Sustained Leadership Success Is all About Cultivating People’s Passion

In any organization, a leader’s mandate is to achieve desired results using the most fundamental lever available: the people.

But people are diverse in their attitudes, backgrounds, skills, and motivations. You can’t expect sustained, far-reaching if you try to apply a one-size-fits-all management style. Everybody responds in their own way to a given approach.

Many leaders strive to find some common ground, which can bring people on the same page to some imperfect degree. Yet if you take the long-term view of success, the most effective thing you can strive for is to cultivate passion among a few workers.

The engagement factor

In 2015, the US Department of Labor identified engagement as a key challenge for organizations. It was reported that only 30% of the workforce were engaged in their jobs. That number is substantially better than the global rate of 13%, but the greater concern was that engagement figures hadn’t really changed for 12 years prior.

Collectively, we may be doing better at engaging people at work. But if you look around your company, do you really think everybody is giving their all?

From a company perspective, the definition of engagement is committing one’s discretionary effort to the common cause. It makes a potentially huge difference in performance and productivity because most jobs don’t require all the time and energy a worker might be willing to give.

For this reason, today’s companies will go to great lengths to increase workforce engagement. They use employee experience software to standardize processes and facilitate HR requests while also collecting continuous feedback to pinpoint areas of greatest impact and improvement. They also experiment with different forms of rewards and recognition.

Above all, though, the leadership role is emphasized as a critical factor in moving the engagement needle. But what if there was a factor that could be even more influential than engaging one’s people? Wouldn’t it be imperative for leaders to strive towards that quality?

The power of passion

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According to data-backed insights from Deloitte, that X-factor seems to be a passion for work.

Leaders often fail to see the distinction between passion and engagement. In fact, the two are used almost interchangeably.

However, engagement reflects a person’s attention and absorption to the work they do. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are passionate about the job. On the other hand, passionate individuals are engaged, but they also bring something extra to the table: a consistent striving for improvement.

This difference becomes starkly evident when people are faced with challenges. An engaged worker will exert themselves, going above and beyond what others might do for the organization. But a passionate worker will do that while also pushing past their core responsibilities, leading others, and seeking to develop long-term capabilities and solutions for themselves and their team.

And they’ll even have fun while doing it. This matters enormously in terms of sustained success because even engaged workers can experience stress or burnout. A study of passion versus engagement at work found that only the former was predictive of well being.

Cultivating passion at work

The problem any leader will face is that an individual’s passion is a complex factor to understand, let alone leverage.

The ideal passionate worker is someone who doesn’t see what they do as work. Maybe that’s what we all aspire to, but many of us don’t even have a healthy concept of passion. Researchers define passion with a dualistic model of harmonious versus obsessive.

The former represents the state in which one’s goal and the journey towards it are the same, enjoyable thing. The latter is an unhealthy pursuit of goals for external validation, almost like an addiction or something you have to do.

Because of this widespread passion paradox, leaders must set realistic expectations in terms of building passion. Their people might not be able to identify what they’re passionate about, and they might not realize that their motivation is obsessive.

Self-determination theory in psychology offers a way to nurture passion. Individuals need to have competence, which can be gained through a sense of progress at work. They also need autonomy, which leaders can control. Finally, the job has to offer a sense of relatedness, either to other people or something greater than the work itself.

Put those attributes into place, and you create an environment where people can discover a sense of passion for their work. The performance results might not be as measurable as those obtained by increasing engagement, which still remains an essential goal. But they will sustain your success over the years as these passionate individuals don’t burn out or feel the temptation to change careers.

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