Summary and review of ‘The Motive’ by Patrick Lencioni as published on LinkedIn

Patrick Lencioni is a management consultant and writer of several New York Times bestsellers. His previous books such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Advantage are about how to be a leader (how to build trust, how to have conversations, etc). His book The Motive is about why: why do people want to be a leader and what motives makes better or worse leaders.

Many people see their position as a reward for years of hard work. They derive status from it, power, money, their own pleasure. Unfortunately, leaders with these motives do not solve the real problems in their organisation. Others however are more responsible-focused and want to help people, even if it means having to engage in difficult conversations. They put the organisation above their own interest.

I liked Lencioni’s previous books very well. Especially The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. My expectations were therefore high and Lencioni lived up to it. As he writes himself, it may be his shortest and most recent book, but he should have written it first, because it answers the question why: the question that always comes first.

The Motive consists of two parts: (1) the story and (2) the lesson you can draw from it. The great thing about the story is that it’s a piece of fiction that reads easily and is recognisable to everyone. The main character in the story is Shay, manager of a security company in California. Shay’s company runs okay, but a competitor from San Diego is doing better. Shay talks to Liam, the chief executive of that San Diego company. Shay is somewhat envious, but a joint threat (a national competitor) brings them together. Every chapter in the story is a part of their conversation. And in every part Liam exposes Shay’s motives: he sees his position as a reward for hard work and he especially wants to do the fun things and not, for example, enter into the difficult conversations that are necessary to get people on the right track. I will not spoil too much about this story and you have to read every chapter yourself and experience it.

In the second part, Lencioni takes a look at the lesson you have to draw from the story. In the story you read that Shay leaves people-development to the HR department because he doesn’t like it. He also hardly has any conversations with his team members, because he sees that as micro-managing, while he could see it as keeping people accountable. Shay hates meetings, while a well-prepared and purposeful consultation can be of enormous value. And so there are other lessons from the story that Lencioni brings back to five things where Shay falls short because of the wrong motivation to want to be leader. Go discover those 5 shortcomings yourself by reading the book.

Both companies of Shay and Liam are almost identical: same product, same kind of people, same competitive landscape. The big difference between the companies is the leader’s motive. Shay is reward-oriented: he feels that he is entitled to his position, borrows status, chooses the nice things of his work himself and neglects the things he doesn’t like. Liam is responsible-focused and wants to help people, even if it means having to engage in difficult conversations, have to have meetings and endlessly repeat his vision. Liam sacrifices himself, with the result that his organisation wins. Liam hates the term ‘serving leadership’, because for him there is only one form of leadership and it is by definition serving. Non-serving leadership does not exist.

Lencioni states that there are hardly people who are responsible-focused only. Although they want to help people and put the organisation first, they also value a decent reward for the impact they make. The emphasis for them however is on taking responsibility as shown in this picture:


This book is suitable for people who want to develop as a leader, because it helps you to see if you have the right motive. If not, you will not help your company and the people with it. I also think it’s suitable for people who are already in a management position, because it gives insight into why competitors might do better with exactly the same conditions: that’s you as a leader in the first place.

This book is not suitable for people who want to know how to be a good leader, e.g. how to have tough conversations, how to build trust, etc. However Lencioni is also clear on that: for these topics you have to read his other books, once you have determined whether you are the right person to be a leader at all, after reading The Motive.