indulgence to have fun, to work on things that come from personal interest. Working on something that they enjoy, and as Lencioni puts it, seeing that “being a CEO was a reward for a lifetime of hard work.”

Lencioni writes:

“When leaders are motivated by personal reward, they will avoid the unpleasant situations and activities that leadership requires. They will calculate the personal economics of uncomfortable and tedious responsibilities—responsibilities that only a leader can do—and try to avoid them. This inevitably leaves the people in their charge without direction, guidance, and protection, which eventually hurts those people and the organization as a whole. Employees will express their disbelief as to how their leader could have been so negligent and irresponsible, yet it makes perfect sense in light of his or her motive for becoming a leader.”

Patrick Lencioni, The Motive

Here are the memories from my career that the book brought up.

I was in when my first startup, Ironstar Helsinki, had failed. I started looking for something to do, and I was so burnt from six years of rough startup life. I needed something else. So I joined Supercell as Director of Analytics, but after a year in that role, I realized that my heart wasn’t in it. Being the Director of Analytics wasn’t what I enjoyed. I enjoyed being an entrepreneur. Then in late 2012, I left to start working on Next Games.

I can now identify that over the year, I struggled to enjoy the analytics role. I’m a big fan of data-informed or data-driven game creation, but it’s not where I’d find meaning for myself. Also, to expand on it, I don’t think I could have been happy in any role at Supercell. I’m so glad when I’m an entrepreneur.

From founding Next Games in 2013 to leaving the company in 2019, I felt confident that I wouldn’t be interested in the CEO position. I was happy being focused on the product and being the founder representative on the company’s board. If I had been CEO, I would not have enjoyed it as much as I enjoy working on products.

On some occasions, I thought that maybe if I’d be CEO, it would have meant something more for my life. But I’ve come to realize that fulfillment comes from working on the things that make you happy. And after reading The Motive, it’s more apparent than ever that I would have treated the CEO role as a reward.

Leaving the reward-centered leader behind

I want to expand more on how you can identify the reward-centered leader in yourself and what you can do about it. In Lencioni’s book, he talks about the activities that reward-centered leaders aren’t doing. Mainly because they don’t enjoy the work that needs to be put into these areas.

1. Developing the Leadership Team. Make the team work well together. “Do you feel that spending time developing your team members’ interpersonal dynamics is superfluous or a waste of time?”

2. Managing Subordinates and Making Them Manage Theirs. Coaching the people, like coaching Olympic athletes, and making sure that they emulate your coaching. “Do you believe that providing individual guidance and coaching to your people is somehow beneath you or not worth your time?”

3. Having Difficult and Uncomfortable Conversations. CEOs are avoiding it because they don’t like emotional and uncomfortable conversations. “Would you rather learn to live with a person’s difficult behaviors than endure an awkward, potentially emotional discussion with them?”

4. Running Great Team Meetings. CEO hating meetings are like the teacher hating to go to class. “Do you complain about your meetings being boring or ineffective, and do you long for the end of them?”

5. Communicating Constantly and Repetitively to Employees. Bringing up the values, the mission, the company’s objectives, and talking about the systems that matter. Bringing those up all the time. “Do you resent having to repeat yourself, complaining that your employees don’t listen?”

Let’s talk about how you can move away from being the reward-centered leader.

Leaving the reward-centered leader behind

How do you start the change? For any reward-centered leader, you’d first start by shifting the underlying attitude about what it means to be a leader, to be a good one. Move from reward-seeking to responsibility-seeking.

After you’ve changed your attitude from reward-centered to servant and responsibility-centered, you can start to look at what activities you are doing. The book gives two areas to take hold of as you transcend away from the reward-centered leader towards the responsibility-centered leader.

Work hard on making meetings matter: The proper system of meetings comes from the CEO. The CEO owns the format of meetings. “If your meetings are bad, then your executives are having bad meetings with their teams. And it cascades from there. And the person who is responsible for making your meetings effective is you—no one else. You can’t delegate that job. It’s yours and yours alone.” 

Day-to-day development of your team: To manage your team, you need to know enough about what they are working on to support them in their needs. Then you can start confronting the team about their issues, “keeping your people engaged in the most important conversations, and it’s about holding them to higher standards.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“You might be working hard, but you’re not doing it for the company. You’re doing it for yourself.”

“The best of us can slide almost unconsciously into reward-centered leadership.”

“Just because someone is in his fifties and has lots of experience doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to be managed. It’s not a form of punishment or a sign of a lack of trust. It’s the benefit of direction and guidance. I mean, the best football player in the world needs coaching.”

It’s a short read, only 165 pages. Check out the book by going here