Getting the Best Leaders Takes More Than Money

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Wanted: Talented executive to rebuild the economy for the next 100 years.

Since the decline in our economy, a remarkable opportunity has arisen - to redefine how banking works in this country if not the world for decades to come. If you have ideas about the ways a large US-based financial institution needs to change the way it operates to avoid another meltdown and sustain growth and lead the world into a new era, then we'd like to hear from you. The pay is competitive and very handsome bonuses are available if sustainable success is achieved.

Do you have what it takes?

What kind of person do you think the above ad would attract?

Recently five executives at the AIG insurance company announced they would resign if the government restricted their pay to $500,000 per year. Bank of America is complaining that unless they can pay whatever they want, they will not get the talent they need to right the company.

And that's where they are completely wrong.

If money is the primary lure to get someone to join a company, then it will attract those candidates who are attracted to money as the primary incentive to show up and not for the real reason the company needs them - to change the way they do business. Offer someone the opportunity to rebuild a company or reinvent an industry as the primary incentive and it will attract those drawn to the challenge first and the money second. And which would you rather have running the company?

More importantly, after an economic downturn caused in large part to a money-first mentality, who do you think we should hand the keys to now? The executive driven by the cause or the one driven by the money?

We're all so offended how much bankers pay themselves that we've lost site of the real issue. Money, even obscene amounts of it, is not the problem. But it should be the reward for building strong, long-term sustainable organizations and not given as the primary motivation for showing up or simply making the quarter or even the year. That's the strategy that drove Lehman Brothers into the ground and caused the mess in the first place.

There is nothing wrong with compensating someone handsomely for the work they do and the results they achieve, but not in a vacuum. Money is a short-term result that incentivizes short-term decision making. A cause is something that lasts and is the foundation of sustainability.

As we've all had to suffer in the economic downturn, it falls to us to speak out louder and demand that the banks hire executives inspired to be a part of something bigger than themselves over those who demand something bigger before they feel inspired. If we don't, start saving your pennies for the next collapse in 10 years time.

As the would-be CEO of Bank of America, I'm pleased to hear the deal fell apart over a debate over compensation. Though I'm disappointed to hear the executives at AIG won their argument - I hoped they would quit and find better paying jobs at less influential companies in less important industries. That way we'd all get what we want.

To learn more about how great leaders are driven by the cause and not the money, read Simon Sinek's new book, Start With Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to act.