Leading With Passion

Lead­er­ship unfolds its impact always in two dimen­sions: on the one hand there is the Why, which man­i­fests itself in a com­mon pur­pose and attrac­tive vision and on the oth­er hand there is the We of how peo­ple are involved and touched. Good lead­er­ship is char­ac­ter­ized by pas­sion in both dimen­sions. Through the per­son­al and exem­plary com­mit­ment to the com­mon pur­pose on the one hand, and through its love for peo­ple and through the belief in their tal­ents on the oth­er, lead­er­ship sparks enthu­si­asm, inspires peo­ple and thus changes the world – both large and small.

The biogra­phies of peo­ple like Mahat­ma Gand­hi, Mar­tin Luther King, Nel­son Man­dela, Aung San Suu Kyi or Shirin Eba­di are char­ac­ter­ized by courage, con­vic­tion and pas­sion on the one hand and a great love for human­i­ty on the oth­er hand. Nat­u­ral­ly, these two dimen­sions of lead­er­ship, i.e. pur­pose and peo­ple, blur when it comes to human rights, so that a strong con­vic­tion and pas­sion for the cause (e.g. the fight against the abo­li­tion of racial seg­re­ga­tion) always affects peo­ple and thus auto­mat­i­cal­ly touch­es and inspires them. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this is rarely the case in busi­ness­es and oth­er organizations.

The pur­pose of life is not to be hap­py.  It is to be use­ful, to be hon­or­able, to be com­pas­sion­ate, and to have it make some dif­fer­ence that you have lived and lived well.

Ralph Wal­do Emerson

On the con­trary, in many com­pa­nies lead­er­ship is not very inspiring and not very con­vinc­ing. Every­day life is deter­mined by arbi­trary goals (share­hold­er val­ue!), the achieve­ment of which requires the use of stan­dard­ized human mate­r­i­al, which has to be pro­vid­ed in suf­fi­cient num­ber and qual­i­ty by schools and uni­ver­si­ties (in order to once again use this ter­ri­bly imper­son­al pro­to­col lan­guage in these orga­ni­za­tions, which was so dis­turb­ing for T. in my lit­tle nov­el frag­ment). So it’s no won­der that this human mate­r­i­al reg­u­lar­ly con­firms in the Gallup Engage­ment Index that it prefers to do work by the book (and those books are thick in our hope­less­ly over-reg­u­lat­ed com­pa­nies!) and that it prefers to save pas­sion and ener­gy for the evening and the weekend.

Gallup Engagement Index Deutschland 2001-2018

Where com­pa­nies are built and oper­at­ed like soul­less machines and where peo­ple are employed as small cog wheels, more than work by the book can­not be expect­ed. With­in this par­a­digm, it was pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate quite a prof­it in the rea­son­ably sta­ble and slow mar­kets of the past (cf. Ger­hard Woh­land’s Tay­lor bath­tub), but not more and cer­tain­ly it was not pos­si­ble to change the world. Not least because prof­it became an end in itself and there­fore there is no longer an inspir­ing com­mon pur­pose that could serve as a guide­line for peo­ple to connect. 

It is pas­sion that makes man live; wis­dom makes one only last.

Nico­las Chamfort

Here and now in high­ly net­worked, dynam­ic and glob­al mar­kets at a time when it is “nor­mal that many things are dif­fer­ent and become dif­fer­ent faster and faster” (Karl-Heinz Geißler), this waste of human poten­tial is extreme­ly dan­ger­ous. For the com­pa­nies on the one hand, but that would be accept­able, because new ones emerge where oth­ers per­ish, but on the oth­er hand also for soci­ety and mankind as a whole. The press­ing prob­lems of our time, above all cli­mate change, which threat­ens to become a cli­mate col­lapse, can only be solved with com­bined forces. But this requires real lead­er­ship with pas­sion for a pur­pose and for the peo­ple affected. 

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be tru­ly sat­is­fied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep look­ing. Don’t set­tle. As with all mat­ters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

Steve Jobs

Pas­sion unfor­tu­nate­ly also has a pen­chant for obses­sion and the after­taste of sac­ri­fice. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs (and espe­cial­ly the ear­ly Steve Jobs) and many oth­er Sil­i­con Val­ley founders can­not be said to lack pas­sion for a vision­ary future. Their com­mit­ment to the mat­ter is undis­put­ed, as is their some­times rather non-empa­thet­ic treat­ment of their employees.

Although their pas­sion for the high­er pur­pose appar­ent­ly com­pen­sates for some deficits in the human dimen­sion of lead­er­ship, the exam­ple of Steve Jobs in his sec­ond “term of office” at Apple from 1997 until his death in 2011 shows in par­tic­u­lar how much more could be achieved. It is pre­cise­ly this per­son­al growth of Steve Jobs in the human dimen­sion of lead­er­ship that Brent Schlen­der and Rick Tet­zeli address in their high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book “Becom­ing Steve Jobs: The Evo­lu­tion of a Reck­less Upstart into a Vision­ary Leader” (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate-Link), and right­ly see it as an essen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to Apple’s resur­gence. And this rise was her­ald­ed by the leg­endary “Think Dif­fer­ent” com­mer­cial about peo­ple and their pas­sion: Here’s to the crazy ones!


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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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