Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Leadership Passion Without Attachment to the Outcome?

I posted the following question on LinkedIn on Sunday because I was genuinely seeking comments and thoughts from other leaders, particularly those in groups that are character-based groups.  The question was – “Pondering whether you can be a great leader if you are personally attached to the outcome.” 

I had made a statement earlier in the week to another leader that I wasn’t upset when people share their thoughts and ideas, or even if they push back a bit, because I wasn’t attached to the specifics of the outcome.  The response I received implied that I couldn’t be a good leader if I wasn’t attached.  Of course, I was taken aback by this, and wanted to know if others thought the same way I did. 

First of all, thank you to all of you who weighed in on the topic.  I’m hoping this post will generate more dialogue, and we can continue collaborating on this. 

Of the responses I received, 21% agreed that you can’t lead without being attached to the outcome, and 64% agreed that you shouldn’t be attached, the remainder said “it depends”.


Two-thirds of those that said you can’t lead without being attached to the outcome were from non-profit organizations, where the cause is the passion, and the leaders within the organization often have a personal reason for being there.  The other third stated that they “didn’t know how you can be a great leader if you’re NOT personally attached to the outcome.   The best leaders take responsibility for and are accountable for the results their team creates.”

The greatest majority responded with similar thoughts as mine, and hopefully this will spark some more conversation.  Here are some of the comments:

  • I wouldn’t necessarily use the terms “personally attached” but rather “committed to a successful outcome.”  When the leader or contributors fall in love with a product, service or solution, it may damage or impose process issues, and often overlooks gaps in the system causing some failure or alienation of those contributing.
  • You can be a great leader without being personally attached to the outcome.  When you lead people through a process, it will move them along on their own journey.  The goal for the leader is not outcome related… I believe the leader must have an intention that is not results oriented but process oriented… This doesn’t mean the end result is less.
  • You CAN be committed to success, outcomes, and profit without emotional attachment. Compassion can be real and you can give it your “all” without being attached to the outcome. . .  If the expected outcome does not materialize then we have an opportunity to flow into something that may be purposeful, more meaningful or just plain great.
  • If the leader benefits to the detriment of one’s followers, then they are not great.  However, if you define “personally attached” as feeling responsible for and invested in a positive outcome, then great leadership is almost a given.  I say almost because if one gets too caught up in the outcome, taking it all too personally, then one’s leadership skills are likely to suffer in the process, decreasing one’s effectiveness.
  • I think the leader does not and probably should not be “attached” to the “outcome” but committed and passionate about the direction.  The specific outcome may change for good reasons.  Being attached to a specific outcome could get in the way as the need to consider a different or better outcome arises.
  • I think having a personal attachment to the process is essential for leadership.  It’s easy to become consumed and lose perspective if over-attached to the outcome, rather than the process. . . If, as a leader I focus on the process, I’m more likely to lead with integrity and honor those I’m leading.
  • No outcomes and decisions should be considered personal. Everything is for the long-term benefit of the entity. Especially with true collaboration. Plus, when you have a culture of experimentation without fear of failure, then all outcomes (no matter what) are not considered “attached” to anyone. Instead they are team learning events in the continuum of continual improvement.

In the maybe, people were looking at both sides of the conversation:

  • The first important distinction must be made between long term and short term outcomes.  All leaders must be personally attached/committed to the long term goals and outcomes, to compliance with company values and to a set of personal values.  In contrast, the attachment to the short term goals and challenges is subject to each leader’s discretion choice of leadership style in a given situation.  If as a leader I choose a coaching approach, detachment from precise outcomes is crucial.  However if I choose a corrective intervention, I may at times be very attached to a particular outcome or change of behavior.
  • As with many issues it depends on the degree of attachment/detachment.  Sometimes an added personal passion can make a huge difference to a successful outcome.  In other cases a degree of objective neutrality and being open to the possibility of having to walk away can also be key.  Personal attachment can be a problem.

Additional comments:

  • The problem I see today is that there is too much selfishness on the part of those running the companies. They have no concern as to how their decisions will affect those that work for them. There is a great disconnect within the companies today and it needs fixing if we are to move forward.
  • Are you asking about CEO’s who gain by moving the stock price but cannibalize the organization in the process?

My Thoughts

Simply put, I don’t think you can be a great leader if you ARE committed to the specifics of the outcome to the exclusion of the thoughts and ideas of your team, your co-workers, your customers or your suppliers.   One of the biggest issues today’s leaders face is that many are working under the big assumption that they are always right or that they are on top of everything there is to know.  Hence, we have “constructive” criticism, performance reviews that concentrate on developing your weaknesses, and concentrated efforts to push through projects with detailed specifics given to individuals to implement without input.

I believe a great leader is committed to the process.  The process of trusting everyone on your team to have valuable input, to put their best ideas forward, and working together to improve the specifics in order to create the best outcome possible.  This process is augmented by having open and honest conversation that sparks deep thinking and creative solutions.  This occurs because individuals trust each other, allowing them to put their differences on the table, and encourages back and forth dialogue. These two leadership practices build commitment to a common purpose and vision, ultimately leading to accountability and results – which is where the leader’s commitment should be focused, while staying open to the flexibility needed due to the constant summons of the need for transformation.  Without this process in place, a person is in a place of power, but may never be a leader in the purest definition of the word.

I don’t think I’m stepping outside the bounds of the non-profit world.  Having been deeply committed to my own causes for over twenty years, I understand the passion and the deep personal attachment to a vision.  These are very powerful, and often help inspire followers, but don’t necessarily lead to solid leadership without the above process in place.

Please continue the conversation.  I welcome all thoughts.  I am committed to the process of learning leadership best practices, knowing that there is not one right answer, least of all my answer.  There are many more people who know far more than I do – and I’m inviting you to contribute.

People who have contributed to this post – Mike Henry, Sr. , Joseph Mullin, Jen Kuhn, Anne Perschel, Dorothy Dalton, Zoe Dawes, Karin Zastrow, Mercedes Warrick, Connie Dunn, Florence Tandy, Jim Holland, Wendy Harless, Jenna DeAngelis, Jay Steinfeld, and Daniel Buhr.  Thank you for your thoughts, and your insight. 

Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator.  She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner.  Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.  You can also find Georgia on her website, Collaborative Transitions, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.   Georgia may also be reached at (402) 304-1902 if you wish to schedule a 30 minute complementary consultation.

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3 Responses to “Leadership Passion Without Attachment to the Outcome?”
  1. Georgia,

    Fantastic article! I appreciate this work from many different angles. Most of all, I appreciate your willingness to continue the dialogue, setting an example for all of us in what it looks like to be unattached to the outcome.

    Here’s how I mentor and coach my clients: there is a difference between attachment and intention. As human beings we swing like a pendulum between these two. Many factors affect our ability to hold an intent and a vision while simulataneously being unattached to the specifics of the outcome. Knowing where we each are in the pendulum swing is the mark of our own wisdom. Be well, Kelleen

    • Georgia says:

      Kelleen: I like the analogy of the pendulum, and the knowing that indicates the level of awareness and wisdom. Thanks for sharing. I’m happy to see you here, and hope you stop by more often.



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