Larry Smith lost it! And of all places, he lost it in the big-deal quarterly executive meeting. No, tears did not fall they just stayed in his eyes. He did not pound the table, although a few of his gestures would be the envy of any aspiring thespian. But what Larry did in his "almost out of control" passion crossed all bounds of routine boardroom decorum.
Yet, he engaged the hearts and commitment of everyone in the meeting. People were noticeably moved. And it made a difference. Stuff happened.
People do not brag about their logical marriage, reasonable hobby, or sensible vacation. There is rarely "in control" sideline behavior when Junior rounds third base or Jane sticks a perfect gymnastics landing. But all that unbridled spirit is too often an unwelcomed distraction after the time clock is passed. The closer one gets to mahogany row, the less tolerance there seems to be for "sounds of the heart."
"Hold on," you may be thinking. Is it not the role of a leader to bring a sense of "order when all around you are losing their heads?" The truth is rationality oozes from the seams of every business encounter. Leaders do not have to bring order, rationality, or logic since every dimension of business life reeks of those qualities. Yet, philosopher Hegel wrote, "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." Music giant Beethoven wrote, "To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable." So let's bring back more passion. Here are four ways to become a leader of passion.
Live a Bold Purpose Out Loud
Stoking the flames of boldness starts with a wide-eyed focus on a compelling dream rather than asquint-eyed look at an uncompleted task. Leaders who lose touch with the "forest vista" because there are too many trees to view are left blind to possibilities and dreams. "I came to my last job with a strong sense of purpose,” said one retiring senior leader. “But I got so enmeshed in what I had to do that I soon forgot what I had hoped to be. It was not until I was ready to retire that I realized I had gotten far less daring."
Boldness is a choice based on a deep commitment to a future state. It is born of a noble reach beyond the mediocre of the moment and the ordinariness of the status quo. It requires a profound pledge to a vision and a restless desire to perpetually move toward that “picture in your head.” PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said, "You've just gotta love what you're doing, and you've gotta believe in what you're doing, and you've gotta say to yourself, 'When I feel like I've done enough with this company, I want to leave feeling great about my contributions and the legacy I'm leaving behind.'"
Select Associates Who Have Passion
"I would rather have one person with passion than forty who are merely interested," wrote British author E. M. Forster. Passion is not a noisy expression filled with the exuberance of a kid with a cape. Passion shows up as an obvious curiosity, evidence of past achievements, and a sense of focus and determination when addressing subjects of interest. Passionate people are noticeably awake, sometimes impatient, and keenly aware of the details of their experience.
Take job candidates on a tour and pay close attention to their reactions to others. Notice the number and depth of the questions they ask, not just the answers they offer. Provide a time for a group interview with the applicant's prospective team. Remember that anyone can fake an optimistic countenance and attitude when on the recruitment stage. The truth is often revealed when multiple assessors weigh in on a candidate's suitability.
Promote Responsible Risk-Taking
Passion takes the plain vanilla out of encounters. It can be magical! Scottish author W.H. Murray called it "boldness" and wrote: "Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to drawback, always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred." Philosopher Hegel echoed a similar sentiment when he wrote, "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." However, passion’s Achilles heel is impulsiveness. Passion takes gentle guardrails that guide rather than retard, chaperon instead of bridle.
Boldness includes being honest about risks. For example, when Minted.com CEO Mariam Naficy launched a new handbag business, she told her leaders, "I don't know if this is going to succeed, but let's just go have fun with it." Her message signaled a "we-don't-have-to-be-perfect" perspective and was just the tone her employees needed to unleash the chutzpah essential to success. Reward smart risk taking and treat failure as a learning opportunity, not as an incident for reproach.
Take Care of "Mad Scientists"
The label "mad scientist" is a catchall moniker for the gifted, unconventional wild ducks that occasionally enter an organization. They bring mixed blessings. "Mad scientists" have common noble traits—brilliant, visionary, and driven. However, they can also be mercurial, bull-headed, irreverent, and occasionally borderline crazy. "Mad scientists" ignore tidy rules of corporate civility to pursue their audacious visions. They try most leaders' patience and can embarrass team members seeking to make a good impression.
Every progressive organization needs a few "mad scientists." They can make us better and more vigorous. Granted, they are complex, challenging, and downright difficult. But they can springboard an organization to greatness. They can also ensure our advancement and competitiveness. Remember this: how you treat these eccentrics can signal to the rest of the organization how much you value the untraditional thinking needed for innovation, progress, and growth.
Make Results the Ultimate Test
Passionate employees respond to an internal calling that is revealed in their positivity, eagerness, and determination. However, employees are part of a written or implied contract with an enterprise or association to deliver results, not just animated activity. Excited intentions are not the stuff success is made of. Zeal must be transformed into outcomes that matter. And that means leaders must hold employees accountable for the effects of their attitudes and actions.
“When people feel accountable, it is more fun,” said Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford. Accountability helps employees to feel more invested in their work and how the ways their contribution is linked to the final result. Great leaders ensure all employees have a line of sight to the customer and to the ultimate success of their efforts. Accountability builds a “promise kept” sense of trust when what is promised in terms of a consequence, is in fact delivered.
"There is an energy field between humans," wrote philosopher Rollo May in his book Love and Will. "And, when a person reaches out in passion, it is usually met with an answering passion." Passionate connections provoke passionate responses. The word "passion" is actually three words in one: Pass I On. It means we pass the best of who we are on to someone else. When leaders "pass-I-on" to another, it triggers a "pass-me-back" response. And leadership is fundamentally about the business of influencing
Imposing mountains are climbed, culture-changing movements are started, and breakthrough marvels are sparked by leaders who nurture spirit ascending from within, not just insisting on relentless rationalism and perpetual prudence. It entails a clear and present support for "Larry loses his cool" moments. It is ensuring the cheerleader role eclipses the controller role. People may be instructed by reason, but they are inspired by passion. Look again at the opening photo of Harper Finley in action. Paraphrasing poet Robert Browning, what will she need to pursue a reach that exceeds her grasp?
About Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several awardwinning, best-selling books. Global Gurus in 2023 ranked him for the ninth year ina row in the top ten keynote speakers in the world on customer service. He is alsothe founder of the Chip Bell Academy, an alliance partner with On3.ai thatspecializes in mobile based, AI-driven field learning programs with high leveltransfer of learning and retention. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.