The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team

Step 3: Discover, Support, and Integrate Member’s Personal Motivation (Beyond a Paycheck)

After alignment on a shared singularity (see last post), the next big lever I would lean against to build the executive team is self-interest. And when I say self-interest, I mean self-interest beyond a paycheck. First, we’ll explore three reasons why self-interest is such a huge lever for team building. Then we’ll look at how to apply this lever.

High Performance is Voluntary

Forget the team dynamic for a moment and consider individual motivation and performance. Consider a fact that would make the world of work a much better place — if it were at the top of anyone’s list of principles who is seeking high performance from others:

Individuals do things best when we do them for our own reasons.

If I do something only because you are paying me, I do it well-enough to get paid, and not much better. If I do something because you are threatening me, I do it well enough to avoid the threat, and no better. But if I do it for my own reasons, I do it to my satisfaction.

And so to have high performing individuals, you want to discover and support what is in it for them to do what they do beyond a paycheck.

Collaborator’s Number One Concern: Managing Peer Motivation

Now when you add the team dynamic into the mix, it becomes challenging because of the interdependence dynamics we introduced in the last post.

It can be a heady feeling knowing that, as a manager, you can tell people what to do. We’ve become so reliant on such authority power we actually believe it is the only way to get others to do what we want. But peers don’t have such power with each other. And when assigned to work together in a team to get something done, the number one concern of responsible people is how committed others will be.

In fact, I’d say humans at work spend more time fretting and complaining about peer motivation than most any other issue. So as a team leader or coach, you never want to leave this issue to chance. The next section will solidify this point for you.

The Principle of the Least Invested Coworker

You can bet money on this little known principle:

Every team performs to the level of the member who cares the LEAST about what the team is doing.

So as a leader or coach, once you’ve identified the least invested — or least interested — member, then you will know how high that team will most likely perform.

Here’s how it works. When we perceive others are not carrying their load do we volunteer to pick up their load for them? No way. In fact, we do just the opposite. We reduce our expectations of what our team can do, thus reducing our own commitment — even when we are otherwise responsible and committed players. Most people don’t enjoy hearing this about themselves, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

And that’s how we end up with middling team after middling team in job after job, organization after organization.

So now you see how big a lever self-interest is in building and leading teams. And now you surely don’t want to leave it to chance in your team.

A Note About Teams In Nature

Statistically speaking, there will always be a least invested coworker, but if that person’s interest is sufficiently high, say just fractions below others, then it is not a problem. It becomes a problem when it is seen as freeloading. The problem of freeloaders is mostly an artifact of teams in institutions. Think about it. If the hierarchy were not holding the person in the team, that person would likely leave for lack of interest. And if they did not leave for lack of interest, then the team would boot them out.

How to Discover, Support, and Integrate Self-Interest


I searched high and low for the best approach to manage peer motivation and I found it. It is simply to ask. That’s right. Ask. Ask “What’s in it for you — beyond a paycheck — to do what you are doing?” There is no better approach.

Asking works like a charm:

  • only when you are sincerely interested
  • when you effectively probe beyond the first socially desirable answer (“It’s good for the team”) to find what truly energizes that person (“I really love it when I can contribute to a great team”), and
  • when you connect what you discover about their interest to what you are doing together (“So if by working with us on this project for the next six months we can help you feel like you are contributing to a great team, will that be worth your investment?” “Absolutely.”)


Discovering self-interest is not a one-time trick to gain commitment. It is ongoing. Now your role as a teammate, partner, or collaborator is to support your peer in having their interests met. Repeatedly.

Here’s the way to think of it. We talk about teams as being contexts for Win-Win. That means that for you to win, you must ensure sure your teammates are winning too — by their definition of winning.


This is my favorite part about understanding peer motivation and shared responsibility. And it is a fabulous secret to remember. When you focus on self-interest beyond a paycheck, then usually what you discover is that everyone’s self-interest can be met. Talk about Win-Win-Win-Win-Win!

This means that intrinsic motivation — i.e., internal, or what I think of as inspiration — is truly abundant, i.e., everyone wins. Extrinsic motivation (external motivation represented by compensation and rewards) is scarce and causes rivalry.

So move toward having all team members truly understand the personal interest — beyond a paycheck — of all other team members and you’ll be a long ways toward having a winning team.

Start today.


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