Liberating Passion in the Workplace

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Omar Khan

The best organizations seek passionate people. Why? Because passionate commitment converts talent into stellar performance. And apathy, as passion’s antithesis, directly decreases any return on investment of people’s energies and abilities.

Passion is natural. Capable people abound with it, at least in the areas of their talent. If passion is lacking at work, it’s because companies have become institutionalized “passion killers,” through mediocre leadership practices, dysfunctional teams, poor communication, and dispiriting work cultures.

Leadership is about how we relate, how we engage each other, the respect we have for each other, and the quality and candor of our communication. To avoid quelling passion, we must employ passion liberators, the most encompassing of which is the creation of authentic relationships.

All passion liberators emphasize how we relate to each other. Let’s look at three that are critical:

  1. Intimacy. This may sound like a strange word to use in the workplace, but we can’t be enthusiastic about our work or effective on a team if we don’t get to know our teammates. By letting people know who we are, what turns us on or off, our priorities as well as our peeves, our strong points and our anxieties, we remove our masks of defensiveness. Instead of using our energies to create a charade of mutual cover-ups, we devote them to leveraging our best qualities, coping with our worst, and transcending individual limits through collective breakthroughs of relevance and importance to the business.
  2. Protecting Possibility. One of the demonstrable attributes of globally successful leaders is the ability to face complex facts and realities while simultaneously retaining a sense of possibility. Call it “creative reality engagement.”

    We destroy passion when we ignore reality or downplay evident challenges. Also destructive is using “reality” as an excuse for our failed imagination or inadequate will. What we need to foster in our companies and teams is the ability to grasp reality quickly, face it squarely, and understand its dimensions. Essential to this process, however, is the ability to transform reality and even “provoke” it in the direction of our vision.

    The leaders we admire invent new possibilities but, emotionally, they accept the realities they face at the outset. John F. Kennedy, for example, had to persuade Americans to accept the dominance of Soviet technology and space exploration in order to galvanize a successful response. Steve Jobs had to acknowledge Apple’s long-time, moribund business results in order to engineer a magnificent turnaround.
  3. Coaching Growth. Once we have succeeded in instituting the first two passion liberators we must coach growth; that is, confront and encourage each other to grow in the ways that will facilitate the achievement of our shared vision.

    One aspect of coaching growth is awareness of the behaviors we have to improve in order to work more effectively with others. However, coaching growth runs deeper than behaviors. If we truly want to engage our colleagues’ passion, we must commit to each other’s success and, ultimately, to a shared win. When team members feel and express a deep commitment to each other, both passion and results abound.

Make a vow that you’ll encourage your managers to become passion igniters, never passion killers. If you encourage them to implement these common sense passion liberators, with the philosophy of helping others to succeed, the payoff will be an engaged workforce and a healthier bottom line.

About the Author(s)

Omar Khan is the founder and senior partner of Sensei International. His new book is Liberating Passion: How the World’s Best Global Leaders Produce Winning Results, coauthored by Paul B. Brown (Wiley & Sons).