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Do You Want to Change the World?

James Kouzes and Barry Posner are the authors of the classic The Leadership Challenge. In A Leader’s Legacy, they make an important point about leadership and passion:
A Leader’s Legacy

"When people talk about leadership, they often use the word passion. And when we think about passion we tend to think of emotions like enthusiasm, zeal, energy, exuberance, and intensity. Well, all those attributions might be true, but when you look up the word passion in any dictionary that includes origins you’ll see that it comes from the Latin word for suffering. Passion is suffering! A passionate person is someone who suffers and a compassionate person is someone who suffers with, and shares the suffering of, others—and wants to take action to alleviate this condition. Nearly every act of leadership requires suffering—and often for the leader a choice between one’s personal success and safety and the greater welfare of others. We’re asking you to understand that nothing great comes without costs.

"If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to pay a price. By sacrificing, you demonstrate that you’re not in it for yourself. This sends the message, loud and clear, that you have the best interests of others at heart.

"The most significant contributions leaders make not to today’s bottom line but to the long-term development of individuals and institutions that adapt, prosper, and grow. People should never take the job of leadership if they’re unwilling to see beyond their own needs. If they do, they will ultimately fail."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:27 PM
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Good insight. Leadership is a process of influence. The influence we offer others is sacrifice. They may or may not accept it. As you said passion stems from this idea of suffering. The concept of servant-leadership probably encompasses this idea best. To be a servant we have to give up our right to be served and no doubt this causes suffering on our behalf.

Something else to note on passion. Webster’s dictionary defines passion as the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces. Passion encompasses many things, suffering being one of them. It takes passion to engage risks, to face fear, etc. I think maybe suffering is a blessing of passion. (Scary, but maybe suffering points to leaders doing something right. Keyword being sometimes, not always.)

The bottom line: Passion is the willingness to pay the price (i.e. to suffer) in order to attain one's given purpose.

Is passion something from within ourselves or something flowing through us from an external force?

I am slightly suspicious of Kouzes and Posner's reference to passion because they see leaders as cheerleaders. I think it is possible to lead by presenting hard facts in a quiet, logical manner. Yes, the would-be leader might have conviction and determination to challenge the status quo, but passion seems to me to suggest a certain emotional expressiveness or enthusiasm that we can't generalize across all leaders. Surely, we are past the one-size-fits-all style of leadership which says that you have to be transformational in order to lead people.

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