Leadership is weird.

We’re stuck in this space of always striving, always reaching. Never satisfied with the status quo.

But that wears people out – physically, emotionally, intellectually. So what’s the difference between a leader who uses this effectively, versus just burning people out?

No doubt part of the negative stress comes from never being able to get even close. That’s Sisyphus pushing the boulder uphill.

But the other part of the Sisyphus story was that it was a worthless goal. There was no point to the exercise, just cruelty.

That’s one of the things we learn, then: People are willing to put extraordinary effort into going toward a goal if it’s worthwhile and even forward progress is worthwhile.

Imagine that I promise to give you a million dollars if you can run a mile in the next 20 seconds. Not only is it physically impossible, but 20 seconds doesn’t even give you much time to think of a clever solution to the challenge. So you’ll just give up before you start – and you’ll rightly think that I’m a manipulative idiot.

Imagine instead that we form an organization which has the goal to solve world hunger. Most likely we’ll never actually achieve that, but we could draw people into that mission because every step we make in that direction is useful. If we save even one life, that could be enough to sustain us for a while.

You may have a big, audacious vision that can never be achieved. Fine, as long as being on the journey can motivate people as well.