Leading Without Passion is like Walking Through a Wasteland

leading-without-passion-is-like-walking-through-a-wasteland-2-1Have you ever met people who exude passion from their pores? These individuals believe in their cause so much they live and breathe it 24 hours a day. In sports, these are the coaches and athletes who lead with enthusiasm, conviction and heart. Think Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Passion propels them right through obstacles, exhibiting personal sacrifice and sustained discipline to win championships.

In business, these are managers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs who lead with the same vitality; they are tenacious, and manage with passion.

Leaders who are dripping with passion—in sports and business—set the tone for the organization’s culture. If, as Peter Drucker once wrote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” then it’s passion that scrambles the eggs. What I mean is that it’s passion and culture that evoke emotional responses from colleagues like “I love it here!”

It’s true that you can’t build a successful business without a smart strategy, but you also can’t be successful without a culture that energizes your employees. Your company’s culture—and passion—is the fuel that gets people to come to work, fully engaged to execute your strategy.

Without passion, your employees (and maybe you!) are “clipping coupons” or just maintaining the status quo. You have to be driven to grow the business. I see larger companies sometimes lose their way when the passion is gone. Family-run businesses can stall, too, when the enterprise gets handed down to the second- or third-generation son or daughter who doesn’t actually have that same level of commitment born from the passion of the founder.

What’s Your Passion?

Sometimes, the act of launching a business itself is the source of passion.

Recently, I met an entrepreneur who wants to build the finest car washes in Houston. The best equipment. The best chemicals. The best people. His passion, however, is to create a great legacy company he can eventually give to his son who is presently working in the business to learn the ropes. The father is less concerned with the money. He wants to build a great company that persists in which his son can find similar energy and success.

Another company I work with sells lighting, window coverings, and cabinetry to multi-family construction businesses that build apartments—seemingly a mundane business. However, the founder’s passion is to help people create apartments that feel like homes. He genuinely cares. And because he cares, so do his people.

In other instances, I’ve worked with leaders who’ve channeled their passion for winning or making a difference in the community.

How to Instill Passion in Your Company

If you’re a business leader, you have to exude passion. Don’t hold back and don’t worry about being cool. In fact, just cut up your “cool card” right now. Many people, especially in large companies, hide their passion because they fear it interferes with looking smart. They don’t want to appear less sophisticated.

If you want passionate employees engaged in your business, then you need to demonstrate the behaviors you expect. Compliment employees when you see those behaviors in action. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” It’s your job as the leader to recognize the right behaviors in your employees and acknowledge them.

Find Your Core Values

Reflect your passion through your company’s core values. In reality, the values attract and retain the kind of people who fit with you. They determine who the right people are to ride your bus. These values emanate from the core of the leaders, most often the founder.

When I lived in Egypt studying Arabic, I naturally had many Egyptian friends and acquaintances. Some of them ate onions like we eat apples. Raw. Eating onions | Leading without passion is like walking through a wastelandPracticing my budding Arabic, I asked one fellow with some measure of incredulity, “Why?”

“Do you get bitten by mosquitoes?” he replied. “Well, yes, why do you ask?”

He said the oil from the onion got into his blood stream and the onion’s odor wafted from his pores, sending the pesky bugs buzzing to some other warm-blooded target.

The point is, your core values should seep from your pores. And, moreover, you want those values to repel those who wouldn’t fit into your culture.

Speaking of fit, have you ever found a fantastic deal at an outlet mall for a pair of pants with the right brand at a great price, even though they didn’t fit exactly right? Where are they now? Most likely, hanging in the back of your closet collecting dust, waiting for the next trip to Goodwill.

Hiring people who have the right skills and experience for a job, yet don’t fit your company’s culture or values is similar, but much more expensive. These people don’t just collect dust. They chip away at your chance to succeed. Furthermore, when the misfits survive in your company, they negatively affect the behavior and performance of their colleagues. It’s like a virus spreading through the company. Sometimes mosquito bites result in a high fever!

The people you hire should feel your company’s values even when they are not expressed. And, even when you realize them and share them openly, these values become the single most important filter for hiring, rewarding, and sometimes firing people.

Yes, culture really does eat strategy for breakfast. And passionately leading with your core values, the essence of your culture leaves only room for those who fit.

Core-ValuesA note of caution: Don’t choose your core values based on an employee popularity contest. Don’t read about how to create them in a book. Don’t learn them from your employees in the warehouse. Values are about knowing and understanding yourself … if it’s your company. Discover them!  And, these core values must be reflected in the day-to-day management of your company. Whatever you are will be reflected in the culture of your company. A negative reflection of this reared its ugly head in Enron. Yep, a fish rots from the head first.

When Warren Buffet hires people, he looks for three characteristics: integrity, intelligence and energy. He said if you don’t have the first, the other two don’t matter.

One organization was wrestling with how it could make the core value of integrity meaningful for everyone. Integrity can sometimes sound hollow—even Enron professed it. But this company expressed its focus on integrity through the catchphrase “We don’t cheat at solitaire.” In other words, we do the right thing when no one is looking. Everyone gets it.

The employees, in fact, are passionate about integrity, and it’s making a difference in how they’re executing the company’s business strategy.

Next Steps

This article originally appeared on the Clear Horizon Leadership blog on May 13, 2016

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