Empire State Building

This is the third in a series of articles, lessons really, that are designed to help you build and maintain a high performing organization. This has probably never been more important than now due to the destructive effects of the current COVID-19 crisis.

In Step 1 we discussed Perspective and how it shapes every action you take. It is cross-cutting.

In Step 2 we discussed Purpose as the reason for everything you do. It is your rock. It is foundational.

In Step 3 we will discuss why Passion is vitally important to high performance. It is a key element of your propulsion system. It is cross-cutting and foundational.

I want to frame the context of this series here. If you’ve read my first two installments you know that these principles and practices apply in good times and bad. The reality of April 2020 makes including the virus in these posts unavoidable. But we will not always be battling a pandemic and these principles and practices work, in one way or another, under all times and conditions.

Remember, there is a bias toward action here. Key takeaways and actions are listed at the end. Let’s continue.


The most fulfilling way to live your Purpose is with Passion.

Passion is increasingly recognized as an important ingredient in business. But that’s not always been the case. In prior years, decades even, Passion wasn’t part of the conversation. Soft skills were looked down upon by hard-driving, bottom-line, “successful” managers. However, recent experience has shown that Passion is a key cultural ingredient in high performing organizations. Some would argue a necessary ingredient.

Annually, Fortune magazine compiles and publishes a list of the world’s most admired companies. The top 10 on the most recent list are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon
  3. Berkshire Hathaway
  4. Walt Disney
  5. Starbucks
  6. Microsoft
  7. Alphabet
  8. Netflix
  9. JP Morgan Chase
  10. FedEx

If you’ve studied, or been a customer of, or supplier to, any of the companies on that list, you know that Passion is a differentiating factor. Passion for what they do, who they serve, what they produce, what they stand for, etc. Passion plays a prominent and recurring role in their successes.

That said, it may seem like Passion is an unusual topic to consider during this pandemic plagued season. After all, human and organizational survival are at stake. But the reality is, if we are going to defeat the enemy (COVID-19), the only way to do it is with Passion. It is needed now more than ever, as American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson so famously said: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

What is Passion?

Remember, clarity is important, so let’s define what Passion is and is not.

Passion is one of those hard to define, but easy to spot entities, like romantic love. The phrase, ‘I know it when I see it,’ comes to mind. It is both tangible and intangible. You can see it and feel it, yet it can’t be packaged and bought or sold. And it can’t be given it to you, like a pill or a shot.

It’s often described as that fire in the belly that leads to a willingness to take risks. It’s putting yourself out there for a cause, not because you were told to, but because your gut instincts wouldn’t allow you not to.

In an organizational sense, let’s summarize all this with: Passion is a compelling desire for something or enthusiasm to do something you care deeply about.

Passion is not a program or a technique. You can’t get it from a smartphone App. And Simon Sinek tells us: “Being driven is not the same as being passionate. Passion is love for the journey. Drive is a need to reach the destination.”

Fostering Passion in the workplace

Passion comes from within, not from the outside. As a leader you can’t require or legislate Passion. You can’t beat it into or out of someone. Demanding it won’t work either. You can’t buy it with a paycheck or a perk. You can put it in your strategic plans or your company Values statements, but that won’t make it appear.

Note that although leaders can’t force Passion, they can squash it with ineffective leadership.

So as managers and leaders that leaves us with a perplexing question: If we need it, but can’t mandate it, how do we bring about that passionate desire in our people for something that the organization needs to have or do in order to excel?

The answer is: You have to create the culture in which Passion can be unleashed without fear.

Setting up that culture starts with finding your organization’s Purpose. What is your Purpose? Passion without Purpose is wasted. Likewise, unbridled Passion won’t get you what you need either. Like a blown up but untied balloon, when you let go it’s going to fly in all sorts of seemingly random directions and make funny noises until it drops to the floor. That is not going to lead to high performance.

Setting up the culture also includes listening to your customers. They define value, so listen to them. The current COVID-19 crisis provides a good example from the bar and restaurant industry. Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue envisions that, “The brands that step out and prove that they’re safe, that the consumer can have confidence in them, that they’re reactive to this situation around us, are the ones that are going to survive,”

What does that mean? It means that for bars and restaurants to be successful post-virus, they need to have a Passion for cleanliness and customer safety.

The next step is hiring. But let’s be specific, you’re not just looking for someone with Passion. You’re looking for someone with Passion that aligns with the organization’s needs. The latest pre-virus Gallup workforce engagement data show that employers have not been doing a good job unleashing their employee’s Passion. Only 35% of employees are considered “engaged,” meaning they are highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Another 52% are “disengaged” and 13% are “actively disengaged.”

Engaged employees will talk proudly about where they work. Disengaged put in time but not energy or Passion into their work. Actively disengaged employees talk poorly about where they work and they spread their negativity to others.

As the economy recovers from the effects of the virus, employers are going to be hiring again. There quite likely will be a hiring frenzy of sorts. This will be the time to adjust your prior mix, if needed, and get the right people on your team. American essayist, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

Passion is like fuel for your propulsion system. For Passion to be effective in groups, it must be shared. Everyone in the group or on the team has to willingly and freely bring their Passion to the game and contribute. If you only fire on a few cylinders, you won’t reach your full potential as an organization.

The next and never-ending step is that the leaders have to role model the behaviors that they want. If you want to see Passion in your people, be Passionate yourself.

Key takeaways

First: Passion is a compelling desire for something, or enthusiasm to do something, you care deeply about.

Second: Passion comes from within. You cannot make people be passionate. They have to want to be Passionate. What you can do is create the culture where their Passion can flourish.

Third: Passion without Purpose is a waste. Align your Passions with your Purpose.

Fourth: At the end of the virus season, there will be mass hiring. Be prepared. Hire those with Passions for what you need.

Fifth: Like everything else in an organization, the leaders have to role model the behaviors they want.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have you aligned your Passions with your Purpose?
  2. What am I doing as a leader to create the environment where Passion is expected? How often do I come home from work Passionate about the day?
  3. Are we prepared to compete with all other organizations in hiring the right people when the virus season subsides?
  4. Bonus: What Passions exist in your family? What do you do to nurture them?

Steps to take:

  1. Do a self-assessment. Have you aligned your Passions to your Purpose? If not, gain alignment. You will reap huge benefits from this step alone.
  2. Create a culture that fosters Passion in the workplace. You will not get employees to freely release their Passions if the environment isn’t conducive to it.
  3. Develop a post-virus hiring plan that actively seeks and identifies people with the Passions you need.
  4. Bonus: Survey your family members or significant other and see where your Passions overlap and gap. You don’t necessarily have to change, but it will be informative.