The longer I live, the more I am certain that the great difference between the feeble and the powerful, between the great and the insignificant is energy-invincible determination — a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory. This quality will do anything that can be done in this world.” — Sir Thomas Buxton
During the 1980s, the Milliken textile company dramatically improved its customer service, product quality, and financial performance through an intense quality improvement effort. They eventually won a national quality award in recognition of their success. To promote the improvement process, office and factory walls were plastered with quality slogans and everyone wore gold lapel pins with the word “Quality.” Very early one morning, at the height of their drive for higher quality, CEO Roger Milliken arrived ready to address a team meeting in one of the manufacturing plants coming off the night shift. The manager who met him asked, “Where’s your quality pin?” Roger looked down at his lapel, smacked his forehead, and said, “Oh my God! I must have left it on my pajamas.”
That’s either very fast thinking, or a great example of commitment to the quality improvement cause! A burning commitment to the cause is a clear hallmark of passionate and highly effective leaders. There’s no apathy. There’s no doubt about where the leader stands and where he or she is going. As the growing research on Emotional Intelligence clearly shows, a strong point of view and a burning desire to see things through is worth dozens of IQ points.
“Change management” programs of various stripes and names are very fashionable. Research continuously shows over half of them fail. Like diets and New Year’s resolutions, it’s easy to excitedly declare a bold new world and launch into a major change effort. But the real test of leadership comes 12, 18, or 24 months later. Rare is the individual, team, or organization still as intensely committed to the cause at that point, as they were in the beginning. Where there’s a successful, long-term change or improvement effort underway, you’ll always find highly committed leaders. Many people pay lip service to change. Some can even get quite passionate about the need for improvement. But only a handful make the leap from lip service to lifestyle change. There are canyon-sized gaps from saying, to doing, to being. The depth of our passion and commitment determines the intensity of our involvement.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem captures the spirit of passionate commitment found in highly effective leaders:
There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
Can circumvent or hinder or control
The firm resolve of a determined soul.
Gifts count for nothing; will alone is great;
All things give way before it, soon or late.
What obstacle can stay the mighty force
Of the sea-seeking river in its course,
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?
Each well-born must win what it deserves.
Let the fool prate of luck. The fortunate
Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves,
Whose slightest action or inaction serves
The one great aim. Why, even Death stands still,
And waits an hour sometimes for such a will.