One of the things that is so frequently demanded of leaders is passion. We want our leaders to have a passion about their vision, for success, to deliver results and to care about the purpose of their organisation and its people. It is the passionate leader whose heart is really in it, not just their head, who cares deeply about working for the higher purpose of their organisation and, in doing so, brings others along with them.
The popularity of servant leadership is testament to how motivating it can be to work towards a higher purpose, about which everyone in the organization cares deeply. This purpose is in the DNA of the organization. It is the culture and the very fabric of it, and many leaders are able to convey their passion for this higher purpose and unite people in a collective understanding of its direction, mission and values.
Modern leadership also sees an increasing focus on ethics, and how important it is to be ethical in our decision-making, to run a responsible organisation and to speak out when we see unethical behaviour. The Institute of Leadership & Management recognizes that challenging is a key component of great leadership. It is the ability to ask a question about the value or truth of a decision and when decisions are not immediately reconsidered, having the determination to keep on with that challenge. But what about when there is only one moment, one opportunity to make you point, or the moment is lost.
Rafael Nadal of Spain argues a call during play against Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men’s final during the NASDAQ-100 Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 3, 2005 in Key Biscayne, Florida. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Serena Williams was in that very position in this year’s final of the U.S. Open and although we all claim to admire passion, heart-felt commitment and the strength to challenge when we see wrong doing, when Williams displayed these qualities in her objection to Carlos Ramos’ accusation that she was cheating, she was harshly criticized. Her response, seen by some as hysterical, could equally be interpreted as passionate, heartfelt and demonstrating her determination to challenge wrongs.
Despite our yearning for passionate leaders we also ask that they are cool, calm and measured – or perhaps is it that we particularly require our female leaders to be so? A reaction characterized as hysterical in Williams, may have been considered outspoken or courageous from Djokovic or Nadal. As with the practice of leadership everywhere, context is key and a grand slam tennis final is a very particular environment, so while we may not approve of Williams’ actions, the incident highlights the downside of passion, and the negative response women managers may invoke when they are ‘too passionate.’
However, remaining composed and unruffled when confronted with ethical wrongs makes it very difficult to muster the energy required to speak out and challenge when it is necessary. So here we have a modern leadership dilemma; almost a trap we have created for our leaders. We find ourselves in the impossible position of being required to speak out against wrong, to be passionate about our purpose but also to be somehow measured and calm in how we challenge what we consider to be wrong decisions.
By Kate Cooper
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