Abdication of Responsibility

As we careen into December, in what has been a year that shall surely pack the history books, we are eager to welcome 2021 with open arms. We wish all of you a very happy holiday season and a great New Year! 

These newsletters are meant to provoke thought; this month we focus on what the real role of a leader is and why so few leaders actually step up to the challenge.

Patrick Lencioni, the author of a dozen books - including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Advantage, has a new offering - The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities. 


In its introduction he writes: "Whenever I hear a graduation speaker exhort a group of students to “go out into the world and be a leader,” I want to stand up and shout, “No!!! Please don't be a leader, unless you're doing it for the right reason, and you probably aren't!”

He concludes the book with this: "The Motive is the shortest and simplest book I've written to date, but I suspect that it may be the most important. That's because the danger of leading for the wrong reason is so high, not only for individuals, but for society as a whole."

Like all his books, the message is simple and profound. He asks the straightforward yet deep question: Why do you want to be a CEO?

He suggests that the CEO should not be the Chief EXECUTIVE Officer, but the Chief EXECUTING Officer. (The notion of Execution is close to our hearts at Thoughtful Simplicity.) Furthermore, Mr. Lencioni adds another role and title to this person: CRO - Chief Reminding Officer, a role that will become clearer as you read on.

How come so many CEOs avoid the most important part of their job?

His answer:
"At the most fundamental level, there are only two motives that drive people to become a leader. First, they want to serve others, to do whatever is necessary to bring about something good for the people they lead. The second basic reason why people choose to be a leader—the all-too-common but invalid 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, money."
CEOs are human beings and they do what human beings often do: focus on the things they like and the things that got them there; maybe it was their skill in finance, marketing, or making deals. And they shy away from the things that don't interest them or make them uncomfortable. A true leader cannot take this path. They must focus on what must be done. And what should they do? 

Mr. Lencioni suggests these five things:

1. Developing the Leadership Team:

Often because this is considered a "soft" skill, or because the leader is uncomfortable with the "touchy and feely" stuff, they shy away from this focus and may delegate it to the HR department, or rationalize to themselves that their team members already know what needs to be done. With this abdication, a team never really comes together.

2. Managing Subordinates & Making Them Manage Theirs:

The leader must know what their subordinates are doing, set a general direction, and hold them accountable. If they get stuck they should help them get unstuck by coaching them without doing it for them. If you manage your subordinates, they will then manage their subordinates too.

3. Having Difficult & Uncomfortable Conversations:

"One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to confront difficult, awkward issues quickly and with clarity, charity, and resolve. What kind of issues am I talking about? Everything from a team member’s annoying mannerisms to poisonous interpersonal dynamics and politics." Do you see the common thread in these three elements?

4. Running Great Team Meetings:

Many CEOs, and participants, dread meetings because they are so often boring, rambling, and ultimately ineffective. But this is because they lack substance, leadership and discipline. “Think about it this way. The best place to observe whether a surgeon is good at her job, a teacher is good at his, or a quarterback is good at his, is to watch them during an operation, a class session, or a game, respectively. What is the best place to observe a leader? That’s right—a meeting...The truth is, if meetings are not engaging, it’s completely logical to conclude that the quality of those decisions will be subpar...The second problem of accepting bad meetings at the executive level is that it sets the precedent for the rest of the organization."

5. Communicating Constantly & Repetitively to Employees:

People need to hear a message perhaps seven times for it to sink in. But leaders are afraid of sounding dull and they also tend to chase shiny new green objects. Let me share a personal example: some years ago when I was running a big company, I loved talking to people and exchanging ideas. But this created unexpected confusion: people were unsure if they had just had a pleasant chat with the boss or had been given a new project to accomplish. At the end of the first year, a colleague asked me the most important lesson I had learned? I responded: “Keeping my mouth shut.” Leaders should keep their sparkling brilliance to themselves and focus on repeating the key messages consistently.


Look in your inner mirror and ask yourself these two questions:

1) Why am I a leader?

2) Am I doing the things that my job, my responsibility, really require?

This may be uncomfortable, but needs to be done. 

Your Life. Your Choices. 

Be Well,

Verinder Syal

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