One of my management principles is “passion for the mission is not optional.” To me, it’s critical that people believe in what we’re doing. In fact, I think the whole team believing in the mission is more important than having the exact right skills on the team. Culture eats strategy and passion beats talent.
In the book “Starts With Why” Simon Sinek tells the story of Samuel Pierpont Langley. You’ve probably never heard of Langley but in the 1890’s and early 1900’s he wanted to be the first man to fly an airplane. Langley was very well connected, with access to the best technology and the brightest minds of the day. He even received a $50,000 grant from the War Department (~$1.5M in today’s dollars).
At the same time and not very far way, Orville and Wilbur Wright were working on their own airplane. The Wright brothers didn’t have much money and didn’t have very good materials. Famously, they worked out of a bicycle shop. You could also make the case they didn’t have as much talent as the Langley team; no one working with the Wright brothers had a college education.
Since you’ve heard of the Wright brothers, you know how this story ends: On December 17, 1903 they were the first to fly an airplane.
So, how did the Wright brothers succeed against a better-funded and a more talented team? According to Sinek, the difference was passion. The Wright brothers “were able to inspire those around them and truly lead their team to develop a technology that would change the world.” Their passion was so intense that “it inspired the enthusiasm and commitment of a dedicated group in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio.”
It’s not just experts and inventions that follow this pattern. We recognize it from our own work history. Think about how you feel when you work on a project you love and for a boss who motivates you. You work harder and for more hours. You’re not doing the minimum to get by. It’s not just a job: it’s a passion.
Passion matters. Passionate leaders tend to surround themselves with passionate people. And passionate teams have more impact because they think and act exponentially.
Archimedes said “give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the whole world.” In that vein, I would say:
Give me a passionate team committed to a common mission and anything is possible.