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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