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​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: The Leader’s Greatest Gift (Part 1)

November 25, 2020
​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: The Leader’s Greatest Gift (Part 1)

This week we’re starting a new two-part series on The John Maxwell Leadership Podcast! In this series John talks about what he calls the leader’s greatest gift––passionate commitment.

He discusses the individual importance of passion and commitment, then describes the potential for transformation when these two leadership characteristics are combined.

In the application portion of part one, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow discuss maintaining passion during tough times, what happens when you allow your passion to rest on someone else’s commitment, and how the two characteristics depend on each other in leadership.

Our BONUS resource for this series is The Leader’s Greatest Gift Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.


Mark Cole:       Hey, welcome again to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. I'm really excited about today because John today is going to talk about the leader's greatest gift. He says it's passion, it's commitment, but it's really Passionate Commitment. And I'm excited about this lesson for two reasons. One, John is going to add tremendous value to you on the podcast today. But secondly, when John is done with his teaching, I am joined today with my co-host, Traci Morrow. And those of you that already know Traci, you already know this is example A of passion. Those of you that don't know Traci, you will get to hear her passion coming out as we give you application and illustration on John's lesson.

So as usual, if you would like to download the Bonus Resource button, you can go to Click on the Bonus Resource button, download the worksheet and join John as he teaches today part one of The Leader's Greatest Gift. Here's John Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  Do you know why I like college ball more than professional ball? It's very simple, passion. In fact, I've come to the conclusion I think I take passion over ability. I think I would rather watch somebody a little less competent with a lot more passion. And I'm setting this up because in a moment I'm going to talk to you about the leader's greatest gift, passion and commitment, and we're going to put them together. So let me just talk to you briefly a little bit about passion, a little bit about commitment. Then let's join them and marry them and see why it happens to be the leader's greatest gift. Let's talk about passion first. Let me give you some statements about passion.

Number one, followers need passionate leaders. Followers need passionate leaders. It's a need of those that follow to have a leader that has a passion in his or her life. People are instructed by reason, but they are inspired by passion. Followers need passionate leaders. Point number two, passion is the birthplace of a dream. Where does a dream become birthed out of passion? Passion turns a dreamer into a doer. When I see a person that has a dream but doesn't accomplish anything, you know what? I know they don't have any fuel in their car. They're not going anywhere. And the fuel is passion. It's passion that causes you to get up and sacrifice, and pay the price, and do what others are unwilling to do.

You see, it's passion that almost always separates the person who accomplishes something from the person who doesn't. It's the birthplace of a dream. Number three, passion ensures resolve. You see, it's an internal motivation to keep us going when the external rewards begin to drop out of sight. Passion is something inside of us. It's internal and it allows us to keep on going when the odds are stacked up against us. Now that's what passion does, but let's talk a moment about commitment. I was sitting in the lobby of a large office that had five doors, it had five doors entrances into the lobby and into this large building.

What was interesting is one of the doors was open and four of them were closed. And I watched with great interest as the majority of the people went through the open door, even waiting in line for the door open instead of just going over and opening a door for themselves. And as I saw, I thought how true it is to human nature. Most people lack commitment and energy. My friend Nancy Dornan says, "The longest distance between two points is a shortcut." So let's talk about commitment. Let me read to you a paragraph from The Life of Michelangelo whose career as a sculptor and painter wasn't handed to him on a silver platter. Listen to these words. "Although he possessed great talents, his accomplishments and fame came only after he invested himself to the point of physical exhaustion.

Michelangelo spent ears lying flat on his back on a scaffold, painting the fresco in the Sistine Chapel. By the time he completed this magnificent project, he was virtually blind from the paint that had dripped in his eyes." Now that's commitment. Because Michael Angelo was willing to invest in himself, his creations have been admired for more than four centuries. And that's why the greatest gift that leaders give themselves and others is commitment with passion. Here's why I have to link them together. Commitment without passion is focus without fuel. Isn't that true? And passion without commitment is heart without backbone. Don't you see you have to have them both? Commitment with passion will allow you to become a leader. Why? Because passion has influence value.

Now, you know that I teach that leadership is influence. I said earlier, I'm going to say it again, passion has influence value. I'm asking all the time, people say, "Well, John, how do I develop influence in my life? How do I gain more influence? If leadership is influence, I want to have more influence." Well, here's what I want you to know. Passion has influenced value. If you want to increase the level of your influence, increase the level of your passion. Passionate people influence us. Passionate people draw us to them. I've known people of passion who had views that I didn't even agree with, but I sense myself drawn to them because I love their conviction and I loved their fire. And I loved their belief in what they were saying. I love that. Okay.

Now why is Passionate Commitment a leader's greatest gift? What makes a leader that's filled with commitment and filled with passion a great gift to society, a great gift to the people that he or she leads? Okay. Let me give you some reasons. Number one, it is the foundation of every great movement. In fact, in your notes, Isaac Burrow said, "Nothing of weight or worth can be achieved with half a mind, with a faint heart, and with a lame endeavor." You see, Passionate Commitment, that's an ingredient you see in leaders. That's an ingredient you see in those found organizations. Passionate Commitment, it is absolutely the foundation for every great movement. You've never found a movement began, an organization began by someone that lacked Passionate Commitment.

Statement number two. I would say it's not only the making of an organization, which we've just talked about, number two, it is the making of every great leader. What I'm saying to you is, it's the making of the leader. It's the making of the man. It's the making of the woman. It's the making of an organization. You don't get organizations with apathy. You don't build great people with a take it or leave it attitude. Passionate Commitment, you see it in the lives of every great leader. What Passionate Commitment does for you, it's very simple. When you have it and face the problem, you ask, "How can I fix it?" When you don't have it and face a problem, you ask, "How can I get out of this?"

Huh? Now let me confess something here to you for a moment. If you would have known me when I was a teenager, you would have never thought I would teach on Passionate Commitment. Now I've got an older brother, you would think he would talk about commitment. He worked hard, went to school, studied, had an extra job, had a couple jobs, saved money, bought cars. But the second boy, John, I just goofed on. I didn't work when I needed the money. I borrowed it from him. My sister is seven years younger, when she'd get her allowance, I'd borrow from her. If she didn't have it, I'd go see mom when dad wasn't around and she gave me money. You know what I wanted to when I was a kid? All I wanted to do is be with my friends, have parties and play ball. That was it.

And in the whole process, I can remember going to my very first church. When I went to my very first church, I didn't have Passionate Commitment, what I really wanted to do is just hang around with the people and relate with the people. In my first year, I went through a process of brokenness and I came through that experience with passion. And I came through that experience with commitment. Now I'm not trying to be mystical. And I'm not saying that you all have to go through that type of experience. All I want you to know is that as I look back at my former life, I can promise you this. I would have never been where I am today unless Passionate Commitment became a part of my life.

And when it did, when it did, when my heart began to fill with fire, when my heart began to fill with resolve that I was going to accomplish this and I was going to get it done. And when I started reading the books, and I began to see other leaders and see that this was a quality I had in my life, it was a quality that I coveted, it was a quality that I asked God to give me. And what I say in the story is very simple. And that is that I share that with you because you may be sitting there and you may say, "Well, I'm kind of apathetic about life and I'm kind of easy come easy and easy go." All I want you to know is that you can get cured. The happiest person in life is a person that loves what they're doing until it's a passion in their life.

And a happiest person in life is a person that believes in what they're doing to the place it becomes a commitment in their life. This is a leadership lesson. What happens when it gets into your life, it starts to get into the lives of those that are around you. Doesn't this make sense? I'm telling you, when you see somebody on fire, there's something about it that you just want to get around it. I told you the story of my first church about not being passionate until going through the brokenness. The church began to have an incredible renewal after I caught on fire. And one of the happiest days of my life literally was the day that I received a letter where it said, "John Maxwell," and had the Hilham church's name there.

And then underneath of it in parenthesis had, "The church that's on fire." And I thought, yes, that's what I want to be known for. Bill Purvis, one of my friends in Southern Georgia said, "If you do what you can with what you have, where you are, then God won't leave you where you are. And he will increase what you have." That is powerful. Isn't it? I had lunch with Dr. Gerald Dooley. And Gerald was talking to me and he was saying, "I've been through a lot." And he's an incredible man. He's very articulate. He's very sharp. That's what he is. And I said, "Well, what do you mean you've gone through a lot?" And he said, "Well," he said, "I was a friend of Martin Luther King's." He said, "I've been in jail with him many times. So I know what it's like to be beaten."

He said, and he went through all this stuff. He's gone through it, but you know what? He looked at me and he said it. He said it so much like a veteran. And he smiled. He says, "All those things I've been through," he said, "Those were good for me to go through." He said, "I've learned a lot, young man." I like anybody who calls me young man. He said, "I've learned a lot, young man about passion and commitment."

Traci Morrow:  Well, what a cliffhanger. He leaves us halfway through but with plenty to digest. Mark, I'm so excited to go through this with you.

Mark Cole:       Yeah. Traci, it's funny because in the opening introduction comments today, I talked about your passion. I like to call mine redheaded passion. I've just got out of a leadership meeting literally. I was late joining you by Zoom in our broadcast studio today because I just had a hour long meeting that lasted an hour and 40 minutes with my team. And that's because, I'm blaming it not on that I'm long-winded, I'm blaming it on passion. But you lead with passion and John leads with passion. It's really an incredible important part of leadership, isn't it?

Traci Morrow:  I absolutely agree. And you know what, every time I listen to John, gosh, I am just so encouraged in the areas where I am still weak. And so I love the way that he broke this down into passion and then commitment, and then the two of them together. And so let's just dive right in to the passion part of it. Like you said, I think I would describe myself as a passionate person, but again, hearing John talk about how he was as a kid growing up, I can say a hearty amen to that. That was me. I was a passionate person, but man, the first second it got a little bit hard or a little bit boring, or a little bit whatever, I was peacing out because I was going, it wasn't fun anymore for me.

And so I definitely, when he talked about having heart without backbone, that was definitely something that stood out to me right off the top of it. And thankfully, we continue to grow and evolve and become better and better and we can actually grow a backbone.

Mark Cole:       You know what's funny, so John asks this question all the time. What's a favorite quote that you heard from a leader and why is it your favorite quote? And I have several of those, but one is from my mom who used to always tell me, "Mark, anything worth doing is worth doing with passion." And I agree with that. And my mom's extremely passionate. She's 91, to this day she has all this passion in her. I have a lot of passion. But I thought as John was teaching today, because I've heard him teach on passion. I've watched him model passion. A lot of times people get passion and joy, or passion and excitement, or passion and enthusiasm confused.

And while I do think in many cases they're synonymous, I do think there's a difference in passion because I believe like you were just saying, I believe that real passion and we hadn't gotten to commitment yet, but I believe that real passion that John is talking about will drive you to commitment on the things you know you were placed on earth to do. There's people that look at my life and they go, "Man, that is a hard life you're living." And I go, what? This is easy. This is easy because I'm in my passion, a lot of times passion makes what other people consider difficult extremely easy for the person that is passionate about that calling.

Traci Morrow:  That's right. And I love that you brought that up because I have a question for you and you're always so transparent with all of us. And I love that. And you've shared how in the past, before you worked for John, you were in a position that you weren't really comfortable in or that didn't end well as you would describe it. And so in that previous position, Mark, more than 20 years ago, you are the same guy. You're the same guy who's walking this planet, but you yourself has changed. And so I'm just curious, what is it, a purpose thing or a commitment thing for old Mark pre John Maxwell world that kind of was where you've personally fell short?

Mark Cole:       Well, I think it really was both. I think it probably started though to deteriorate on the commitment side. Things that I committed to as an internal leader, I began to shortcut and to lose passion for the internal commitment of being bigger on the inside than the outside. And I think a lot of times to this lesson and certainly to your question, I think a lot of times that we, I don't know if you lose it first with passion like you asked or commitment, but I know that once you lose one, the other is in extreme jeopardy. So if there're some things you committed to in your current assignment, Leaders Podcast listeners, and you're starting to take shortcuts as Nancy Dornan said when John quoted her, "The longest distance between two points is a shortcut."

If you're starting to take shortcuts on your commitment, your passion is next. And you're going to stand up and pretend that you have passion, but it is not what you feel on the inside. And so for years there in my late 20s, Traci, I would stand in front of people and learn how to fake passion because passion was needed. But because commitment had eroded for so long, passion became more of a show than a real internal source of that passion. And eventually you just lose the ability to continue to fake passion.

Traci Morrow:  Wow. I feel like that is such an honest thing to say. I feel like a lot of our podcast listeners are going to be relating to that because it is so common. However, I think sometimes when you are committed, you don't always feel passionate when it does get hard. John said, "Passion ensures resolve when external rewards go away." But it doesn't always necessarily feel exciting. What you just described there was, when you say fake it, sometimes you have to continue to reconnect. What are ways that you reconnect with your passion today when things get hard? We've had COVID, here you take over all of John's companies, his whole world. And then within hours, days, weeks, everything shuts down.

So how did you stay connected to your passion? Maybe that's leading us into the commitment part, but how did you stay connected to your passion when you probably did not feel super passionate?

Mark Cole:       Well, I think it is leaning into the commitment piece. But I'll tell you, for me, and John doesn't talk about it in this lesson, but for me, it goes back to a certainty of calling, a certainty that you are in the middle of what you were designed for, that you are experiencing why you were placed on earth. And I think when you can get that, at least for me, and I pray that every person that doesn't have that gift of certainty of calling can get it. But for me, staying in that certainty is the source of passion. Staying in that certainty is the source of commitment. I do believe, Traci, that there is a need for all of us to find the source of their passion and stick with it.

So going back to the difficulties of COVID really more than the commitment to extend John's legacy or the passion to add value to people, that I have both of those, really the source of both my commitment and my passion in the difficult times of 2020 has been a certainty of my calling. And when I'm in the certainty of my calling, failure doesn't matter because failure brings the next lesson for the next chapter of fulfilling my calling. And that is passionate for me. So even when I felt like four and a half million dollar decision on my shoulders and not having those reserves in the bank, and I'm canceling that, and I know I'm on the hook with a contract for that money, I never felt this depletion of passion.

In fact, I felt more engaged because I knew, you know what, if we miss this one, something's coming around because I know I'm in the middle of my calling.

Traci Morrow:  And we were all witnesses to that because as that was happening, you were also filming this podcast. While that was going on in the background, all of us were hearing you on the podcast with so much enthusiasm, passion, excitement even when all of that was happening. I feel like that is such a great lesson in itself because it's one thing that you talk about it in the past, but we actually had a front seat as podcast listeners to see your enthusiasm and your passion while that was happening on the background, which kind of leads into the commitment portion of it. Are you ready to go to commitment now?

Mark Cole:       I'm ready. I'm ready.

Traci Morrow:  Okay. So one of the things that he started out by saying, which I really loved is he talked about passion without commitment is heart without backbone. And commitment without passion is focus without fuel. And I feel like in my life, I've been a little bit of each of those things. When I was a kid, I feel like I was really passionate about things without a lot of backbone. And then when I started getting into the working world, I felt like almost passionate Traci went away because now I had to focus on the commitment of the job and a career. And I don't know, I'd love to hear you speak to that because I feel like we kind of, as parents, those of you who are listening in, if your kids are young, while there's still time to change the path, I think we sometimes instill in our kids, especially to go after what they're passionate about and try all these sports, and instruments, and dance classes, and art classes, and things that they might be interested in.

But when you get out of school, whether it's out of high school or out of college, or tech school or whatever it is, you got to get into your career, you start making money, and you pay for all of your responsibilities. And so I feel like sometimes we train them up to be passionate about things and then put them into a place where they need to commit to something that they may not be as passionate about. So can you talk a little bit about that to those of us parents who are raising kids? And I know you've got Macy is my youngest age. And so what can we say to people who we can hold onto both?

Mark Cole:       So let me talk about both of my kids. I love that you brought that on and there's such a relevant, last night... My wife Stephanie is out right now and I'm on dad duty and enjoying it like immensely. And so last night, Rider, my grandson who's with us, he had his last baseball game and my daughter had a varsity cheering game last night. And so I'm in the middle of both of them and watching all of this go on. And Macy is so passionate and so committed to be the best cheerleader that she can be. And she's got the body type of a flyer. And so she does really well in cheer, but yet some of her team doesn't have her commitment. And so last night she was allowing her passion to slip because of the lack of commitment in someone else.

And here's what I'll tell you on this, and this is what I told Macy last night. We'll see next game if she got it. But I said, "Macy, what's the point of cheerleading?" And she said, "To be cheerful and to be excited, and to bring joy to the crowd as good things happen or to bring the joy of the crowd up when bad things are happening." I said, "Brilliant. That's exactly right." I said, "When you see somebody that doesn't cheer a cheer exactly the way you think they should" I said, "What happens to you?" She said, "Dad, it makes me so frustrated. I just go, 'Why don't you just quit the team? Because we can be better without you.'" I said, "Well, let me ask you something. What do you think happens to the stands when they see somebody that doesn't do their thing well?"

She says, "They don't have good joy. They kind of laugh at us. They go, 'What are they down there? They don't even know what they're doing.'" I said, "Yeah. Some people probably do see that." I said, "What do you think people do when they see you get frustrated, and then after you're done fake smiling during the cheer, as soon as the cheer is over, your face gets all agitated and frustrated?" She said, "Probably the same thing." I said, "Exactly. So now let me ask you something. Do you want to stay Passionate Commitment about the purpose of cheerleading or Passionate Commitment about controlling somebody that you can't control?" And Macy at least last night had an aha moment.

Well, let me try translate that for where you and I are and what we're talking about right here. I can be committed, but if my commitment rests on somebody else's passion that I can't control, then I'm committed to the wrong thing. And I think what John is saying right here is you've got to be the internal source of your fuel and of your backbone with your own commitment and your own passion. And teaching our kids that is that it's got to be something that comes from internal. If your sources are external, you will always be influx with your passion and your commitment. And I've seen way too many leaders just like my 14-year-old struggling with their commitment and their passion based on external factors that they cannot control.

Traci Morrow:  Yeah. Fuel, fuel in the tank. And that's one of the things that we can do as parents for our kids, such a huge value add to our kids and the future leaders of this world is being a fueling station. You were a fueling station for Macy because she has passion. She has the fuel, but she was letting other people's lack of commitment drain it a little bit. And so she plugged into you, her fueling station, and we can do that for our kids. We can do that for our team. We can do that for the people around us, which I think is, it's a gift really if we view it as a gift that we can be a fueling station for someone else. So think today as you're listening to this, when you turn off this podcast, who do you need to be a fueling station for?

Who has passion and is having it drained a little bit by others' lack of commitment? But man, when you bring the two together, then he goes into, it's the foundation of every great movement. How have you seen that up close and personal with John and also in your own life, Mark?

Mark Cole:       Well, I think I've watched John, I was sharing with this the other day, we do an L2L event. You host it, Traci, and just do a phenomenal job. But I was telling some people that I have watched John through the years when he has the most difficult of news and five minutes later he has to be on stage in front of thousands of people. I've also watched him receive some of the best news, financial news that I've ever received and I delivered it to him 30 seconds before they were announcing him on stage to 10,000 people. Let me tell you something, the product, what John was on stage to do, which was to deliver meaningful information that would inspire others to become better was unchanged in either scenario. He neither got great because of great news. He never got rattled because of the difficult news.

He went on stage and he stayed passionate and committed that was predictable to what he has been all of his life. I think we as leaders have got to do that because you're going to have 2020s. You're going to have years to where you started it with vision. This is going to be the clearest year of my life. It's 2020. This has got to be a year of vision. How many people's word for the year was vision for 2020, anybody out there in podcast land, you just went, "Aw, it's obvious, I need 2020 vision." And yet it has been for many of us one of the most unsettling years that we've had. My question is, can you keep your commitment and can you keep your passion fueling you, sustaining you, supporting you, your backbone, whether it's the greatest year or the most difficult year?

And if you are only as predictable as the circumstances you're living in, your team is never going to be refueled by your passion and your commitment.

Traci Morrow:  That's one of the beautiful things about getting to see John up close and personal is getting to see those things, that he is that same person whether it's a good news situation or a bad new situation. And that's a lesson to all of us. I want to close on this. He quoted his friend, Bill Purvis, who said, "If you do what you can do with what you have, where you are, then God won't leave you where you are and he'll increase what you have." And so I think that's evident in what we've seen in John, but we have a lot of people who are not where John is at. I'm one of them, those of us in podcast land, we're listening and we're saying, "Hey, we do have a big vision for 2020 and beyond to be a part of a movement of something that we're passionate about.

Being a part of changing our world with John's book that's going to be coming out, and being a part of what that actually means at a time when it is so relevant." But what kinds of, let's leave, before we go to next week and... Give us something to chew on this week as we leave. What kinds of thoughts, Mark, did you think way back when you were making calls for John, starting out with John, remembering back to Mark of those days who had a dream in his heart, passion, committed to John and what John was doing, but in a job that, or a position that you didn't feel was the highest level you thought you were capable of but weren't sure where you were going. What were some of the thoughts that you thought, some of the things that you ran through your head, some things that you did to stay committed and to recommit to their passion?

For those of our podcast listeners who are like, I have a big dream in my heart, but I'm sitting in a small chair. How do I stay connected to that in practical ways?

Mark Cole:       Boy, so two things that really come to mind as you ask that question, it's such a great thought provoking question that I want to add value to your podcast listeners on. The first thing is that the source of progress was not a destination. It wasn't even a mile marker. It wasn't even a glimpse of what I had envisioned as the ultimate. The thing that gave the sense of accomplishment, Traci, was growth in the right direction. There was a quote that a leader I worked alongside of that I use often, Rob McClellan, and Rob made a statement to me. I asked him to do something extremely hard for our nonprofit. And he said, "Mark, we're going to get it done, or when you find my body, it will be pointed in that direction."

And I just went, that is a brilliant commitment quote. And so I'll tell you, here's what I knew. I didn't know I would end up being so trusted by John that he would give me the responsibilities that he's given me in 2020. But here's what I knew. When you found me, you would be finding me growing in that direction. Which leads me to the second thing that I'll tell all of us as it relates to passion and commitment. And that is, surround yourself constantly with people that will stretch you, that will stretch your thinking, that will stretch your responsibility. If the people around you are not making you feel uncomfortable, you're not around bigger thinking people.

You're not around people that will challenge you. If you're the only one challenging in your orb, find a new orb. John says it like this. He says, "If you're the smartest person in the class, you're in the wrong room." Well, if you are the most committed, the most passionate person about something in your world, you're in the wrong world. Because your passion and your commitment constantly needs to be challenged, to be stretched, to be intrigued, to be enticed. And so the two things that I'll tell you, I constantly stayed available to John. When he made me feel like his assistant, I stayed committed to him even though he called me his CEO. When he made me feel like his bag handler, I stayed committed to him even though I knew I was a CEO.

My point to you is, commitment cannot be external. Passion cannot be external. It's got to come from within. And the way that I kept it from within was keeping people stretching me on the outside. Because the day I get bored with the people on the outside is the day I allow myself to loosen my edge on the inside.

Traci Morrow:  Hm. That gives us all something to chew on and to work on towards not just this week, but beyond, and reminding us to not just be stretched by others, but to stretch others and to be a fueling station for people who have passion, but it's being drained a little bit. Mark, any closing words?

Mark Cole:       Well, just the closing word is to you. I hope we get into next session. So I hope you'll join us for part two because, Traci, you're living out some commitment and passion right now, big changes in your life and I'm watching you do it and I am blown away. Because there's big things happening. But that's for all of us, for those of you in podcast land. So we're going to break down a few more segments next week. Join us as John continues to talk about the leader's greatest gift next week part two. Until then, go to You'll be able to click the Bonus Resource button, download the worksheet and follow along and be reminded of what John has taught.

Hey, as we say often, thanks for giving us a comment on the podcast. Thanks for letting us know what we can improve. Thanks for forwarding this link along to someone else and make sure that you and someone you know subscribe to the podcast. Until next week, let's lead.

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