Getting to the Heart of What Really Matters for CEOs – Part 1

July 29, 2020

Recognizing the Responsibility and Rejecting the Reward

Becoming the leader of a company is a massive responsibility. You’d think it would be obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t get it. I first learned this lesson when I became a CEO in the late ’90s. Sure, I had been in other positions of leadership during my career, but CEO was different. I truly didn’t realize I was taking on the hardest, most difficult and – in many ways – the most uncomfortable job in the organization.

When a person takes on the role of the CEO, it should be purposeful choice. They should be willing to do whatever it takes to serve the organization and the people who make it run. Patrick Lencioni, a New York Times best-selling author, calls this way of thinking responsibility-centered leadership and contrasts to reward-centered leadership.

While he’s written a dozen books on teambuilding and leading organizations, with The Motive, Lencioni helps people understand why they're leading in the first place instead of merely providing yet another how-to manual for leadership. By first provoking readers to honestly assess themselves, Lencioni presents action steps to assist CEOs with changing their approach in the five key areas of responsibility. He shows leaders how to avoid the pitfalls that stifle their organizations and even hurt the people they are meant to serve. In Part Two of this blog post, we’ll discuss those five areas in deep detail.

Which Type of Leader are You? Responsibility or Reward?

I recently heard Lencioni speak about The Motive, and he said:

“What I love is that there is a number of CEOs who have read the book and told me, ‘Oh my gosh, it kind of knocked me on my butt because I realized that some reward-centered leadership had seeped into my job and into my approach.’”

His point is that none of us are one or the other completely. Most good leaders operate from a predominantly responsibility-centered motive for becoming a leader, but even they can slide. I can personally attest to slipping into reward-centered leadership in my career, and it wasn’t good for me or the people I led. What matters is that you recognize it happening.

Some people realize this about themselves and decide that they’re leading for the wrong reasons and choose to become a better leader. Others actually stop being leaders, which Lencioni thinks is fantastic:

“If a person finally realizes that they are not really signing up for the right job, they should do something differently so that the organization can thrive.”

Good Leaders are Better Humans

Since the start of the global lockdowns in March 2020, how leaders run organizations and manage people has changed to the point that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the old ways. This must be a time of real pivoting for your company strategy as well as how you show up as a leader.

I wrote in December 2019 that CEOs need to become far more human – they need to lead with their heart. Since then, I’ve seen it this happen in new and fresh ways, specifically in how leaders manage their people differently compared to a mere four months ago. It’s as simple as having to deal with people in their homes and knowing that people are experiencing massive levels of uncertainly, including medical and interpersonal issues in their families.

Lencioni spoke to this directly:

“I think any good CEO will look back on this time and say ‘Well, I have never cared more and known more about my direct reports and other people in the organization. I never poured myself into this harder."

I recently binge watched a mini-series, Peaky Blinders, in which the main character walked through a mine field. In my experience, this is exactly how it feels to be a leader in normal times. And in the time of COVID-19, that sensation has reached new heights because it’s been so emotionally taxing as we pour even more into our people. They need the help, and that’s the CEO’s job!

Again, I believe we will never return to the old ways of leading and managing. Why? Because we have gotten to know our people like never before, which means we’ve been more human and more personally connected. Not only do our employees appreciate this change, but many of them will actively resist going back to the former model.

Or as Lencioni stated,

“I think there’s going to be a new normal where people say, ‘If I’m going to work there, I am going to work with people who care about me and I care about them. And we are going to be completely human at work.’”

I personally think this is great, as it’s something I’ve been preaching for almost a year now. I think we will look back at the tough times of 2020 and say that when businesses became more human, they pivoted, and they didn’t go back.

It’s to your competitive advantage to be a CEO who creates a culture where you are actually pouring into your people even more than you did before. The good news is that you will get more commitment from them, more loyalty, more productivity, and more innovation. This will lead to great results.

Embrace Your Motivation – Especially When It’s Difficult

So, what does that mean for you as a CEO and a leader? I hear some of my clients say, “I have never been more exhausted!” As their coach, I feel the same! I find that every day we are involved in more situations that are important and real – stuff that extends well beyond our work lives. They are involved in more difficult discussions with their people and with more moving parts than I ever had. This leads me to believe they might be doing a better job than they ever have.

But does that apply to all CEOs? Lencioni states the following:

“It’s time to re-enlist as a CEO and take on this new level of intense responsibility. Again, it is hard for me to say that to CEOs because they tell me, ‘Hey, it was intense before!’ I totally get that. I’m an advocate for CEOs. I think you have a lonely, difficult job. I don’t think most people who have never had the job understand that. I really do think it is one of the hardest jobs you can have.

But if you are not really willing to sign up for the difficult hard parts of that job, that’s going to become even more problematic going forward. Because more is being demanded of you right now, and you have to brace yourself for that and prepare for that if you want to keep your job as CEO of your company.”

That’s what The Motive is all about – helping you understand what really motivates you as a leader. You must ensure you have the best possible motive for leading. You can’t do it for what it gives you. You must do it because others depend upon the quality of the work you do: your employees’ lives, the benefits experienced by your customers, the financial stability of your investors, and more. While personal economics might not always be great, we should do it in spite of that.

Facing the Tasks You Don’t Always Want to Do

According to Lencioni, there are five distinct responsibilities that reward-centered leaders don’t like to do, even though no one else should do them. Obviously, it’s not full list of what CEOs need to do, but it does collect the most distasteful tasks.

1.     Having uncomfortable conversations

2.     Managing direct reports

3.     Taking responsibility for building a leadership team

4.     Running meetings

5.     Repeating themselves

I can confirm the accuracy of this list in my own experience counseling CEOs. Not only do many CEOs not like doing them, but they are far too often delegated improperly and more than likely abdicated. When I remind someone that they need to be doing these things, they usually respond with, “I don’t want to do them. That’s not why I became a CEO.”

Lencioni would respond with:

“But those tasks are the reason why the CEO role exists, and you have to do them!”

In my next blog post, I will explore each of those five frustrating tasks through the lens of my own experiences as a leader and CEO. Together, we’ll learn the deep importance of embracing the impact of fulfilling those responsibilities with intention and joy.

If you are interested in learning more about adding humanity to your leadership style, contact me today for a free consultation. I welcome the chance to help you examine your true motivations for being a leader.