In Tough Times Passion Keeps Businesses Afloat

In our book, Liberating Passion, Paul B. Brown and I contend that businesses seek passionate people. This matters in tough economic times more than ever. Why? Because passionate commitment converts potential talent into the actual performance that struggling businesses need to survive. Moreover, the opposites – apathy and disengagement – are poor ways to get a return-on-talent (or a return on the ability/energy, for that matter, of our human assets).

Yet seeking to infuse passion in people is misguided. Passion is natural. Capable people abound with passion, at least in the areas in which they are talented. In fact, we see people passionate about so many aspects of life. If work isn’t one of those, it’s because companies institutionalize “passion killers.” Through mediocre leadership practices, dysfunctional teams, poor communication and dispiriting work cultures, companies become passion castrators.

[wcm_restrict]Relationships are central: they can be the canopy passion killer or the canopy passion liberator. Leadership is very critically about how we relate; how we engage each other; the respect we have for each other; the quality and candor of our communication; and, whether we amplify or nullify each other’s abilities. To create winning results we have to create winning relationships.

All the passion liberators we speak about in the book deal with how we relate, to a large extent. Here, let’s look at three crucial ones.

Intimacy. This may sound like a strange passion liberator, but we can’t be excited or effective on a team if we don’t know with whom we’re teaming. By letting people know who we are; what turns us on and what turns us off; our priorities as well as our peeves; and, our areas of esteem and anxiety, we allow masks to be removed and defensiveness to be defused. Rather than energy going into a charade of mutual cover-ups, energy can go into leveraging our best, coping empathically with our worst, and transcending individual limits through collective breakthroughs of relevance and importance to the business. We then gain courage and strength from each other’s support, rather than stoking each other’s neuroses and doubts.

Protecting Possibility. One of the demonstrable attributes of globally successful leaders is their ability to face complex facts and realities, distill them to their essence, and yet always look at them with the eyes of possibility. Call it “creative reality engagement.” But passion is destroyed when we evade reality, duck or downplay evident challenges, or indeed at the other extreme if we use “reality” as an excuse for our failed imagination or inadequate will. What we have to foster in our companies and teams is the ability to grapple with reality quickly, face it squarely, understand its dimensions and nuances, but always with the intent to transform it and even “provoke” it (a companion passion liberator that we discuss in the book) in the direction of our vision. The leaders we admire invented new possibilities and realities. Yet, they also emotionally accepted the realities from which they had to build. Kennedy had to get Americans to accept the Soviet technology and space exploration lead to galvanize our successful response. Steve Jobs and his team at Apple had to accept the moribund business results they were producing for so long, despite their iconic products, to engineer a magnificent turnaround.

Coaching Growth. Once we know each other and can transform what we encounter in the direction of our strategic business vision, we have to confront and encourage each other to grow in relevant ways to make that vision a reality. We all have an impact on each other. And one aspect of coaching growth is to become aware of the behaviors we have to improve, those that would make us more effective with others and create a more catalytic impact on those with whom we collaborate. Equally though, it runs deeper than behaviors. No one wants to memorize a list of behavioral niceties. Even if we were to memorize such a list and no longer give offense, we would still be unlikely to enroll each other’s passion. What we need is to commit to each other’s success. That means we have to understand success and value from the other person’s perspective. And as we develop a partnership of business purpose in our companies and teams, we also commit to helping each other succeed and win using that work as a medium. When team-members feel and express such a commitment to each other, both passion and results are abundant.

Understanding passion liberators, understanding each other, understanding the facts we have to harness and remake, understanding how to help each other succeed and committing to doing so – that’s how great global leaders produce great results while tapping our natural desire for passionate engagement![/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

Hi there! This article is available for free. Login or register as a StrategyDriven Personal Business Advisor Self-Guided Client by:

Subscribing to the Self Guided Program - It's Free!


About the Author

Omar Khan is founder and senior partner of Sensei International, a global leadership development firm. The above article is adapted from his book Liberating Passion: How the World’s Best Global Leaders Produce Winning Results (Wiley & Sons).