Sidetracked by Good Causes: Balancing Mission and Passion in Leadership


In the world of soccer and organizational leadership alike, focus is key. Drawing parallels between the current struggles of the US Women's National Team and the common challenges faced by leaders in various fields, this post explores how personal passions and noble causes, while important, can sidetrack the core mission.


My son is a huge soccer fan.

I enjoy it, but he’s a fanatic.

Which brings me to the US Women’s soccer team (USWNT).

They’re currently playing in the Women’s World Cup. Or I should way they were playing in the World Cup.

This team is full of talent, yet played terribly. He and I were discussing their play recently, and it reminded me of a danger all organizational leaders face.

Organizational Life is a Team Sport

No organizations function well when the team culture is unhealthy. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I’m more of a leadership expert than a soccer aficionado. Still, it’s clear that the US Women’s team is suffering a missional and cultural crisis. As far as I can tell, don’t know who they are (Hint: Not a national soccer team). More critical, though, they don’t know why they are.

In any organization, cultural focus dictates missional outcomes. And it’s the leader’s job to set, reinforce, and maintain the focus.

When a leader allows the cultural focus to be hijacked by anyone or anything within the organization, the focus shifts, and a new culture forms.

Back to the USWNT. Their mission is playing as a team toward one goal, and their culture and focus must support this mission.

But what’s their focus?

Toxins in the Organizational Blood Stream

The US Women’s team has won the past two World Cups.

During these runs, there was some amount of sideways energy. I don’t mean that the focus of some players was wrong. Still, the focus on non-soccer causes created some challenging soccer scenarios.

Some on the team are more outspoken than others. Speaking out for equal pay, racial equity, or transgender rights are causes important to many.

Before we continue, let me say clearly that many causes are worthy of our attention, effort, and time. This post is not a statement for or against any cause these players are advocating. That said…

Here’s the team (or organizational) problem.

The team suffers when a country’s soccer team becomes more focused on a cause than the country.

From what I can see, that is happening with this team.

I cannot stress this enough: The causes they fight for outside soccer may be excellent, noble, and necessary. But the cause focus is hurting their soccer focus. And team.

The same happens inside any organization when the leadership allows the mission to be replaced by a personal passion.

Aren’t These Women Just Using Their Platform?

Yes. They are. And as I mentioned, whether you agree with them or not, that’s noble.

Many others have done the same in different sports and situations. At times, taking a stand means you end up standing in lonely spaces.

At the same time, making a point often removes your ability to make a difference. And to bring a team together.

When I look at the behavior of our USWMT, it feels like they are more concerned with representing a cause than a country. They are more concerned with making a point than a real difference.

I believe it’s hurting the team. And potentially creating less impact for a cause.

As a Leader, it’s Your Job to Point People to THE Organizational Mission, not a Personal Passion.

If you lead a team or an entire organization, your role is to keep everyone and everything focused on the mission. And nothing else.

When a passion project becomes the mission, the organization cannot sustain itself in its form.

Let me give you some examples I’ve seen of late:

  • CHURCH: If you are a church pastor, you may desire to support some local non-profit organizations in your community. That’s a good thing, but it’s not your main thing. If raising money for and serving in community organizations becomes your focus, you’ve lost your primary mission and gained a new one.
  • RETAIL: If you lead a restaurant or retail establishment, you have a mission. If you allow “cost-cutting” to become your focus, your mission will follow while ruining the reason you opened the space in the first place.
  • COMPANY: Your company or business has a mission. If you allow someone within the organization to elevate a personal passion above the mission, a new focus will slowly emerge and potentially destroy what you’ve been working for.

Don’t Allow “Good Things” to Supplant the Main Thing

This is the point. These secondary, sideways causes are often good and noble.

But they aren’t the mission.

If you allow the organizational or team focus to shift away from the mission to a personal passion, the passion will supplant the mission and eventually take everything along.

You won’t change the language painted on the wall, but what’s happening down the hall will be changed.

Part of your job as a leader is deciphering between good things and the main thing. I’m not suggesting you be so rigid as not to allow space for any secondary purposes or work. I am absolutely suggesting you work hard to ensure these secondary things remain secondary.

When you, as the leader, allow the focus to shift, the entire organization hangs in the balance.

And rather than have a world-class soccer team, you may end up with a group of highly talented players focused on something other than soccer.

Some Additional Posts That You May Like

  1. 8 Strategies To Better Balance Managing and Leading
  2. Discovering What You Were Made To Do
  3. The Unseen Side of Success: It’s Not Just About the Results

Until next time,