Find Your Personal Passion

At some point in your career, you may sense a creeping malaise. You’re no longer enthusiastic about the day ahead. When did your brilliant career become the daily grind? What happened to your passion?

“We hear a great deal of talk about the midlife crisis of the executive. It is mostly boredom.
~ Peter Drucker, management expert

“What do I do if I don’t have passion?” and “How do I sustain passion?” are two questions that often come up in coaching sessions.

Let’s face it, after 20-30 years of all-too-familiar work, you’re good at your job, but you may not be learning or contributing as much. You might not feel challenged or particularly satisfied. Bosses can be unpleasant, your favorite project is scuttled, and work starts to stagnate.

Your position may feel like it’s reduced to reports, meetings, and difficult coworkers. When your job is no longer enjoyable or meaningful, your energy sags, motivation lags, tasks go undone, and you make mistakes. You think about switching jobs, but this presents additional risks, similar to changing seats on the Titanic.

Yet staying in a job that’s going nowhere, filled with mind-numbing work, can mean resigning yourself to a lack of growth and meaning. It doesn’t have to be that way. Not if you’re working with a coach.

Loss of passion is one of the primary reasons to use a coach. It may be time to explore work/life issues of purpose and meaning. Unfortunately, most of us dismiss these early symptoms and try to fix things on our own. 

If you’re one of those who quickly dismisses creeping stagnation, pay attention. The longer you ignore the warning hints that your career lacks passion, the worse it can get. And the worse it can be for you to crawl out from under and reignite your energy.  If you aren’t working with a coach, maybe you should.

Coaching for Passion

Most coaches will advise you to look inward before making a drastic decision to change career path. What if the problem lies — along with solutions — somewhere inside you? If so, you can change your thinking, beliefs, or level of engagement as you strive to make work more meaningful.

This is a good time to review your values and purpose with your coach:

  1. What was initially attractive about your job?
  2. When you began your career, what did you expect or hope for?
  3. In the early days, how did work excite you?
  4. What has changed?

People are often surprised by their answers, having forgotten their early enthusiasm. To rekindle your drive, explore three key issues with your coach:

  1. Identify your core values.
  2. Know and manage your strengths well.
  3. Determine how your values fit with who you are today.

Few people are well aware of their strengths. This may be a good opportunity to take some assessments with your coach, such as the StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Big Five Personality Test (you can take a free version online). Another is the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths.

The wisest people are those who use their feelings of malaise to find out what drives them, what their strengths are, and use coaching to rekindle their spirits.

Rekindle Your Passion at Work

How can you rekindle passion for the work you do? Try to connect with your values and highest purpose every time you walk into the office, whenever you chat with a client or coworker, and even when completing routine tasks like paperwork.

Don’t allow yourself to fall into a zombie-like routine and forget what you love doing and are good at. Remind yourself: This is why I’m here.

Know Your Strengths

Self-knowledge is essential. In business, nobody will manage your career if you don’t. Ask yourself four questions:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform best?
  3. How do I learn best?
  4. What do I need in order to grow or learn?

Learn about your strengths through feedback from others. Spend the most energy on developing strengths in lieu of focusing on weaknesses.

How do you perform best? Are you a reader or a listener? Some people work well in teams, while others excel when flying solo. Some learn by doing, while others process information by hearing themselves talk.

The key to knowing yourself well is to receive feedback from peers, formal assessments, or a mentor or coach.

In an ideal world, we’d all be working with passion in jobs that bring out our strengths and talents to achieve the greatest good in organizations and the world. But that doesn’t always happen the way we envision.

An article in Harvard Business Review by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown (August 30, 2010), “Shape Serendipity, Understand Stress, Reignite Passion” explains:

We focus on passion in work for two reasons. First, our research suggests that passion is key to achieving sustained extreme performance improvement. This is essential to relieve the stress that we all feel in our work lives.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to go where we can develop and express our strengths if we truly want to make a difference.

A coaching colleague of mine, Diana Gabriel, a Strengths Strategy Certified Coach, is an expert in helping leaders to cultivate strengths intelligence. Unlocking the full power of your strengths with a strengths coach expands your leadership capacity, increases performance, improves productivity and enhances overall effectiveness as a leader. If you are curious about unlocking the full power of your strengths, connect with Diana.

But be aware of expressing your strengths, and talk with your coach. Before you conclude that you need to redesign your career, change fields, or pursue reduced workloads, try to find your personal passion, doing work that is truly meaningful and satisfying.

Leadership Tips for Sparking Passion

In recent days, I’ve been writing about the elusiveness of passion at work, and how important it is for leaders to pay attention to passion, unleash it, and reward those who put their enthusiasm into work. Personal passions – when aligned with company purpose and values – is a powerful force for boosting high performance.

But it won’t happen without forethought. It’s not good enough for leaders to assume they’ll know it when they see it and leave it up to their people to bring it on. They must have personal familiarity for what drives passion at work in their domain and set the platform for others by articulating clear values and purpose.

Furthermore, no one can get passionate and perform over and beyond expectations without autonomy and responsibilities. Leaders who insist on controls and top-down management will struggle to get grass roots participation.

Formal hierarchies are typically miserable at driving innovation and creativity. Participative management styles, on the other hand, are good at creating cultures where ideas and passion can grow and flourish. Are managers convinced, however, that less control and more autonomy is possible for improved productivity and performance? It remains to be seen. Most of the managers I work with, don’t want to hand over their managerial controls.

Here are a few suggestions for unleashing passion and performance where you work, from Red Hat’s CEO Jim Whitehurst. In The Open Organization, Whitehurst suggests five key leadership tips:

  1. Passion is contagious. When leaders display emotion, others will follow.
  2. Most companies have a stated purpose or mission. Integrate it into your dialogue with others on a daily basis.
  3. Add passionate words to your work vocabulary: “love,” “hate,” “excited” and “upset.” Others will adopt this behavior.
  4. Ask questions that tease out passion when hiring (i.e., “What inspires you?”).
  5. Create vehicles for people to show their unvarnished selves. Company outings or team-building events should allow for some silliness.

How do leaders in your organization ignite passion? How can you participate to create an inspirational workplace?

You can reach me here or on LinkedIn; I’d love to hear what’s happening where you work.

Linking Passion to Performance

When leaders encourage a culture in which employees take psychological ownership, even average employees can perform at high levels. Purpose and passion create meaning and excitement at work. You achieve workplace engagement when employees apply this energy to specific tasks that drive your company’s success.

In my experience working within corporations, leaders could be a lot more communicative about strategy, and let every employee know what’s going on with the business, including financials.

One company that does this well is HCL Technologies, where the company intranet openly publishes strategy, budgets for all employees to see and even performance reviews of leaders themselves.

In Employees First, Customers Second, CEO Vineet Nayar recounts how he defied the conventional wisdom that companies must put customers first, then turned the hierarchical pyramid upside down by making management accountable to the employees, and not the other way around.

In doing so, Nayar fired the passion and imagination of both employees and customers and set HCL on a transformative journey making it one of the fastest-growing and profitable global IT services companies and, according to BusinessWeek, one of the twenty most influential companies in the world.

HCL managers must ensure their direct reports understand how individual performance contributes to overall long-term success.

Most executives believe they communicate well, but they tend to overestimate their abilities. The more frequently you speak to values and higher purposes, the more others will follow your lead.

"People are most fulfilled and happiest when their work is aligned with their own inner passions. Personal passion, corporate purpose and business performance all go together." John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.

Passion is contagious—an energy force that encourages goodwill and collaboration. So, too, is negativity. Ignite passion and diminish negativity by frequently talking about purpose and values.

Passion abounds when people believe their daily tasks have meaning. You energize your workplace when people see their accomplishments have a direct impact on team members, customers, the community and the business.

What’s been your experience? Do leaders or managers in your company speak about values, purpose or passion? Are they open about sharing mission, strategies, and financials? You can reach me here or on LinkedIn; I’d love to hear what’s happening where you work.

Recognize and Reinforce Passion

Passion is a strong like for something—an enthusiasm usually rooted in personal values, identity and cultural preferences. The term is often used in context with strong beliefs:  religious fervor, political views or desire for another’s love. We may also be passionate about our leisure activities.

In the context of work, passion refers to strong emotions that drive energy and engagement. To foster passion, leaders must set the stage by openly sharing their own desires and emotional interests. When leaders are unafraid to show their own excitement, others will follow suit. Great leaders recognize and reward people whose passion drives them beyond basic job requirements.

When employees openly express passion for their work, you must recognize and honor it; otherwise, you risk losing it. In a truly engaged workplace, everyone relies on peers for praise and acknowledgment. A leader must encourage this.

When an employee goes above and beyond expectations, make sure others find out about it. A company intranet or bulletin board is a great way to spread and share kudos.

Company Culture, Events and Team Projects

You can reinforce your company’s culture and brand in many ways, but the most important may be trumpeting grass-roots ideas.

"Once you give power to the community [of workers] to make decisions, its members begin to apply that responsibility in interesting and powerful ways. ~ Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, in The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015)

When people offer their ideas, make sure they’re heard and responded to within a reasonable time frame. Emails should never be ignored or delayed. If you want people to be creative and innovative, you must listen to their contributions and give them freedom to take action.

Reinforce company values and purpose, and let staff organize themselves to explore projects. Provide a platform to celebrate events and achievements. Equip staff to plan celebrations to acknowledge hard work, success and initiative.

If your company sponsors charities or donates to a cause, let employees choose which ones to support and how they wish to participate. Even when there’s executive involvement in setting budgets, let associates run the program.

Each time you listen to individuals and teams is an opportunity to reinforce values, purpose and passion, thereby ensuring that employees connect emotionally to goals and plans.

Connecting personal interests to company purpose can be tricky. It won’t happen without frequent discussions among staff and leaders. Some experts say a message must be heard five times before people actually hear it and incorporate it into memory.

What’s been your experience? Does your company reward passion with responsibilities? You can reach me here or on LinkedIn; I’d love to hear what’s happening where you work.

Hire for Passion

The quickest way to infuse passion and high performance into a company culture is to hire for it in the first place. But how do you hire for passion?

Know anyone who’s so passionate about his work that he has a company logo tattooed somewhere on his body?

Admittedly, certain companies involved in software, social media and video gaming are more likely to have young, cult-like followers. Red Hat, the open-source Linux technology company, and Razer, the gaming hardware developer, are two examples.

When people are truly passionate about their interests and values, they eagerly express it in many ways. Companies harness this passion by encouraging a “raving fan-like” attitude among employees and customers. This can happen only when leaders provide a platform for passion.

Zappos, the large online shoe store known for its customer service, hires talent whose personal values align with the company’s core values. The best candidates have a genuine interest in helping others.

It starts at the hiring process. How do you find people who believe in the same values you and your company represent? You probably won’t unearth them using boring, conventional interview questions. You need to do more than determine someone’s skills, education and experience. You must ascertain whether candidates are a cultural fit.

It’s hard to tell if a candidate is excited because she desperately wants a job vs. a job at your company. The best people to gauge true passion, interest and fit already work for you, so let them participate in candidate interviews. Future peers are likely to learn valuable information about potential new hires.

When it comes to interview questions, evaluate how candidates interact with prospective team members. How important is collaboration to them? Assess for curiosity in others, big-picture vs. little-picture vision, and outside interests and values.

What’s been your experience? Does your business hire for passion? What do you think? You can reach me here or on LinkedIn; I’d love to hear what’s happening where you work.

Passion Starts with Purpose

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that ignites passion and high performance in companies where I coach.

What comes to mind is the message of Simon Sinek: If you haven’t clearly articulated the “why” of your business, people will struggle to be engaged in the “what” their job requires.

In his brilliant 2009 TED Talk and book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek emphasizes there has to be a reason—a purpose—for today’s workers to commit and give their best efforts to an organization:

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. If you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

Employees who don’t know how their job contributes to the organization’s purpose—and who cannot clearly articulate this purpose—are unable to give their wholehearted participation.

Igniting passion starts with defining your personal and company purpose: your beliefs, values, passions, principles and connection to the company’s mission.

Purpose isn’t what a group does, but why it performs. Defining your purpose is just the first step. Leaders must activate people’s emotions and desires.

Purpose and Passion

If having a purpose encourages people to do the right things, then passion motivates them to give extraordinary performance.

“To put it bluntly, the most important task for any manager today is to create a work environment that inspires exceptional contribution and that merits an outpouring of passion, imagination and initiative.” ~ Gary Hamel, What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation (Jossey-Bass, 2012)

Smart leaders infuse passion into their workplaces by hiring for it right from the start. What I find, however, is that few leaders or manager know how to hire for passion. It’s just not something that’s clearly defined or articulated in the workplace, nor in Human Resources processes.

What’s been your experience? Do you have a purpose to your work? One that aligns with the company you work for? What do you think? You can reach me here or on LinkedIn; I’d love to hear what’s happening where you work.

Igniting Passion and Performance

Look at today’s top-performing companies, and you’ll inevitably find a high degree of employee engagement. From frontline workers to CEOs, people are passionate about their companies’ purpose, values and mission.

Most workers are motivated to give their best and often go beyond what’s required. Some are lucky enough to work for companies that are consistently designated a “best place to work.”

But for countless other organizations, only 20% of employees say they’re excited about work. They show up to earn a paycheck. At most, they aim to achieve personal success and climb the promotion ladder.

In the first workplace, people are passionate. In the latter, they’re looking out for themselves, with management struggling to realize performance goals. We can attribute the difference to organizational factors like hierarchy, processes, incentives and, often, personalities. But the real culprit may be their leaders’ failure to ignite passion.

I see this in many of the businesses where I consult and coach. Leaders don’t see emotional factors as relevant to performance, except for when things go wrong.

Passion Principles

For years, we’ve been learning how workplace performance depends on emotional factors like engagement, culture, values and a sense of purpose. But many leaders and managers ignore the need to foster employee connection to the corporate mission.

While most leaders are highly experienced in financial planning, capital budgeting, and organizational structure and strategies, most receive no formal training in building, leveraging or measuring employee passion.

Engagement surveys are a reasonable way to gauge passion levels, but they cannot capture what it looks like or how to increase it.

We usually see successful startups filled with hordes of passionate people, yet we view them as anomalies—unique because of their youthful culture or trendy products. We seldom imagine older, more traditional companies as hotbeds of passion and energy.

Stagnant leadership thinking plagues executives who fail to identify a purpose beyond making profits.

“If you look through the right lens, every organization has the potential for world-changing impact. The role of a leader is to foster passion around that impact and to keep that passion alive by reinforcing it every day.” ~ Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, in The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015)

When leaders recognize a higher purpose and their companies’ potential to make a difference in the world, they ignite passion in their people and achieve stellar performance. When they ignore purpose, values and passion, they are missing out on one of the most powerful motivators for performance.

What do you think? You can reach me here or on LinkedIn; I’d love to hear what’s happening where you work.

How Great Leaders Ignite Passion and Performance

Look at today’s top-performing companies, and you’ll inevitably find a high degree of employee engagement. From frontline workers to CEOs, people are passionate about their companies’ purpose, values and mission.

Most workers are motivated to give their best and often go beyond what’s required. Some are lucky enough to work for companies that are consistently designated a “best place to work.”

But for countless other organizations, only 20% of employees say they’re excited about work. They show up to earn a paycheck. At most, they aim to achieve personal success and climb the promotion ladder.

In the first workplace, people are passionate. In the latter, they’re looking out for themselves, with management struggling to realize performance goals. We can attribute the difference to organizational factors like hierarchy, processes, incentives and, often, personalities. But the real culprit may be their leaders’ failure to ignite passion.

Passion Principles

For years, we’ve been learning how workplace performance depends on emotional factors like engagement, culture, values and a sense of purpose. But many leaders and managers ignore the need to foster employee connection to the corporate mission.

While most leaders are highly experienced in financial planning, capital budgeting, and organizational structure and strategies, most receive no formal training in building, leveraging or measuring employee passion.

Engagement surveys are a reasonable way to gauge passion levels, but they cannot capture what it looks like or how to increase it.

We usually see successful startups filled with hordes of passionate people, yet we view them as anomalies—unique because of their youthful culture or trendy products. We seldom imagine older, more traditional companies as hotbeds of passion and energy.

Stagnant leadership thinking plagues executives who fail to identify a purpose beyond making profits.

“If you look through the right lens, every organization has the potential for world-changing impact. The role of a leader is to foster passion around that impact and to keep that passion alive by reinforcing it every day.” ~ Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, in The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015)

When leaders recognize a higher purpose and their companies’ potential to make a difference in the world, they ignite passion in their people and achieve stellar performance.

Passion Starts with Purpose

If you haven’t clearly articulated the “why” of your business, people will struggle to be engaged in the “what” their job requires.

In his brilliant 2009 TED Talk and book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek emphasizes there has to be a reason—a purpose—for today’s workers to commit and give their best efforts to an organization:

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. If you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

Employees who don’t know how their job contributes to the organization’s purpose—and who cannot clearly articulate this purpose—are unable to give their wholehearted participation.

Igniting passion starts with defining your personal and company purpose: your beliefs, values, passions, principles and connection to the company’s mission.

Purpose isn’t what a group does, but why it performs. Defining your purpose is just the first step. Leaders must activate people’s emotions and desires.

Purpose and Passion

If having a purpose encourages people to do the right things, then passion motivates them to give extraordinary performance.

“To put it bluntly, the most important task for any manager today is to create a work environment that inspires exceptional contribution and that merits an outpouring of passion, imagination and initiative.” ~ Gary Hamel, What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable innovation (Jossey-Bass, 2012)

Smart leaders infuse passion into their workplaces by hiring for it right from the start.

Hire for Passion

Know anyone who’s so passionate about his work that he has a company logo tattooed somewhere on his body?

Admittedly, certain companies involved in software, social media and video gaming are more likely to have young, cult-like followers. Red Hat, the open-source Linux technology company, and Razer, the gaming hardware developer, are two examples.

When people are truly passionate about their interests and values, they eagerly express it in many ways. Companies harness this passion by encouraging a “raving fan-like” attitude among employees and customers. This can happen only when leaders provide a platform for passion.

Zappos, the large online shoe store known for its customer service, hires talent whose personal values align with the company’s core values. The best candidates have a genuine interest in helping others.

It starts at the hiring process. How do you find people who believe in the same values you and your company represent? You probably won’t unearth them using boring, conventional interview questions. You need to do more than determine someone’s skills, education and experience. You must ascertain whether candidates are a cultural fit.

It’s hard to tell if a candidate is excited because she desperately wants a job vs. a job at your company. The best people to gauge true passion, interest and fit already work for you, so let them participate in candidate interviews. Future peers are likely to learn valuable information about potential new hires.

When it comes to interview questions, evaluate how candidates interact with prospective team members. How important is collaboration to them? Assess for curiosity in others, big-picture vs. little-picture vision, and outside interests and values.

Recognize and Reinforce Passion

Passion is a strong like for something—an enthusiasm usually rooted in personal values, identity and cultural preferences. The term is often used in context with strong beliefs:  religious fervor, political views or desire for another’s love. We may also be passionate about our leisure activities.

In the context of work, passion refers to strong emotions that drive energy and engagement. To foster passion, leaders must set the stage by openly sharing their own desires and emotional interests. When leaders are unafraid to show their own excitement, others will follow suit. Great leaders recognize and reward people whose passion drives them beyond basic job requirements.

When employees openly express passion for their work, you must recognize and honor it; otherwise, you risk losing it. In a truly engaged workplace, everyone relies on peers for praise and acknowledgment. A leader must encourage this.

When an employee goes above and beyond expectations, make sure others find out about it. A company intranet or bulletin board is a great way to spread and share kudos.

Company Culture, Events and Team Projects

You can reinforce your company’s culture and brand in many ways, but the most important may be trumpeting grass-roots ideas. When people offer their ideas, make sure they’re heard and responded to within a reasonable time frame. Emails should never be ignored or delayed. If you want people to be creative and innovative, you must listen to their contributions and give them freedom to take action.

Reinforce company values and purpose, and let staff organize themselves to explore projects. Provide a platform to celebrate events and achievements. Let staff plan celebrations to acknowledge hard work, success and initiative.

If your company sponsors charities or donates to a cause, let employees choose which ones to support and how they wish to participate. Even when there’s executive involvement in setting budgets, let associates run the program.

Each time you listen to individuals and teams is an opportunity to reinforce values, purpose and passion, thereby ensuring that employees connect emotionally to goals and plans.

Connecting personal interests to company purpose can be tricky.  It won’t happen without frequent discussions among staff and leaders. Some experts say a message must be heard five times before people actually hear it and incorporate it into memory.

Linking Passion to Performance

When leaders encourage a culture in which employees take psychological ownership, even average employees can perform at high levels. Purpose and passion create meaning and excitement at work. You achieve workplace engagement when employees apply this energy to specific tasks that drive your company’s success.

Be more communicative about strategy, and let every employee know what’s going on with the business, including financials. Managers must ensure their direct reports understand how individual performance contributes to overall long-term success.

Most executives believe they communicate well, but they tend to overestimate their abilities. The more frequently you speak to values and higher purposes, the more others will follow your lead.

Passion is contagious—an energy force that encourages goodwill and collaboration. So, too, is negativity. Ignite passion and diminish negativity by frequently talking about purpose and values.

Passion abounds when people believe their daily tasks have meaning. You energize your workplace when people see their accomplishments have a direct impact on team members, customers, the community and the business.

Leadership Tips for Sparking Passion

In The Open Organization, Red Hat’s Whitehurst provides five key leadership tips:

  1. Passion is contagious. When leaders display emotion, others will follow.
  2. Most companies have a stated purpose or mission. Integrate it into your dialogue with others on a daily basis.
  3. Add passionate words to your work vocabulary: “love,” “hate,” “excited” and “upset.” Others will adopt this behavior.
  4. Ask questions that tease out passion when hiring (i.e., “What inspires you?”).
  5. Create vehicles for people to show their unvarnished selves. Company outings or team-building events should allow for some silliness.

How do leaders in your organization ignite passion? How can you participate to create an inspirational workplace?