Leader Volume 8, Number 7
Connections: Leaders Out of Control
R. Bell is a senior partner with Performance Research Associates
and manages their Dallas, Texas office.
He is the author of eleven books including Customers
As Partners, Managers
As Mentors, and Dance
Lessons: Six Steps To Great Partnerships In Business and Life (Berrett-Koehler,
San Francisco, 1994, 1996, 1998). His website is WWW.ChipBell.Com.
Larry Smith lost
it! And, of all
places, he lost it in the big-deal quarterly executive meeting.
He absolutely went over the edge in his impassioned plea
for some issue around a customer.
didn’t cry...although he did wipe his eyes before his cheeks got
streaked. No, he
didn’t pound the table...although he did demonstrate a few
gestures that would be the envy of any aspiring thespian.
But, what Larry
did do in his “out of control” passion clearly crossed all
normal bounds of rationality and routine boardroom decorum.
And yet, he engaged the hearts...and commitment...of every
single person in the meeting.
People were truly moved.
And, it did make
a difference. Stuff happened.
loses his cool” incident led me to reflect on the true meaning
of contemporary leadership. I
thought about how much “in-charge land” contained artifacts of
control, consistency and “keeping your cool.”
And, I thought about how little these artifacts had
anything to do with spirit
and passion in any other context of life... except the corporate world.
brag about their rational marriage, their reasonable hobby or
their sensible vacation. There’s
rarely “in control” behavior when Junior is seen rounding
third base. Exhortations
of ecstasy are never restrained on the fishing bank when the cork
suddenly disappears, and with surprising force.
But, somehow all that spirit is an unwelcomed distraction
after entering the company lobby.
And, the closer one gets to mahogany row, the less
tolerance there seems to be for the “sounds of the heart.”
And, I thought
about how freeing it was for everyone in the room when “Larry
lost his cool.” Were
we uncomfortable? Yes!
Did we wonder: “Where
the hell is this going?” Yes!
But, we all felt momentarily in kinship with real
life. At the risk of sounding morbid, it was like the famous moth
and flame poem. That’s
the one where the poet describes the predictable dance of moth and
flame and ends by commenting about “that moth feeling more alive
in that final moment than I have ever felt in my life.”
Julia Roberts echoed the same theme in Steel
Magnolias when, as a courageous and passionate diabetic
expectant mother facing the life- threatening potential of giving
birth, said: “I had
rather have thirty minutes of ‘wonderful’ than a lifetime of
Leaders are not
rational beings...they are flame seekers.
They passionately “give birth” in the face of
threatening circumstance. The
biography of almost every great leader who ever faced the
potential of bodily harm accompanying his or her cause
communicates a consistent theme... “Why we were there played so
loud in my ear I never really heard what might happen because we
were there.” Passion
played...and leaders put issues like
“in control” on some emotional back burner.
We know Larry. And,
Larry is not an irrational, illogical person. Yet, somehow we trusted his passion more than his reason.
I’m now going
to step into a philosophical room filled with naysayers.
Here it is...passion is more honest than reason!
There it is! Out in the open. To be sure, logic is more elegant, more
sensible, and surely more prudent.
And, one feels far more secure and calm with the rational.
Predictability never makes the heart race.
Passion leaves a person feeling fearful of the on-the-edge,
unanticipated outcome. It also makes us feel free, alive and somehow “a real,
whole person.” And,
when leaders surface that feeling in us, we are somehow more
energized...like a knight ready for battle.
When I was an
infantry unit leader in Viet Nam, young men were observed going
into battle with no knowledge of the complex socio-political
ramifications of the Viet Nam war.
Yet, these men were ready to die.
For what? For
“duty, honor, and country.”
How illogical and amorphous can you get? What is the sensibility of courageously charging a
well-entrenched sniper with an almost certain potential you will
be among his body count...for duty?
Where is sensibleness of bleeding on a rice paddy far from
Cincinnati or Charlotte...for honor?
What made GI’s from McRae, GA or Sterling, IL get silver
medals and distinguished whatevers?
It was passion...not reason.
Action was enticed by the spirit of the day not the sanity
of the moment. What
would you die for at work? Is
not business welfare as important to our global survival as
say. We can’t have
the chaos of unbridled emotion and the confusion of out-of-control
desire. What would
the stockholders say? After
all, is it not the role of a leader to bring forth a sense of
“grace under pressure,” or
“order when all around you is loosing their head?”
Should leaders not strive to be more anchor than sail?
More rudder than oar?
And again... “No!”
We have missed
the boat on what it means to be leader.
The world...the organization...and, the situation offer far
more “predictable” than is predictably required.
The truth is that rationality
oozes from the seams of every business encounter.
Leaders don’t have to bring order, sanity, rationality or
logic. Every dimension of business life reeks with those qualities.
Sane leaders foster insane passion.
Memorable leaders call up in each of us a visit with the
raggedy edge of brilliance and the out-of-the-way corner of
genius. When we feel inspired, incensed, ennobled… we have visited
the magical realm of passion.
And, we typically return from that realm renewed,
revitalized...and slightly revolted.
The bittersweet taste of unexplored talent is the byproduct
of a passion projection into that world.
And, when a leader has had a hand in that flight, there is
at once a sense of security wedded to an otherwise solitary
“There is an
energy field between humans,” wrote Love and Will philosopher
Rollo May. “And,
when a person reaches out in passion, it is usually met with an
answering passion.” Passionate
connections provoke passionate responses.
When leaders “pass-I-on” to another it triggers a
And, leadership is fundamentally about influencing.
Ask twenty people
to name the greatest leaders of all times.
Sure, you might get a military general or two. But, the list will likely be made up of leaders who stirred
their followers with fire than leaders who lectured their
followers with reasoning. Kennedy,
Churchill, King, Teresa, Schweitzer, and Gandhi were not famous
for their rationalism... nor
is Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, Bruce Nordstrom, the late
Sam Walton or the late J. Willard Marriott, Sr.
Leaders’ invitations to actions are embossed on their own
yearnings to express their “cause” to others in ways that
encourages others to join.
Passion takes the
plain vanilla out of encounters.
It is a leap into relationships.
And, it is magical! Philosopher
Goethe called it “boldness” and said:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin in
has genius, power, and magic in it. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to
draw back, always ineffectiveness.
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence
moves, too. All sorts
of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have
wrote, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without
passionate connections. Leaders
who come soaring from the heart awaken boldness in others.
It builds a relationship platform that raises everyone to a
higher level. Civil
War general Thomas J. Jackson was never again called “Tom”
after someone spotted him on the battlefield and remarked,
“There stands General Jackson like a stone wall.”
His troops developed the reputation of demonstrating the
same spirited, “never say die” passion in combat.
And, who can forget the same phenomenon among leaders named
Martin, Mahatma, and Susan B.? Again, people may be instructed by reason, but they are
inspired by passion.
Why are you here,
in this role, at this time? What
difference will your being here make? What legacy will you leave
behind? Will you be
forgotten for what you maintained or remembered for what you
mountains are climbed, culture-changing movements are started, and
breakthrough miracles are sparked by leaders who took the
governors off rationalism and prudence, letting their spirit
ascend from within.