Reward vs. Responsibility

In his must-read book The Motive, Patrick Lencioni shares the fundamental difference between mediocre and great leaders.

Most of his other books on leadership deal with how to be a great leader. This one covers why we should want to be a leader. As usual, the why is more important than the how.

Two forces drive people towards leadership: what you get and what you give.

Examples of rewards you get are recognition, status, freedom, power and money. If this is your sole motivation, you’re likely to:

  • Choose what you do, delegate or ignore based on what you personally like/dislike vs. what the business needs from you
  • Ignore team development, telling yourself you don’t want to micromanage
  • Avoid regular/complex communication on the self-serving basis that you shouldn’t need to repeat yourself
  • Dodge difficult decisions, especially about employees, forgetting that “you stand for what you tolerate”
  • Run boring, ineffective meetings because it’s easier

Lencioni refers to this as “reward-centered leadership.” At the other end of the spectrum is “responsibility-centered leadership.” In his words, this is “the belief that being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging (though certainly not without elements of personal gratification).”

All leaders are driven by both reward and responsibility. Strengthening your responsibility motive is what makes leaders truly great.

The book is a fast read — it’s a fable about the journey we all take as leaders. Read it. You’ll see yourself in new ways.

By the way, if you’re not sure where you’ve seen that photo before, it’s from the movie Office Space. Enjoy some humorous social commentary on leadership and consultants here.

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