“Follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
You’ve heard that one before, right? Passion has become a bit of a buzzword — we’re told that all we need to do is follow our passion and everything else will fall into place. Only somewhere along the way we’ve come to associate passion with certain industries, or personality types. It’s yet another soft skill. Passion is for artists, writers, musicians, the creatives who give up “sensible” careers and a 401k to follow their dreams and defy the teachers who told them to “pick a career in finance instead.” Or maybe passion is for the teachers, the doctors, the folks who have a calling.
Only I’m not buying it. As I see it, passion isn’t reserved for the entrepreneurial dream-builders, people carving their own path, or folks who identify as creative. We ALL have our passions and whether or not we embrace them can have a huge impact on how we show up at work, at home, and as leaders.
Take my grandfather, Pop.
You’d never picture him as one of the “follow your passion” crowd — but in his quiet, unassuming way, that’s exactly what he was doing. You see he was passionate about his work, both as a farmer and as a construction manager. He occasionally would bring me to work with him and I could always see a deep, quiet excitement in him whenever we started a new project. He showed up to work every day with a drive to get the job done right, and took huge pride in the final product. He was passionate about building things that lasted, and creating high-quality projects that contributed in some way to future generations. This particular passion of his showed up throughout his life, whether he was working on a large highway project or doing one of the smaller, relatively thankless jobs around the farm. It didn’t matter to him whether the project was “important” or not. What mattered to him was that he came to the work “all in” and whether the end product was fit for its purpose.
This made him a great leader, because he took the same approach to developing people as he did finishing projects: if you were lucky enough for him to take you under his wing (like I was), he would focus on teaching you everything you needed to be a good worker and leader — he was “all in”.
Passion — where integrity and good character meets heart.
Passion is the thing that keeps you coming back for more; it’s the fire you feel in your belly whether you’re working on the everyday tasks or the once-in-a-lifetime project. It’s what keeps you smiling even though everyone around you is feeling stressed and frustrated. It’s that thing that you always end up falling back into no matter where you thought life was taking you.
It lies right on the intersection between character (integrity) and heart: passion ignites when you find the thing that both aligns with your values and is rooted deep within your heart.
And it’s like jet fuel for your leadership.
Passion is the ultimate power-up for your leadership. If you have it, you’ll bring this infectious enthusiasm to whatever you do, and people will be lining up to follow you. There are few things more attractive in a leader than passion, especially if you’re willing to go “all in” because so many leaders try to hedge their bets and play it safe, or stay “professional”, which to them means not showing too much passion.
If you’re willing to stand up and lead from a stance of true passion, you’ll likely earn yourself some very committed, engaged followers.
Commitment to your team’s passions.
Passion is what makes the good times great and the not-so-good-times bearable — it underpins your whole toolbox, your talent, your skill, your attitude, and your knowledge and amps them all up. And that’s just as true for your team as it is for you. In fact, when you develop your understanding of passion and its role in the workplace, you can use it to help your team foster their talents and find new joy in their work.
Do you know what your staff members are passionate about, off the top of your head? Can you get beyond generalities, like, “Jim really loves his family,” and “Jane often talks about skiing, so I guess she’s passionate about that?” If so, that’s great! But are you using that information to make sure you’ve got your casting right? So often a team that’s close to burn out is suffering from a mismatch between people’s roles, talents, and their passions — when you have a deeper understanding of what really makes your people tick you can switch the casting around and help your team find that fire in their bellies, and their commitment or “all in” attitude to the work.
What to do if the fire has gone out.
If you used to be brimming with enthusiasm but feel like you’ve lost your spark, don’t worry. It might just be a case that there’s a mismatch between your own talents, your current role, and your passions.
It could be that your current work doesn’t align with your values, you’re getting constricting feedback from above, or you’ve lost touch with the people in your team. It could even be that you’ve spent time chasing the wrong passion! Think about the aspects of your life that really fire you up, whether at work or in your home life and start from there.
The best thing about passion is that it’s one of the easiest tools to foster because it’s just so unstoppable. Unless you’ve been making a concentrated effort to eradicate your passion over time, chances are all you need to do is get out of the way and let it out! It’s right there waiting for you and when you unleash it, it’s going to supercharge every other leadership skill in your toolbox. You need passion to stay committed to what matters to you.
Al Schauer is the Founder of PointNorth Consulting. He offers coaching and mentoring to aspiring leaders committed to leading with character. His new book on values and doing the right thing in leadership will be available soon. Sign up here to receive updates on how you can purchase his book.