The story is told that a dispassionate young man approached the Greek philosopher, Socrates and casually stated: “O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.”

The philosopher took the young man down to the sea, waded in with him, and then dunked him under the water for thirty seconds. When he let the young man up for air, Socrates asked him to repeat what he wanted.

“Knowledge, O great one,” he sputtered. Socrates put him under the water again, only that this time, it was a little longer. After repeated dunkings and responses, the philosopher asked, “what do you want?” The young man finally gasped: “Air. I want air!”

“Good,” answered Socrates. “Now, when you want knowledge as much as you wanted air, you shall have it.”

There are no two ways about it. If you want anything badly enough, then you will find the willpower to achieve it. The only way to have that kind of desire and willpower is to develop passion.

We have been made to know that whenever anything fires our soul, impossibilities vanish. I am particularly surprised how we under-rate the power of passion. A sociologist, Tony Campolo, observed: “We are caught up at a particular stage in our national ethos in which we’re not only materialistic but worse than that; we’re becoming emotionally dead as people. We don’t sing, we don’t dance, we don’t even commit sin with much enthusiasm.”

If you look at the lives of successful individuals, you will find that they often don’t fit into a stereotypical mold. For example, more than 50 percent of all CEOs in the country had C or C- averages in higher institutions. Nearly 80 percent of all Nigerian presidents were in the bottom half of their classes. And more than 65 percent of all millionaire entrepreneurs never went to higher institutions or never finished. What makes it possible for people who might seem ordinary to achieve great things? It is passion. Nothing can take the place of passion in their lives.

For you to achieve anything in life, passion must come first. Think of great leaders, and you will be struck by their passion: Zik for one Nigeria, Gandhi for human rights, Churchill for freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. for equality, Bill Gates for technology, Mother Teresa for service to the poor, Robert W. Woodruff for Coke on every table, etc. These men live beyond ordinary lives and have great desires.

Call it passion, commitment, or conviction. Whatever the name, powerful leaders have it in large measures. They also insist on sharing it, constantly. Their passion is not directionless. It is sharply focused around what they want to achieve. It is concentrated and, like a laser beam, cuts through objections, obstacles and negativity. It is hard to say no to someone who cares so strongly about something and difficult to resist being drawn into their vision and becoming engaged.

In business, it is now more acceptable to talk of commitment or conviction than a decade ago. Effective leaders soon learn that it is passion that moves people to support them, not appeal to logic or a recital of facts and figures.

For anyone wanting to be an effective leader, the good news is that when you have found your passion, you have a technique of immense power. The bad news is that you have to really care. It cannot be faked. People somehow know when your passion is forced.

As a leadership tool, passion is commonly misunderstood as meaning a ranting, excessive emotional appeal that sets many people’s teeth on edge. The passion that truly works is when you are emotionally connected to what you want to happen. When you make that connection, you sound convincing and others find their emotions engaged too.

Passion can add juice to anything. It can turn any challenge into a tremendous opportunity. It is unbridled power to move our lives forward at a faster tempo than ever before. William Hazlitt said: “A strong passion for any object will insure success, for the desire of the end will point out the means.”

In his book, Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins suggested you use your physiology: speak more rapidly, visualize images more rapidly, move your body in the direction you want to go. According to him, “It is passion that causes people to stay up late and get up early. It’s passion that helps relationships flourish. Passion gives life power, energy and meaning. There is no greatness without a passion to be great, whether it’s the aspiration of an athlete or an artist, a scientist, a parent or a businessman.”

Start by listing your passion. Many of us run away from strong emotions and then wonder why others find us boring or unconvincing. When you use your passion, you are also vulnerable since you are sharing with others what really matters to you. Passionate leaders are unafraid to let their feelings come through. You can only expect to move others if you are willing to be moved yourself. Denis Diderot remarked: “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”

Passion in leadership is about first becoming absolutely convinced of the importance of what you want to happen and then being totally willing to share that strong feeling with others. According to Cynthia Kersey in her book, Unstoppable: “When you’re passionate about what you do, it’s not just the destination that matters, but the entire journey. From beginning to end, the journey is an adventure.”


NB: First published August 2014

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