Last week I shared a couple of tweets from this passage by Louis Groenewald and received more re-tweets than ever before: “Passion is a powerful language. Passion for a cause crosses cultural and language barriers. It is felt, rather than mentally understood. Passion feels authentic. It sends out honest vibes. It can be quiet and vibrant and at other times it can be overwhelming and dominant. Passion can also be the most destructive force on earth driving evil motives. Passion is a catchy thing! It can be seen in our eyes and body language. Our passion for excellence as leaders has the tendency to cross almost impossible boundaries of cultures and philosophies. Passion is a universal language. The greatest passion is that of unconditional love, often manifested by mothers and leaders committed to universal values.”
Unfortunately I find leaders are less passionate about what they do than in the distant or even recent past. And the same can be said of employees in general, fortunately with exceptions here and there. Simple passion for one’s job seems to be disappearing quickly in the modern workplace, and as this happens the passion for excellence is also severely impacted in a negative way.
And of course there is a strong correlation between a leader’s passion for the job and that of the employee.
There may be many reasons for this decline in passion. Clem Sunter recently touched on this when he wrote: “Where people are employed, many of them are working much longer hours than their parents did last century. It has been known, particularly in the investment banking industry, for companies to set the norm of 70 to 80 hour weeks which is 10 hours or more a day with no day at the weekend off.” He continues: “Stress-related illnesses are multiplying and the work/life balance has gone straight out of the window. Even Australia, which is not known for having a cruel work ethic, has introduced migrant labour into its mining industry with its “fly in-fly out” system, putting pressure on the marriages and quality of life of those who spend two to three weeks a month away from their families.”
Against this backdrop, in today’s fast paced, ever moving environment which never comes to a standstill, and where pressure on leaders increases daily, they have to be on top of their game like never before – and I would hasten to add that they had better possess bundles of passion if they are going to succeed. But it is difficult to be on top of their game when the facts about the situation they lead seem to fluctuate and change at the blink of an eye – because in today’s world everything affects everything. The socio-political, economic and technological environment is so integrated that one thing changes and affects another, which affects yet something else – the well-known domino effect. Many leaders struggle to have sufficient insight into their environment to see how dynamic changes around them impact the facts of their own situation.
The environment in which leaders lead seems to be bombarded by all sorts of obstacles, challenges and negative perceptions of their followers. These too seem to change on a consistent basis, and while this was always present, the pace and severity seems to continually increase. This clearly has an impact on people’s attitudes, which has a direct correlation with performance – once again because of the dynamic composition of our modern, connected society.
On the positive side, as challenges and obstacles arise, so do innumerable opportunities, options and possibilities. This is the nature of life and amidst the persistent change of facts and constant wave of obstacles a leader needs to be fully aware of this. If he is not, and allows himself to be consumed only by challenges he is on a losing streak.
Because of all this and more, these distractions make it very difficult for most leaders and their team members to keep a focused eye on the strategy and vision. As a result they easily divert from what they agreed on, in order to get a handle on the changing facts and deal with the never ending challenges. As this happens and performance is negatively affected, they panic and seek answers or even quick fixes by unnecessarily changing direction and relevant structures, implementing new systems and procedures in a desperate attempt to impact performance indicators and accommodate or correct the course. And then their organisation moves towards becoming a compliance institution rather than a value adding institution. This is a dangerous place to be.
Under this mounting pressure leaders neglect to calmly, consistently and systematically follow up, evaluate and measure the right priorities pertaining to the plan and vision. Or, they do far too much of this because of a compliance culture. The emphasis becomes one of measuring or evaluating for the sake of doing it or to simply enforce compliance, rather than doing it in areas that add most value or that are core to the business. They lose confidence to adjust when needed and more often than in the past act tough inappropriately, out of context and due to frustration and lack of confidence. They stop trusting and listening, and instruct instead, sending a message of panic and spreading the feeling of distrust and even fear across the organisation. And so the spiral continues.
To make matters even worse, the environment does not slow down to give them a chance to breathe. In fact it just continues to pick up pace and thrust new and different challenges at them, or the same one’s in different guises, but faster and more regularly than in the past.
What to do about this?
- The changing facts of their relevant responsibility – not only as they see it but as their team sees it. They have to keep listening.
- The constraints, obstacles, challenges of their relevant responsibility, together with the negative perceptions their people may have at any given moment. Why? Because these impact directly on their attitude, which has a direct correlation with their performance. Again, this must be viewed not only from the leaders’ angle but his team must always be part of identifying and addressing these.
- The positive opportunities, options, strengths at their disposal, together with the positive perceptions that exist. Also for reasons of attitude, to remain sane and positively focused on solutions and even ways to miraculously leapfrog their pressured environment into proactive space where they achieve profitable movement.
- Exactly where they are leading their people to – the destiny. This must be on every agenda and always top of mind.
- The clear and relevant plan or strategy that will take them there and continually raise the believability levels of followers that they can get there.
- The relevant resources, structures needed to follow the plan towards the destiny. If this is not done structures will get out of hand, irrelevant, expensive and consume unnecessary energy that should be expended in other areas.
- The above six points need to be evaluated together with the leaders team, on a regular basis and in accordance with the pace of change of their environment
- Only when the leader feels on top of the seven points above may he adjust where relevant and even act tough appropriately where the situation requires it or people require it.
- Finally, he needs to continually focus and re-focus his team and organisation on the vision, the destiny of where they are moving to.
As we have assisted leaders to “culturise”, “habitualise” or institutionalise this crucial nine step process on all levels of their organisation, we have seen how the timing of when to refresh, revisit or tap back into it changed. A team may for example feel to do it every year or six months, but soon realise that the pace of their changing environment requires a more regular approach. They are forced to stay on top of every point every month, week or even day.
This is the reality under which leaders operate in 2013. There is no way of escaping it. If leaders do not master these nine steps they will become crises managers that mostly feel out of control and they will lose their passion, resulting in their people losing their passion, which can only move one way fast and that is nowhere – failure.
by Adriaan Groenewald: Writer, consultant and Managing Director of Leadership Platform.