There’s no denying that great leaders are passionate about what they do. They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve while inspiring and mentoring the people they lead.
Recently, I’ve begun thinking differently about conventional teachings about passionate, visionary leadership. Leading a not-for-profit organization whose mission I care about requires much more than passion. I truly understand that the uncertainty of donations and subventions can disrupt the best laid plans and vision of the future. Even though I have experience in business and as a volunteer board member in the non-profit sector, I have been learning so much more from many varied sources about the non-profit world.
- Purpose, not passion.
Passion is emotion. Standing on its own, it is vulnerable and fickle in the face of challenges. Knowing why you do what you do will support your persistent efforts so you never give up during difficult times. The solid foundation on which passion is based, is purpose. Purpose first, passion second. Not the other way around. Ryan Holiday in his book Ego is the Enemy, aptly explains passion, purpose and realism –
What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you would say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.*
- Keep the vision statement simple.
Vision statements are supposed to tell us what our organization strives to become. It’s the desired future state that leaders and their people work toward. In my experience, vision statements are either too long for employees to understand or so short that they are meaningless. That’s why you’ll get a different answer from employees when they are asked to expain the vision of their organization.
In a world where competitive and political forces disrupt the best laid plans, we can’t rely on a rigidly defined vision statement to guide planning for the desired future state. Do go ahead and set aspirational goals but be flexible enough to change course and consider alternative ways to achieve them.
Employees are more engaged when leaders consistently explain the reasons behind the vision and what working towards the vision means in daily work. More importantly, finding ways to support employees to do even better, paves the way to make the vision a reality.
- Let your people teach you.
While leaders are mandated to ensure financial sustainability and operational efficiency, they won’t always have the in-depth technical knowledge of the organization’s operations that impact performance. Employees at every level are an important source of information and learning for leaders. They can provide valuable insights on the reasons why the organization is not able to grow, fully satisfy client needs or operate efficiently.
Teaching moments for senior leaders aren’t rare. Those moments are apparent when leaders realize that they don’t know everything and are humble enough to listen, learn and accept advice from the people they lead. Applying the knowledge gained enables leaders to make informed decisions to create meaningful changes that positively impact the year-end scorecard.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.
*Quoted from Ego is the Enemy page 49 by Ryan Holiday