People want to follow leaders who believe in their mission with their whole heart and soul.
Greetings from the past! You may not realize this, but even though you’re reading this article in November, it was actually written in October. So how are things in the future? Do we have flying cars yet? Who won Dancing with the Stars? Guess I’ll have to wait and see!
Not only is this being written in the past, it is being written the day after the death of Steve Jobs, arguably the most influential business leader of the last century. Sure, this is old news to you in November, but nevertheless, there are some timeless lessons to be gleaned from his Silicon Valley-sized life, and the lives of those like him.
Whether you use Apple products or not, it is undeniable that Jobs’ leadership changed the direction of the computer industry, the phone industry, the movie industry, and quite possibly, the black turtleneck industry. How was this executive—who founded Apple, only to be ousted by his hand-picked lieutenant and then rehired more than a decade later (oh, and by the way, he happened to found another computer company and get Pixar Animation Studios off the ground during his exile from Apple)—able to inspire such devotion among Apple’s rabid fans, or “fanboys” as they’re frequently called? Simply put, he had passion.
Steve Jobs had a passion for making electronic devices that were beautiful and accessible to the common consumer. So consumed was he by this desire that those employees who attempted to bring him anything less than a perfectly crafted, aesthetically elegant, simple-to-use product risked a dressing down like no other. But those same employees who found their lackluster efforts to be the object of Steve’s scorn were usually just as loyal and enamored with the man as anyone else. Why? Because people want to follow leaders who believe in their mission with their whole heart and soul.
Charisma, intelligence and drive can certainly get you far in this world, but to take that next step into the upper echelon of truly great leaders, you must have passion. And there are two important points to note about the connection between leadership and passion.
First, passion cannot be faked. Everyone has seen TV shows or movies in which the characters end up at some corporate retreat doing all sorts of ridiculous teambuilding exercises to get them excited about their jobs and motivated to work hard. Some of us have had the unfortunate privilege of attending one of those events in real life. Whether you’ve been there or just seen it on TV, the one inescapable fact is that gimmicks and ploys never, ever have much success at creating loyalty, excitement or buy-in. People are not dumb. They can spot a phony from a mile away, and when a leader gets up and tries to create excitement about a product or idea that he or she isn’t passionate about, it’s obvious.
Second, passion must be focused. There are plenty of passionate people in the world. Usually, that just means they’re exceptionally emotional and/or unpleasant to be around. The passion that a real leader must have is directed toward a very specific purpose. For Steve Jobs, his passion was focused on beautiful, consumer-friendly electronic devices—and really good animated movies (A person is allowed more than one passion!). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s passion was the rights of African Americans. Ray Kroc’s passion was for every Big Mac to taste exactly the same, whether sold in Peoria or Paris. These leaders changed the world. Can you imagine going into a McDonald’s that served curly fries? No way!
To say that passion must be focused does not mean that it must be focused on a grand scheme for world domination. Ray Kroc is a good example of this. Standardizing the taste of hamburgers across locations of a restaurant chain is hardly sexy. I doubt that, when he first acquired McDonald’s, he ever thought standardization would be the key to becoming the largest restaurant chain in the world. It was simply something he believed in. Likewise, Dr. King probably did not have aspirations of becoming the national face of the civil rights movement when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. He just wanted to stand up for his passion in one small corner of Alabama.
So what, you might say, I am no Steve Jobs. That’s true, you aren’t. Not yet, anyway. Maybe the only reason that statement is true is that you have not found your passion. Or maybe you have, but something has kept you from acting on it. We all have things about which we are deeply passionate. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing right now, then you will never live up to your potential as a leader. However, if you are passionate about your current lot in life, then don’t be afraid to act like it. It will inspire others, guaranteed.
Just remember, don’t try to fake it when it’s not authentic, and be passionate about something specific. iBi