Nancy Tellem’s Passion Is Deep – Not Loud
“Nancy Tellem is listening intently. I’m telling her about my son’s inspiring experiences with an organization in Kenya, One Home Many Hopes, that rescues orphaned and abandoned girls, and gives them the chance to lead lives of positive contribution. Nancy has a kind of focused brightness, and when she’s listening, she becomes very still. When I’ve finished speaking, she nods reflectively and then begins to tell me about her own experience with Foundation Rwanda, a group that works with victims of the genocide in Rwanda, providing educational funding for the children born from rape, as well as medical and psychological services to their mothers, and also supports them in finding or creating income-generating activities. Nancy speaks quietly, but with complete conviction; it is clear to me that she will do whatever is in her power to advance the cause of this organization, and to enlist others in support of it.
I’ve seen her passion in how she approaches her profession, as well. When she believes in something, she will support and work for it with true commitment, most often gaining others’ support through the consistency and depth of that commitment. One very public example: in the late 90s, when she was President of Entertainment for CBS, she became convinced that “Expedition Robinson,” an incredibly successful Swedish show about people trying to survive on an island, and being asked to leave one by one (sound familiar?) that had been considered too controversial for American TV, could become a huge hit here. She fought for it with clear rationale and quiet determination, marshaling her team to overcome the financial and even psychological concerns. She gained the support she needed; Survivor first aired on CBS in 2000 – and the rest is, as they say, history.
Nancy’s passion has built her an equally passionate following; a few years ago, standing at a celebration with members of her team, listening to them speak of her with genuine affection, admiration and respect, I realized that her passion – along with her other leadership qualities – had made her a true leader.”
– From Chapter 4 of Leading So People Will Follow
The quality of Nancy’s passion is one of the things I enjoy most about having her as a friend and colleague. True passion in a leader is an unusual thing: it combines elements that may seem mutually exclusive. Passionate leaders are deeply committed to the causes, goals and ideas that are meaningful to them, and yet they are also open and curious…even in those areas where they are most passionate. They keep listening; they stay respectful of others’ points of view. Their passion doesn’t devolve into dogmatism or demonization of those with opposing viewpoints.
I’ve often noticed this wonderful combination in conversation with Nancy: when we’re discussing something about which she feels strongly, she’ll still invite and consider my point of view, and stay engaged even if it’s very different from hers.
When a leader can find that balance point — of being deeply committed without being close-minded — that person’s followers are free to come to their own conclusions, and their support then comes not from coercion or fear of reprisal, but rather from their own passion, their own sense of what’s important. Passion in a leader is inspiring; it helps to catalyze our own sense of purpose.