The power of passion in leadership is something I have spoken about before, but over the next few podcasts I want to delve deeper into the issue. This is also the subject of my next ebook which will be out very soon, possibly by the time you read this.
In this episode I cover:
- A Pain Point from a woman in leadership who feels like she is not heard in her organization.
- Information from chapters one and two of my upcoming book “The Power of Passion in Leadership.”
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do the work 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.” – Steve Jobs
My heart seemed to be battling my head for a long time. In my heart I knew something was wrong, but my head kept telling me to ignore it. “I am making a great impact–so what if I am not happy?” It came to a head for me one day in my garage at home. I was going on a walk and put on my favorite “Life is Good,” baseball cap. I noticed that they had sewn their slogan inside the cap, so when you put it on your head you see their message. “Do what you like, like what you do.” I said to myself, “I am doing neither.”
It was time for a change. I used to find fulfillment in my career, but not anymore. I needed to start paying attention to my heart. Isn’t it funny how some of the oddest things can speak to us and change our whole direction in life? I guess the important thing is to listen and respond. I am a follower of Christ and find that He talks to me in all sorts of ways. Of course God speaks to me a lot through my Bible. Sometimes He speaks to me at church or through a deep conversation with someone. God uses my wife to speak to me from time to time, and I really listen to that! I love the outdoors and I often sense God’s whisper as I am pursuing my love of mountain biking or am in the hot tub on our deck. But this time it seemed He used my cap. My heart was not in what I was doing for my day job—I was just going through the motions with my head. I had to figure out how to flip my heart and my head.
Why does leading from the heart really matter? It can be natural to think, “If I am smart enough, gifted enough and work hard enough, of course people will respond to my leadership.” I know what I am talking about, because occasionally in my career I put my head before my heart. The more gifted you are, and the smarter you are, the more that this can be a temptation and the easy default. The problem is, that kind of leadership does not inspire people and build deep loyalty. I have noticed just the opposite. People follow people who they know, trust and believe. That trust is built between leader and follower within their hearts. There is some sort of a magnetic loyalty that grows in followers who respond to leaders who lead with passion out front.
Don’t get me wrong. Our heads are important. A lot of great leaders that we love to follow are very smart. I can think of a lot of famous people throughout history that changed the world through their powerful intellects and gifting. But if you dissect their leadership, you always find the passion factor very high and usually the thing that drew people to follow them. Think of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gandhi and Princess Diana. These were all very smart people who led with their hearts out front.
Nothing trumps passion. If you light yourself on fire, people will come to watch you burn. People follow people of passion. Conversely, when the fire goes out of our hearts, nothing will make people wander away faster and find someone else to follow. Some of us end up pretenders walking like zombies among the walking dead. Sound a little dramatic? It would be if I had not met some of you. I will explain that in a moment.
I love the razor sharp focus of this verse from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. It sums up the topic of this book and why everything in the leader’s life flows from the heart (Proverbs 4:23):
“Above all else, guard your heart, For everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
If you don’t think that passion is a big deal, read that verse again. It is the deal. Our passion lives in our heart of hearts. If we lose our heart we lose our leadership credibility. Proverbs declares that everything we do and touch flows from the heart as its ultimate source. The actions of our hands and the thoughts that flow out of our mouths all emerge from our heart. “Everything that we do,” seems to flow from our heart of hearts.
Yes, you can lead without a heart fully alive. That is some of my own story. I have had the privilege of leading some great ventures for over three decades. In those years I have been in both places. I have led thousands with great vision and passion flowing from a heart fully alive and in sync. And I have at times lost all passion and been part of the walking dead as I went through the motions of leadership. We can become great pretenders.
Steve Jobs is a great example of leading from the heart. It does not matter if you are an Apple person or a PC user, you have to admire the passion of his leadership. He changed five massive industries including music, personal computers, phones, animation and mobile computing. Even as I am writing this, his company is now taking on another industry: watches, with their new Apple Watch. Even though Jobs is no longer with us, the passion with which he led in his life continues to pervade his company after his passing.
Steve Jobs was notoriously tough to work with, but he had passion for elegant devices that have covered the globe. He is a great example of how passion can cover a multitude of other leadership sins. As tough as he was on people, he garnered extreme loyalty. On a recent trip to China I saw the biggest Apples stores ever… everyone seemed to have an iPhone and iPad. I was visiting with a friend in Beijing. He told me his young son who wants to learn English just learned his first word: “Apple.” All that impact goes back to Steve’s passion as a leader. Back in the early days of Apple, Jobs inspired their advertisers to take a different path than everyone else did in selling their very unique computers. He was not just pushing computers; he had a passion to change the world.
History is the story of great leaders and terrible leaders that pushed the world forward and pulled mankind back. The great stories of positive leadership seem always to be characterized by passion. Who comes to your mind when you think of great passionate leaders past and present? In addition to the list I already mentioned, I would include people like Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Indira Gandhi, Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther. For each of these, passion characterized their leadership. And if you look in the Bible, it is a story from cover to cover of men and women of passion. People like Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Ruth, Esther and Paul—who followed God with passion and created the redemption story.
I met a man the other day who dislikes his job so intensely that he has a retirement countdown clock on his computer desktop—and it is still seven years away! Some of us work in our passion and some don’t. Some of us have the joy of working in an assignment we love; others suffer along, living for the weekends and retirement. If you are an employee living in cubicle land, you can get away with biding your time in a miserable job. It’s not fun, but the effect on others is minimal. But the higher you go in leadership, the more the heart counts. People do not enjoy working for mechanical micromanagers or passive worn out leaders—they love following leaders who lead from their place of passion.
Let’s dig a bit deeper. What is this thing that I call passion in leadership? It’s really about connecting the deepest feelings in your heart with your work. The more you believe in what you’re doing, the easier it is to have passion. The less you love what you do, the more it shows on the outside to followers. Wikipedia defines passion deriving from the Latin word, pati, “to suffer.” That is where the idea of the passion of Christ comes from. It is a “term applied to very strong feelings about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something.”
Passion is such a magnet when it is apparent in the heart of leaders. Confucius was the first to observe, “If you choose a job you love, you will never have to work another day in your life.” Well, that is not completely true, because many people who love their jobs work very hard. But it does not seem like work in the negative burdensome sense of the word “job.” My friend, Tom, has a great way to gauge how close you are to working in your passion. He asks what he calls the lottery question to gauge your heart, “If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do with the rest of your life?” What would you do regardless of whether you got paid for it or not?
Stay tuned for more on the power of passion in my next podcast!