Passion Is Your Business’s Greatest Lost Asset

Rediscover it through your mission!

Ancient cultures like the Maya believe that humans are innately passionate; it’s built into our DNA.  The problem comes from real life and, more specifically, Western value systems that tend to drive passion right out of us.  As an example, hard work is a Western virtue – and there’s nothing wrong with it, but what good is hard work without passion?  I’d say zero and, even worse, leads to a life of emptiness and regret.  Too much of our current emphasis is on effort, with little regard or acknowledgement on the value of desire.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a CEO forum at a local university.  The panel members, all accomplished CEOs from a wide variety of industries, were asked a series of questions throughout the morning.  I was struck by how often each noted the importance of passion in the success of their business, singling it out as the most valuable of all possible virtues.   It wasn’t education, intelligence or talent; it was passion toward their mission.

Taking just a small liberty on a Calvin Coolidge quote (I’m substituting passion for persistence), I think this captures my point:  “Nothing in this world can take the place of [passion]. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. [Passion] and determination alone are omnipotent. “

It’s my opinion that many modern business leaders have lost passion for ludicrous effort.  In other words, there is no deliberate pursuit of mission or purpose, just a lot of sweat and hours.  As mentioned earlier, our society assigns great value to hard work, which provides false validation for this direction and only exacerbates the problem.    Countless times I’ve heard friends and colleagues bragging about the number of hours worked the previous day or week.  I’ve been guilty of this too.  It wasn’t bragging about accomplishment or purpose, just the raw effort, as if that alone were meaningful and valuable.

So you’re probably saying to yourself, personal fulfillment is all well and good, but I have to pay the bills.  This is the beautiful part!  I’ve already mentioned the role passion played for the successful CEOs above, but that’s just anecdotal.  A 2002 study of over 7,900 business units in 39 companies published in the Journal of Applied Psychology1 showed a direct correlation between engaged employees and business performance.  That’s fancy science talk for companies with passionate employees make more money!  I told you this was beautiful.

So look at your own professional life.  What percentage of the hours you put into your business each week actually move your mission forward?  Do you even have a clearly defined mission or purpose?  If not, here lies both the problem and the solution.

In a 1996 Harvard Business Review2, James Collins and Jerry Porras discuss core values and core purpose as important ingredients for successful companies.  Why?  Because it is these values and purpose around which we humans rally and become passionate.  If your business has no clearly defined core purpose, the “why we exist”, it’s going to be very difficult for you – and therefore your team – to be engaged and passionate.  I guarantee there will be lots of running; there just won’t be any forward progress.

Flipping this concept around, if you have a clearly defined core purpose and engage your employees around it, the necessary effort will happen naturally.  One of the CEOs above expressed it this way, “I’ve put a lot of hours into my business, but not a single day has been ‘work’; it’s all been fun.”  Now that’s passion!  More importantly, it’s the secret ingredient of success, both personal and financial.

Don’t get shamed out of your passion either (guilt is another very powerful Western value!!), thinking you need to solve world peace or something.  If you’re passionate about making rubber bands, then be the best rubber band maker you can be.  You’re touching the lives of customers, employees and your family; extremely virtuous work indeed.  As you become financially successful you can donate to those whose passion is world peace, if you find that important.

So your action items here are two-fold:  1) spend quality time on your company’s core purpose and then 2) refocus your business around it.  Once your core purpose, or mission, is clearly defined you can then lay out a strategic plan in line and keeping with this purpose.  You now have the essential ingredients to engage your entire organization and propel your business forward.  The necessary effort will be there, trust me.

If you need help on the process, just call! 

1Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis.  Harter, James K.; Schmidt, Frank L.; Hayes, Theodore L.  Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 87(2), Apr 2002, 268-279.

2Building Your Company’s Vision, by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras; Harvard Business Review, September-October 1996.

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