Ignite The Passion From Within

Last week we looked at key takeaways for transformational teams. As alluded to in resolutions & the rear view mirror this year for me is delving into the often ‘intangible’ world of ‘passion’. Described as a ‘soft skill’ by many, it is my assertion that like the doyen Tom Peters “hard is soft and soft is hard.” Only when we can tap into the passion of an employee can the purpose we espouse be fully realised.

In recent years, purpose has moved from philosophy to lifestyle. On the personal level, an army of coaches preach what positive psychologists such as Martin Seligman suggest: that there is a direct link between purpose and human flourishing. On the organizational level, a plethora of consultants now work with leaders of all sectors and industries to help them clarify the purpose of their company or institution. Since Larry Fink, the CEO of investment firm BlackRock, postulated the critical importance of purpose in a much-gushed-about letter to his peers, it is hard to find any company that is not interested in uncovering, defining, or sharpening its purpose, in an effort to attract and retain talent.

I would be the last to bemoan the importance of Purpose (as I have written about it extensively in key benefits of the purpose driven workplace), yet it is the foundation; not the end point.

It’s true that, as the economist Paul Collier points out, no one is getting up in the morning and thinking, “I’m so incredibly excited to contribute again to maximizing shareholder value today.” But at the same time, it is questionable how many workers do get up every morning and wonder, say, “How can I contribute to my company’s purpose of promoting well-being?” So it is really important that we create a purpose that brings resonance and inspiration but we cannot rest on our laurels.

Corporate purpose statements can often sound hollow (“to increase value for our customers” or “to give back to society”). And even if a purpose is more specific, more disputable, it often remains an abstract idea suspected of putting lipstick on rather conventional corporate behaviour. So for purpose to have ’value’ it must guide decision-making, unite culture and inspire performance.

The corollary of purpose is performance, which is another one of these sacred words in business and community-building. Purpose is the prerequisite of performance, and without impact  —  preferably a measurable one  —  talk is just talk, so they say. Performance (especially if it is underpinned via creativity & innovation) provides a beacon of progress and encourages us to do more.

It is when we work on purpose (meaning) and performance (progress) in parallel that we can then tap in & amplify the passion of each and every employee.

Some of the most impactful experiences in life usually come without a distinctive explicit purpose: art, for example, or romantic love. No one would ever ask for a purpose statement from a date or romantic partner. No one would ever ask Banksy, Bruce or Beyoncé to write down the purpose of their work. While love and art experiences desperately seek to extract some meaning (primarily through narrative, the stories we are told and tell ourselves) from the seemingly random maelstrom of time, they are sustained by ongoing passion.

Ultimately, “reason is slave to passion,” even Adam Smith knew. We need to allow passion to be the main driver of our pursuits. Passion is not antithetical to purpose, but purpose leads to engagement, while passion leads to open-ended exploration (John Hagel from Deloitte has written extensively about this topic). And both we and the organizations we inhabit, need the latter much more urgently in order for us to learn and flourish in a time of accelerated change.

Is it immoral, though, to skip purpose in favor of passion? Doesn’t passion alone give us a carte blanche, a free license to do whatever we want in absence of an overarching principle that harmonizes our actions and does so, most importantly, in relation to other people? Of course it would be catastrophic if we simply followed our passions without having purpose as its foundation. But that’s still a far cry from having a single purpose that guides us at all times. And we feel our job is done. Appreciating our passions may in fact help us to recognize those of others and, in other words, to generate compassion.

As we start 2019, it is curious that we speak of New Year’s resolutions and not desires. Resolutions are reason-driven and performance-oriented. They provide us with the illusion that we are the CEOs of our lives, when in fact we are struggling to act as their project managers. We are mustering all of our resolve to exert some control over our lives, but we rarely cut deeper, to the profound desires that are the true drivers of our actions.

What if a company with a strong implicit sentiment that all its constituents could then attach themselves to a more humane workplace? What if we allowed Passion to be the key determinant in how we unlock growth? Over the next few weeks we are going to delve into how company’s can promote passion as it’s secret sauce.

Purpose without passion is so 2018; 2019 will be the year of the blank canvas, ready for the imprint of life.

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