It was August 10, 1985 at about 10 pm. The warm night air was blowing through my windows as I drove up Route 2 East and the Boston skyline burst into view. The radio was blaring “What a feeling…take your passion, and make it happen…” Wow, what kismet! After months of planning and a long day of driving from Ohio, I was finally within sight of my new home, Boston. Two years earlier, I had fallen in love with the city as I stood by the Charles River, reminiscent of the landscape of my childhood home, Pittsburgh. As I rounded the hill heading to my brother’s apartment, I was starting a new chapter in my life. Looking in the rearview mirror thirty-three years later—after building a career in leadership and organizational development, starting a 6-piece R&B band, getting married at 44, adopting a baby girl from Russia, and launching a consulting/coaching practice—I recognize that this pivotal moment on the road was when I made a commitment to live my values and passions in life.
Now… I’d be lying to you if I said it has always felt great or been easy. There have been a lot of potholes and flat tires along the way resulting in roll-up-your-sleeves tire changes or calls for roadside service. And there have been crossroads – tough decision-making points about which path to take. The paths I chose were not necessarily untrodden, nor did they lead to exotic lands or wildly unusual circumstances, but they were worn by definitive steps taken by my own feet.
This life course has impacted my perspective and purpose, and informs how I work with leaders. As an executive coach, I help leaders increase their clarity, commitment, capability, connection, and creativity to maximize their effectiveness. I have found that increasing these “5 Cs” also helps leaders more truly honor their values, live their passions, and contribute their greatest gifts in work and life.
How to Live and Lead with Passion and Impact
Below is what I mean by these 5 Cs, and a story of how they helped a leader live and lead with passion:
- Understand and articulate your values, purpose, vision, passions, and strengths
- Identify what you want to contribute, as well as what is expected of you by others
- Recognize the personal and/or external obstacles that can get in the way of achieving your goals
An engineering director was derailing and getting demoralized while trying to increase product sustainability. He had created a recyclable feature to address the top product criticism from customers, yet he continually faced opposition from senior leaders and peers. Through 360 assessment and executive coaching, we uncovered his strong value and passion for sustainability, as well as some of the behaviors that where getting in the way of making his product vision a reality.
- Commit to your values, purpose, vision, goals, responsibilities, relationships, and growth
- Make decisions to live with courage and integrity in honor of the above
During our candid discussions, he committed to honoring his values, harnessing his passion, setting leadership development goals, and doing the work needed to achieve them. We talked through how he could express his values/passions in a way that could be favorably heard and accepted by senior leaders and colleagues.
- Develop the knowledge, insight, skills, emotional intelligence, and experience needed to achieve your potential and contribute your greatest talents
By examining unsuccessful colleague interactions and determining where and why they had fallen off the rails, the director gained insight into a couple of negative behaviors (born of frustration) that were impacting his relationships and impeding his ability to get support for his product enhancement. He gained skills and emotional intelligence regarding how to work with others while leading innovation in an organization. He continued to hone and increase his listening and negotiating/conflict management skills as well as his interpersonal and political savvy.
- Build and maintain a positive, productive, and evolving relationship with oneself and others despite differences and challenges
- Ask for help (feedback), learn from others, and provide support in return
- Deepen existing connections and create new ones
During our coaching engagement, we talked about how building and maintaining positive relationships with others is critical to achieving results. He applied his learnings, and his relationship with himself and others improved. Ten years later, he co-founded and is leading a company whose primary mission is to create sustainable products. He has staffed his company with people with whom he has built relationships over the years, as well as new leaders who share his values, passion, and vision. Additionally, he continues to focus on his leadership development to ensure he further evolves as a values-driven, authentic, innovative, and inspiring leader.
- Generate new and different ways of doing things by being open to insights and experiences, and combining them in original ways
- Take risks, try new approaches, and be willing to make mistakes
- Work through obstacles and encourage others to do the same
During our conversations, I listened to his ideas and challenges; helped him brainstorm ways to involve others and work through obstacles; encouraged him to stay on the path of his values, passion, and vision; and supported his progress. His prototype gained traction, and his sustainable invention was eventually adopted in a new line of products. He reinvented himself as well, moving on to innovate in other organizations where he lead the redesign of production processes and the development of new products in VP and SVP roles.
How the Cycle Continues
When you gain greater clarity, commitment, capability, connection, and creativity, you are more likely to live your greatest purpose, become your best self, and do your greatest work. And when you work in organizations that resonate with your values/passions and capitalize on your strengths, everybody wins. Working in alignment gives you a seemingly endless reserve of drive and energy to overcome obstacles and achieve company, department, and individual goals. As a leader, you are also more likely to learn about your employees’ values and passions, and help them flourish in positions that capitalize on their energy and strengths. Lastly, when you make time to engage in activities you love outside of work, you replenish your reserves, and have more fuel to burn when you return. All of this positive momentum reinforces, regenerates, and perpetuates itself. It’s a virtuous cycle.
And it’s a demanding one. Living with passion requires you to consistently look at yourself honestly, be courageous, take risks, seek feedback, make adjustments, and leave some things behind. But if you do, you can look back and say you walked a true path resulting in a lot of wins and fulfillment for yourself, others, and your community.
As I flash back on my own path, I now see how ironic it was that the song on the radio during my first glimpse of the Boston skyline was the theme song from “Flashdance”—a movie about a girl from Pittsburgh making her dreams come true. And then, flashing forward 30 plus years, I think about how the other day my daughter asked me, “Mom, what did you want to be when you were a little girl?” I answered, “A teacher, coach, singer, wife and most importantly, a mother.” As I tucked her in, I realized, I am truly “livin’ the dream.”