I know two CEOs: one in publishing is a friend; the other in manufacturing is an email correspondent. There is a common bond between the two; both are in their sixties and both act as if they are closer to twenty-two. Their sense of vitality springs from their passion for what they do.
Each feels a sense of pride in the businesses he leads; more importantly, each is pushing his respective organization to new heights with a vigor found typically in much younger men. Their can-do attitudes seem almost corny, as if sketched from an earlier age or at least from musicals like The Music Man. But both men are in exactly the right positions at the right time.
Generating enthusiasm, or passion, for what you do is essential. It is doubly so in perilous times. When everything around us seems to be coming apart, a leader who has a passion for what he does is essential. Such a spirit fuels the engine of enthusiasm needed to spark the enterprise. More importantly, such passion is vital to convincing others that the work matters. It is easy to get discouraged by today’s market news and so it is vital that someone, be it the CEO or another senior leader, serves as the organization’s designated cheerleader.
Ultimately instilling passion for the work is not an exercise in rah-rah; it is a search for meaning and significance. So how can you cultivate passion for work in others and do it in ways that have significance? Here are some suggestions.
Focus on the positive. Passion in leaders can be palpable; you know in an instant that the executive cares about the company. In my experience, those senior leaders who stroll through the halls with a nod or good word to say to all are those executives who get things done. And it is because they are out and about, not cloistered in their offices on mahogany row. Rather, they are meeting with employees and customers, vendors and investors, getting to know issues and concerns. They also use these times to talk up the good things.
Address the negatives. Passionate leaders are not Pollyannas; they know the score, precisely because they spend so much time out of their offices. They see firsthand what is working and what is not, and because they have a relationship with people in all levels of the company, they can more readily mobilize employees to solve problems.
Set high expectations. Those who care about the work and set a high standard challenge others to do the same, but they should remember to balance their approach — knowing to sometimes ease up on workloads but never on expectations.
As much as generating passion for the work matters, it is no guarantee of success, or even survival. Radiating passion is no excuse for ignoring attention to the fundamentals.
Yet successful organizations are more than the sum of fiscal prudence. Good ones are the collective values and aspirations of dedicated men and women who have made a choice to work there. Such organizations, be they in healthcare or manufacturing, consumer goods or government, ultimately depend upon the commitment of individuals pulling together to make things work. That’s why you need leaders who have a passion for what they do and are able to spread that passion to others so that people feel better about what they do, and ultimately, what they can do better.
First posted on 7/16/2009