Opinion Leaders: Getting Passionate

Passion engenders enthusiasm and creativity. It also drives excellence.

Without passion business is ordinary – for its employees, suppliers and, most importantly, for its customers.

It’s easier to recognise the absence than the existence of passion. When I facilitate customer service improvement workshops, people can always provide more examples of the bad service they have received, than examples of astonishingly good service.

Service (or more often the lack of it) in restaurants is common area where passion seldom makes the transition from owner, assuming it is there to start with, to front-of-house staff. I was recently served piece of fish that was grossly overcooked and quite inedible. When I pointed it out to the waitress she laughed and said: “Oh, you get that!” and then appeared completely disinterested in our table for the rest of the evening. Only when I asked for reduction in the bill was some apology offered.

A colleague had senior member of housing rental agency spend 10 minutes telling him how, as tenant, he had too many rights and how unfair that was to landlords. Then she took his $350 finders’ fee for renting him property. She clearly saw landlords as her only customers and tenants – despite the fact they also pay the agency – as “cattle to be bullied into stalls for milking” as my colleague eloquently put it.

Compare the above with this. I once worked with the CEO of large corporate organisation, whose enthusiasm for his job and his company was legendary. He knew the names of hundreds of his staff, had an easy, approachable manner, and spent at least third of his time each week communicating his passion for the business, for his fellow workers and for the customers both within and outside of the organisation. And he got lot of people to put in lot more effort than they otherwise might have done. In the process he discovered heap of latent talent, because individuals shared his commitment and enthusiasm. When he left the organisation, however, it quickly reverted to ordinary. There was no process for refilling the ‘passion gap’.

And this, I guess, is the dilemma that faces many passionless organisations. Passion isn’t commodity or even an art form that can be taught or bought. It’s also quietly frowned on in some circles. Sure, our top sports teams are expected to play with ‘passion’ and ‘courage’ and ‘heart’ – but there’s still stockpile of tall poppy syndrome out there that discourages people from exposing their passionate (and sometimes vulnerable) underbelly, especially in business circles. Consequently, it’s all too frequently hidden. How then do you encourage your people to be passionate about the business?

Passionate and respected leaders motivate and inspire those around them to share their passion for product, concept or an opportunity. By doing so they encourage others to excel. These leaders recognise the need to foster and embrace range of complementary talents and experiences. To attract people with these skills and, more importantly, right attitudes, they create the processes and culture to support them. If passion is engendered, encouraged and focused then, all other things being equal, the organisation with passion will outperform those without.

However, passion alone is not enough. Alex, local entrepreneur, has developed an ingenious new concept into workable product and thinks organisations throughout the world will fall over themselves to pay enormous sums for hundreds of them, just as soon as they hear about them. Alex has boundless enthusiasm, and real ability to enthuse others about this great idea. But that’s where it all comes to grinding halt. Despite unlimited passion and almost 10 years of hard work, Alex is still waiting for the big breakthrough.

He is like many managers who don’t appreciate that every business needs blend of people and processes combined with passion to turn emotion into reality. Without all three elements, you cannot turn an ordinary operation into something really special.

From my experience of working in all sorts of organisations, staff appear to be going through the motions. Many organisations have skilled teams, good products and efficient processes; but I often wonder what level of additional success could be generated by the injection of just little passion?

Amanda Carnie is the executive director of Christchurch-based LTS Group, facilitators of business improvement.
Email: [email protected]

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