We as a nation will not elect another President without knowing his or her stance on the role of service in this country.*
These ideas were set forth in a speech given by Alan Khazei, Founder of Be The Change, and though they might read like impassioned pleas, Khazei’s delivery was measured, steady and matter-of-fact. He was more professor-imparting-knowledge than political-candidate-persuading-the-masses. (*these are Khazei’s ideas, as I have extracted them from his speech. They are not quotes.)
In fact, Khazei didn’t seem particularly interested in convincing everyone in the room of what could or should be. He was just stating what he believed to be the truth, simple and incontrovertible. It stood to reason, then, that most of the room organized itself around the idea of service as central to the national agenda. But I wasn’t so convinced. I was new to policy, and modifying the country’s legislative priorities seemed like a pretty tall order. It was 2007 and our country was poised to elect its first female or black President; in terms of shifting the national mindset, wasn’t our plate already full? I got that Khazei was a leader in the national service movement and that he had co-founded City Year, one of the most impactful non-profits in America. What he said made sense and he spoke about the issue of service in a way that only one can when they have dedicated almost 20 years of their life to it. And I got that service was cool. It was old school, in a JFK “ask not what your country can do for you,” kind of way. As I saw it, talking about service made us feel good. Echoing words from a simpler time, “asking what you can do” allowed us to feel that maybe, just maybe, if we all pitched in and helped out we just might be able to change the country, gosh darnit. But few really bring those ideas to action in a scalable way.
I believed in the importance of service and, in fact, had devoted much of my time from a young age to service. But, with the nation at war and in the midst of an economic downturn, I didn’t feel it was our country’s highest priority.
And eventually, thanks to Alan Khazei, I came to see how wrong I was. Over the next couple of months, through my work with Be the Change and their ServiceNation campaign, I not only learned about prioritizing service, but also came to learn some things that shape the way I look at passion. This experience helped form the foundation for my company’s value – EXUDE PASSION.
Passion takes many forms. Often when people think about passionate leaders, they think of those that are charismatic and noticeable, mesmerizing those around them to follow their well-prescribed leads. But passion doesn’t have to yell, demand or even talk at all. Passion comes from who and why a person is, not how. That’s what makes it universally compelling. When a person presents his authentic self and they come from a place of truth, and when passion, purpose or cause comes from that same place of truth, it’s hard not to want to follow him. Alan didn’t emphatically implore me to believe. He didn’t romance me with rhetoric to persuade me. His honest expression of his passion and purpose hooked me. He led me to know and understand the truth, as he saw it: that the importance of service in this country went beyond its reputation for being about doing good; it was a part of the character of our country. It was essential to the health and prosperity of America as a country and the individuals in it. And anyone that we elect should and could get that.
Passion is a powerful force. When you are truly passionate you can MOVE people. Move them emotionally and move them to action in a way that they were not intending to move. I didn’t start out believing in service as central to a political platform but, before long, I was active with ServiceNation and Be The Change through their America Forward initiatives, and remained so through the election cycle. He had moved me to give my support and time. And I wasn’t alone, which leads me to
Passion yields resources. Even when Alan wasn’t in attendance, the room was full of the resources he had attracted. Though I hadn’t yet formed the idea of a Values-Driven Entrepreneur or the equation Passion + Principles + Purpose -> Resources, it didn’t take long working with Alan to see that passion was a resource magnet. And it didn’t take long for him to garner me as a resource. When citizenship opportunities came to my desk, I usually gave preference to others on my team who were looking for growth and leadership development. This time, my own passion was so sparked I wanted to be there with Alan and his team on the front lines.
And I was just an external resource. The real power behind organizations like Be The Change and City Year comes from its internal resources. I watched as men and women of his organization led discussions with peers and presidential hopefuls. They each conveyed Alan’s message in different ways and formats, but never wavered from their belief in its plausibility and inevitability. And each member of the organization conveyed the same passion for service that drew me here in the first place.
For better or for worse, a leader’s most profound mirror is their team. From work ethic to happiness, what we see from our teams is often indicative of what they get from us. When the people who work with you daily get to interface with your passion and are connected to their own work, they become subconscious advocates of your organization. Whether they shout it from the rooftops or state it pragmatically, when they talk about the work they do with you, they become magnets to your cause. This is what creates a multiplier effect of resources within your organization.
Passionate leaders and values-driven entrepreneurs attract (and, more importantly, should actively recruit) others who share their vision and passion for the mission. But it is up to the leader to cultivate and nurture that passion. In my earlier post, A Different Kind of Entrepreneur,I define a Values-Driven Entrepreneur as one who pursues his/her purpose to create opportunities and resources for the collective. In short, to do this is to EXUDE PASSION. Because, if you’ll notice, the opportunities and resources have to be harnessed. They may exist or they may need to be created, but the values driven entrepreneur shares a vision that leads others to connect the dots. Without Khazei’s passion, there are no supporters, there are no resources, there’s no ServiceNation and there’s certainly little hope for service as part of the national agenda.
Later that year, when then Senators McCain and Obama debated the merits of service in New York during one of their Presidential debates, I felt myself swelling with pride to just have been a small part of the vision that led to this moment. And when service was funded, when the Social Innovation Fund invested in scaling what works to improve the lives of Americans, it was done without fanfare and trumpet blaring. But it was the culmination of the passion of one leader that translated into the actions of his committed team members. And not only did I now prioritize service but I understood how prioritizing passion yields monumental change (How perfect was it that, through service, I came to gain this understanding).
As the leader of my own organization now, I am even more conscious of how my passion impacts my team, how the passion of my team impacts the work of our company and how our collective passion will help or hinder us in the pursuit of change.
Since most values driven entrepreneurs are also trying to leverage their passion and that of their team to tackle big problems, I thought I’d share some questions I ask myself when checking-in on the EXUDE PASSION value. I know that how I answer these questions will probably have a direct impact on the results of my organization.
- As a leader, what are the stories I tell about the company?
- If a team member strikes up a conversation with a stranger on a plane, what personal story would they convey about ourorganization? Is it a story I would be proud of? Why or why not?
- When my customers interact with my team, what impression do they have of our organization?
- Is it the impression I had hoped for? If not, what opportunities have I provided to inspire my team to communicate from an authentically passionate place?
- What are the resources we need to be successful in the long term?
- Does my team know what those resources are and do they feel empowered to leverage their networks to make this a reality?
Though I don’t believe you can coach a person to be passionate about something for which they don’t truly feel passion, I do feel it is my responsibility as a leader and values-driven entrepreneur to spark, exemplify and nurture the passion I want to see in my team. In my experience, so many people are looking for purpose, it isn’t just a luxury to find meaningful work, it’s a necessity. And, as is the case with values-driven entrepreneurship, it is up to me to create the space and opportunities for people to feed their families as well as their souls.