As I was pouring my first cup this morning, I was thinking about some of the great teams I’ve worked with in my career. Some were fantastic, some were “ok”, and a few were, well, rather deplorable. I began trying to determine what differentiated those great teams from the not-so-great ones.
At first, I narrowed it down to people. Those really good teams usually (but not always) had great leadership at the top. Likewise, the lousy teams usually (but not always) had a lack of strong leadership. I was content with that answer for a few minutes, but the question kept nagging me. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Passion.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, passion is an intense emotion which compels some sort of action, or an energetic and unflagging pursuit of an aim or devotion to a cause. Those successful teams were usually lead by someone who was passionate about what they were being asked to do.
The really great attribute about passion is that it is very viral. A little passion goes a long way, and spreads fast. The entire team can feed off of the passionate leader. Likewise, the unpassionate leader, or even teammate for that matter, can be the one who brings the entire ship crashing down with a thud.
I am reminded of this fellow that I served with in the U.S. Army. Great guy, but he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. He couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel. Sometimes, the gates were down, and the lights were flashing, but the train just wasn’t coming, if you know what I mean. But he was absolutely passionate about being a soldier and serving his country. If he was on guard duty at 3:00 in the morning, he had a grin on his face. If he was crossing a field in 3 feet of mud, he was probably whistling the 3rd Infantry Division’s fight song. His boots were always polished and his rifle was always clean.
The net effect is that even though this guy was a bit of a goof, he loved what he was doing, and that had an effect on those around him. We’d have gone through the fire for him – and we did. We never wanted to disappoint him. His passion gave our squad a competitive advantage over others, friend or foe.
Passion can be used to empower people, as well as inspire them. It can be used to foster innovation, as well as gain productivity boosts. It can make type B people pay attention to detail, and lower the blood pressure of the type A’s. Passionate people also tend to have more fun, which is never a bad thing.
I am reminded of a quote that was passed to me years ago by a friend: Passion will defeat talent everytime. While this may not be a literal truth, there is an ideal to be found there.
It should behoove every manager, and indeed every leader, to put a laser focus on infusing passion in the workplace. This should encompass every facet of the business, starting with the hiring process. Hire people who are passionate about what they do. And don’t stop there. Once they join your ranks, immerse them in a culture and environment conducive to exploiting those passions for success. Doing so could make the difference between getting that next deal, or losing it to a competitor. It could mean the difference between bringing that project in on time and under budget, or watching it spiral out of control.
For more info on the subject of passion as a competitive tool, I would encourage you to visit the Passion Catalyst site. I’d also recommend making a stop in at the blog of its owner, Curt Rosengren. These are fantastic resources for folks wanting to learn more about passion in the workplace.