“Passion is contagious – so is not having it” (Tim McClure)

Top leaders care about the world around them. Their sense of “why” the business exists trumps any other issue – the business purpose (why we exist) becomes all-consuming and drives passion and behaviour. This burning belief is different to “making a profit” – making a profit is an outcome of managing the business well and executing the strategy with energy. Passion comes from a deep internalisation of why the business has been established and a desire to make a meaningful contribution in the world.

I am currently working with an organisation that manufactures grain farming seeding and planting equipment, which they export all over the world. We looked at their vision, mission, and values – their slogan “planting your future” has great vision embedded in it, but the real question is whether all employees share the vision of being part of an organisation that helps feed millions of people worldwide. Leadership has the task of instilling a compelling vision and associated passion for the task. It is their responsibility to draw the dotted line between what we do and why we do it. The stronger the “why”, the more value employees will derive from their respective tasks.

Simon Sinek wisely notes: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion”. Great leaders ignite passion – inter alia:

  • They make dialoguing with people a priority
  • They express their message in a manner that demonstrates their conviction, desire, and hunger to meet objectives

Steve Moore, guest-writing for the Huffington Post, notes: “Recognize the difference between interest-based passions and issue-based passions. People engage in interest-based passions because they’re fun; they’re a source of pleasure. Some people like golf, others tennis, still others painting, etc. These are leisure activities. People pursue issue-based passions because they provide a measure of fulfilment; they give us a sense of purpose.  Some people care about the environment, others homelessness, still others leadership. These are causes that allow us to leave a legacy”.

Passion is rooted in making a difference. The desire of leaders and organisations to make a difference may not always be apparent immediately, but when you look closely, you can usually find that aspiring to make a difference in the lives of others drives passion.  To make a more useful product or to provide a better service, one must be passionate about making a difference. Employees will not be passionate about the work they do automatically.  If leaders are aiming for long term engagement and excitement about the purpose, they should be intentional about providing inspiration.  Leaders inspire employees to be passionate by expressing genuine enthusiasm and articulating why the organisation does what it does – why and how the organisation makes a difference.

Dr Mary Kay (About Leaders) notes the following four characteristics of passionate leaders:

  1. Optimism – passionate leaders are unstoppable. Difficulties and daily challenges do not crush them because they believe they have elements of control over their future. This optimistic mindset puts a halt to negative thinking and fuels the drive to succeed.
  2. A compelling story – a passionate leader tells a compelling story that catches people’s attention and guides them to see it, feel it, and envision the future.
  3. Involving people – the difference between being a passionate doer and a passionate leader involves people in your passion instead of going it alone. Passionate leaders know they must have faith in others to be passionate about what needs to be accomplished. They dialogue with employees frequently and involve them in idea creation, decision-making and utilisation of their strengths. Passionate leaders truly endorse people as their most valuable asset by not letting their own ego get out of hand.
  4. Recharge ability – passionate leaders know how to use restorative activities, people, and events to recharge themselves. They refuel by reading widely, connecting with others that share similar passions, attending relevant conferences, listening to communities, getting out in nature, exercising regularly, etc.

Passionate leaders know “the why” of the organisation, are able to communicate it effectively, and are able to inspire others to share that vision. As such, they dialogue with employees at all levels effectively, and they express their message in a manner that demonstrates their conviction, desire, and hunger to meet objectives. In so doing, they take others with them on the journey.

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