Author’s Note: This is the 10th in a series of 12 articles about the mistakes we’ve made building our foundation since 1997. I’ve decided the last two articles will be a specific timeline of who we’ve connected with and what we learned specifically in our primary growth years – 2007 to the present. I hope you enjoy these articles. Feel free to contact me at any time.
My friend, Tom Rudibaugh, wondered why “passion” wasn’t listed in last month’s article as one of the nine characteristics of great leaders.
Upon reflection, I guess it’s because I’ve watched passion drive as many good leaders to ruin as it has to success.
Passion is an emotion. As such, it must be managed carefully.
Unrestrained or misdirected passion can be more destructive than constructive. A recent example is former Ohio State University football coach, Jim Tressel.
The people I know who have worked directly with Tressel insist that he is a person of high integrity. His career was not only marked by the consistent success of his teams on the field but also by the relative success of his players and coaches as students and human beings.
When he was made aware in 2009 that some players had broken NCAA rules, he did not report these violations. He chose instead to confront his players directly while not passing on the information.
The result of his decision is that he is no longer coaching at OSU and in fact is banned from coaching NCAA football for five years.
Did he take on the issues privately because he felt he could guide the players to a better course without publicly damaging their lives, as he claims? Or did he keep the situation private so that he could gain another national championship?
In either case, he was blinded by his passion. Whether sincerely for his players’ benefit or unethically for the team’s success, Tressel compromised his integrity.
And a leader without integrity is a leader who ultimately fails.
My own passion for the success of this foundation and those we serve has caused me to make many bad decisions over the years. In the early years, we didn’t have enough money to make too many stupid mistakes. We quietly identified and supported a few humble leaders who served the poor well.
But in 2007, when our resources expanded, my passion got ahead of my rational brain.
The years 2008 and 2009 were characterized by enabling many organizations, some with six-figure gifts. I was the bleeding heart who finally could “make a difference.” And yet I found success is no more rapid in foundation work than it was for me in business. And that took 19 hard years. This could take more.
Passion drove me to go too far, too fast in those first years. One such case was accepting an award and kicking off a big campaign for a micro-lender in 2009 only to find within six months that the organization was essentially bankrupt.
So, since 2010, we have planned empirically. That is, we now invest in small increments, piloting each program until we and our partners are on the same page. We filter through a process that leads to big investments only if we succeed in small ways first. The result will be fewer crimes of passion.
Failure – which we all must experience – is a great teacher.
When I was fifteen, I had a blind passion for rock and roll music. My garage rock band was everything to me. After a massive blunder, my band threw me out. It was my first experience with depression.
After a few days watching me mope around the house, my Mom, who had no gift for crafts, made a decoupage of the following quote and gave it to me. Forty-five years later, I still keep it close to me as a reminder that – successful or not – I must be careful to pursue my passions thoughtfully.
I sincerely wish you will have the experience of thinking up a new idea, planning it, organizing it, and following it to completion and having it be magnificently successful. I also hope you'll go through the same process and have something "bomb out."
I wish you could know how it feels "to run" with all your heart and lose - horribly.
I wish that you could achieve some great good for mankind, but have nobody know about it except you.
I wish you could find something so worthwhile that you deem it worthy of investing your life.
I hope you become frustrated and challenged enough to begin to push back the very barriers of your own personal limitations.
I hope you make a stupid, unethical mistake and get caught red-handed and are big enough to say those magic words "I was wrong."
I hope you give so much of yourself that some days you wonder if it is worth it all.
I wish for you a magnificent obsession that will give you a reason for living and purpose and direction in life.
I wish for you the worst kind of criticism for everything you do, because that makes you fight to achieve beyond what you normally would.
I wish for you the experience of leadership. --- Earl Reum
I wish for you passion that includes acceptance of failure…and the experience of leadership.