As we spend time with senior executives, advising them, coaching them and facilitating workshops for them, it’s jumps off the page how important passion is to success. To grasp this point, passion must be understood a little differently from its common meaning. Passion doesn’t always mean a visible display of enthusiasm or sheer extroverted energy. It means deep dedication to the job, to results and to people. Passionate people wake up each morning excited to go to work and are energized by what they do. They may be calm and thoughtful, or they may be dramatic and vocal. What they have in common is a deep belief in the importance of their efforts, evidenced by dedication and focused hard work.
Passionate people prepare better for meetings. They don’t put work off until a later date if they can complete it now. They always find the time to respond to their colleagues and subordinates. They take the time to connect with stakeholders They make the difficult phone calls. They think about the business constantly. In short, they have a focused work ethic that they are able to apply to the business.
We classify passion as a “soft skill” and, on our leadership competency framework, as a cultural competency. Companies with predominately passionate people have very different cultures, encompassing high energy, productivity and creativity. Given the importance of passion to business success, can it be measured and can it be taught?
There are a couple of ways to measure passion. The best approach is to use a 360 assessment that asks the right questions — those questions that elicit evidence of passion without explicitly asking about it. When this approach is taken, it becomes clear whether the person is passionate about his or her work. There is a difference though between being passionate and having the capacity to be passionate. An individual who has this capacity and doesn’t display passion may just be in the wrong role. Capacity for passion can be measured using personality assessments that show the person’s internal motivators, particularly overall motivators such as the desire for achievement or social recognition. Where capacity is high but passion is missing, a change of role is probably a good idea. The best way to place people in roles where they will be passionate is by using job profiles and psychometric assessments to properly match people to roles and to ensure strong relationships with their managers. This is a great process to include in developing succession planning slates.
Passion can be taught only where the capacity for passion exists. In other cases, it cannot be taught. Pressure and strong performance management can move the needle somewhat on effort, but they can’t create passion.
The case is overwhelming for building a passionate senior leadership team and making passion a key requirement for the workforce. Getting there requires an assessment-based approach to talent acquisition and development across the board.