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  • Darren Gold

What Motivates You? Lessons from the TV Show Billions (Part 2)

A couple of caveats. First, you don’t have to watch the show Billions to appreciate its lessons. And second, there are just as many, if not more, lessons in the show to not learn. The main characters are almost completely lacking in virtue (I may choose to address that in another blog). But for now, I find myself learning important lessons with each episode. Throughout the show, hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod, one of the show’s main protagonists, demonstrates his unique capacity to understand the psychology of the people who work for him and that of his adversaries. In this particular episode, Axelrod is seeking to determine whether one of his employees, Dudley Mafee would lie to protect the firm. Axelrod goes to his Chief Investment Officer Taylor Mason and asks her the simple question: “What motivates Mafee?” What a brilliant question. Apart from his flagrant and reprehensible disregard for the law, Axelrod “succeeds” because he understands what drives people, including himself. He’s obsessed with understanding this and he’s very good at figuring it out. It’s an incredible skill. And it’s one that I think about often. My work is about helping business leaders understand what motivates them and the people they lead, and, with that awareness, how they can be in choice about how they act. I began to think about this question more deeply in the context of our current situation. How is my own program – the subconscious beliefs, values, and rules that have historically driven me – affecting how I see and make meaning of the current crisis that is unfolding? I know that an important part of my program is the need for control. Growing up in a volatile environment, I needed to have a sense of control to feel safe. One way I was able to feel in control was to believe that everything would be okay and that many people had it worse than I did. This perspective of extreme optimism served me well and continues to do so today. I can see how it is showing up presently in how I am making meaning of the global pandemic. Despite the very real severity of the situation and the extreme hardship we are already witnessing and perhaps personally experiencing, I remain optimistic and grateful. I choose not to be afraid or anxious, even though there is arguably every reason to be. I choose to find joy in every moment I have with my family. I choose to see that out of crisis and hardship, new and more effective ways of living and leading can emerge. I can also see that, if unexamined, this part of my program can result in my tendency to suppress emotion. This is a deep part of my program, one that was designed to keep me safe during a highly unpredictable and volatile childhood, which I write about in my book. If I’m not careful, I can come across as emotionally distant and uncaring, which is completely inconsistent with my intentions and how I actually feel. Understanding what motivates you is a game-changer in any environment, but particularly so given the challenging times we’re facing. By knowing what motivates you, you can be in choice about how you make meaning of your environment, how you act, and what results you get. What part of your program is driving how you’re interpreting and managing the situation we’re in? Where does it really serve you? And where might it limit you? These are the questions that someone who is mastering life asks and answers.

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