The Man With the Greatest Leadership Challenge

I spent most of the Thanksgiving holiday in the woods – in the “boonies” to be more precise – and my extended family spent a lot of time sitting around a very large, rustic, dining room table just talking and enjoying our time together.  So, in anticipation of the #LeadershipChat topic for this week – the importance of passion in leadership – I asked those gathered at breakfast one morning who they thought of when I said, “Passionate leader.”

I was expecting to hear names like Lincoln and Jefferson coming from the adults at the table.  Instead, the first to respond was a wise 12 year-old, who said without much thought, “the Pope.”

“Wow, that’s interesting that you say that…” was my immediate response, followed by, “Why do you say the Pope?”  She responded, “Because he has so many followers and it’s such an old religion that it’s easy for people to stop believing.  He has to be a strong leader to keep the religion from falling.”

Now, regardless of your religion and how accurate you believe her statement might be, I thought she may have actually hit on something insightful that had never occurred to me before when thinking about the Pope: 

He may be the only leader on the planet charged with making more than one billion followers believe, with their hearts, in the mission and vision of the organization he leads.  For him as a leader, his greatest challenge is the responsibility to nurture his follower’s belief in, and commitment to, the organization.  Results aren’t nearly as important given that imperfection (sin) is not only expected, it’s the norm. 

It’s possible to work for organizations without believing in the mission and vision of the leader.  I’ll posit it’s very difficult to do so and to be effective in your role, but it is possible.  It’s also possible to live in a country and completely disagree with everything your leader espouses.  Again, difficult and surely frustrating but possible, and millions on the planet live like this.

On the contrary, following the Pope is voluntary; it’s not possible to follow the Pope as a Catholic and not believe in the church’s mission.  Given this, and given the difficulties faced by the Church in recent years, allow me to suggest that the Pope has the greatest leadership challenge of all.  So, how does he address it?

The only answer is passion.

The Pope, as we all know, devotes his life to the church – to her teachings and to her followers.  Passion, as defined by the dictionary to include powerful or compelling emotion, strong love and great enthusiasm, must be at the core of his commitment to his role and to his “company,” the Church.  Add to this that the central event of Christianity, Christ’s crucifixtion and the events leading up to it, are referred to as the Passion…  Passion is – very simply – at the center of the religion and of its leader.

Notwithstanding the religious and political aspects of his role, is this example of passionate leadership as set by the Pope the model that we should aspire to as leaders? And if we aspire to it, will it make us better, more effective, inspirational leaders?

Here’s what I think: I think we can be effective, and in many ways successful, leaders without bringing passion to our roles.  I think many leaders in business today are examples of this, and I work with a number of them.

Having said that, I don’t think we honor ourselves by being in leadership roles for which we have no passion. We don’t honor ourselves, the power we’re giving to create magnificent lives, and we don’t honor our followers.

I believe passion for your role, for your vision and for the organization you’re leading must be a central, defining attribute for a leader. 

What do you think? PLEASE JOIN Steve Woodruff and me on Tuesday night, November 30th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Twitter for #LeadershipChat where we’ll discuss the importance of passion in leadership.  Bring your insights and please don’t be afraid to share – we learn so much from each other every Tuesday evening!

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Photo is Pope Benedict XVI by Jari Kurittu.


  1. The quote “it’s easy for people to stop believing” really stuck out.

    Humans like living in comfort zones. Comfort zones minimize our motivation and lead us to take things for granted. Starting down this slippery slope will surely disconnect us from what is important to us (CARES). Ultimately, we lose what ever passion we may have had.

    Passionate leaders find ways to bust through their comfort zones and stay connected to their vision and CARES.

    People like working in organizations that care about them. They will follow leaders who operated from their CARES. They will disconnect quickly from leaders who don’t.
    David McGraw´s last blog post ..Learning from the unexpected

    • David,

      I think you’re right. And what really resonated with me was your comment about how people like working in organizations that care about them. That’s such a truism.

      Thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts here – I sincerely appreciate it!


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