Nurturing a Passionate Organization

Date:   Wednesday , February 28, 2007

More than anywhere else, those of us in Information Technology industry use the terms ‘Leaders’ and ‘Managers’ more often. In fact, ironically in our industry “leaders become managers as they gain more experience!” The root cause of most of the problems we face with respect to decreasing employee engagement can be attributed to the increasing emphasis on managing people rather than leading people. Let me clarify. I have no intention to bring about the good-old debate on management versus leadership here.

You can lead Passion, but you can only manage Lethargy:
All that my experience tells me is that “you can lead passion, but you can only manage lethargy!” Simply translated, you need to be a leader to create a passionate organization. You cannot do it as a manager, no matter how good you may be. And now comes the good news: all of us have the potential to become good leaders! Good leaders are not born any more than good violinists are.

The truth about Managing People:
To become a manager in many organizations is to opt for a career in babysitting. And the organizations look like layered obedience schools. Preparation for becoming and being a manager involves training managers to manage people with three things: Policy Manual, Job Descriptions and Performance Appraisals.

We are living in times when we cannot even guarantee that people will show up for work the next day, leave alone working at their very best, being creative and worrying about making a difference to the team and the organization they are part of. Welcome to the world of ‘free agents’.

Management, of course, is a necessary function in any organization. But the truth is often misunderstood. Management makes sense as it relates to our own work, but rarely makes sense to try to manage someone else. Let us look at some real truths:
* You never hear anyone say that they need to be managed more
* No intelligent person needs to be managed. They make decisions relating to their career, family, friends and financial issues day in and day out
* Management is more limiting than expansive; it is about more and more do’s and don’ts rather than expanding one’s horizons and capacity
* Most of the times, management eventually degenerates into micro management

Spiritual Leadership to create a Passionate Organization:
A lot has been written about passion at work. The more we understand the importance of passion for creating a winning and customer-focused organization, the more we will appreciate the fact that passion can be squelched, but it cannot be beaten. Passion may not be quantified, but it can however be released.

Passionate leaders recognize that most people want to make a difference and leave a legacy. The worst feeling for most people is: “Well, we were there but that did not matter.” It just takes a lot of what James Lucas calls as “Spiritual Leadership” to create a truly passionate organization. Lucas also talks of ‘seven pillars of spiritual leadership’ All of us as people managers/leaders can learn a lot from these pillars and start to practice them with amazing results: a passionate team, function and an organization.

Pillar 1: Spiritual Leaders are focused on others first and themselves second. Relationships are key to passion.
Pillar 2: Spiritual Leaders are focused on Organizational success than personal ambition. They are like a rising tide lifting all the boats.
Pillar 3: Spiritual Leaders are able to articulate people’s dreams. They know when they are talking people’s dreams; they talk more than their language.
Pillar 4: Spiritual Leaders are willing to give guidance but avoid taking control. They implicitly understand that people can be guided to greatness but not controlled to greatness.
Pillar 5: Spiritual Leaders are willing to champion causes or needs.
Pillar 6: Spiritual Leaders have integrity in words and actions in all phases of their lives. They know the difference between character, which is what they do in dark and reputation, which is an ephemeral commodity not under their control.
Pillar 7: Spiritual Leaders have a balance of Confidence and Humility. They are marked by their sense of Pilgrimage and do not think they have arrived.

Spiritual leadership is not easy; but then so is creating a Passionate Organization. Good news is that we do see amongst us an increasing breed of spiritual leaders that focus on most of the pillars listed above. When you cultivate these qualities and exhibit them at work, you don’t have to worry about attrition and employee engagement. They are a natural outcome.