Monday, February 11, 2008

Lead Better - Ring of Fire

Passion at work? If you're like most of us, the response is usually, "nice idea but get real". This was never so obvious to me as in a recent offsite with some folks from YPO. A handful of execs, they represented a broad array of industries and personality types. Diversity aside, these successful presidents of companies universally faced the same struggle: how to ignite passion and get the best out of people.

As professionals, who doesn't want to feel passion? Curiously, while we lament the lack of engagement or innovative thinking of those around us, rarely do we allow or facilitate conversations that are messy enough for passion to arise. Too often our cultivated preference for measurable outcomes from linear processes dominates. As passion at work is easily scuttled as "impratical" or "not measureable", in many corporations the work of passion and the passion of work is left to motivational speakers and outside vendors.

The offsite was a perfect metaphor for this phenomenon. When asked what the value is of getting away for the day for an mountainside offsite, each strongly acknowledged the need to do exactly that - to come together to share dreams and passion in a supportive environment free of expectations our pre-prescribed outcomes. Widely regarding the time together as a "lifeline", when given the suggestion that they create such a lifeline within their office culture they wanted guarantees, structure and measurability.

First, let's acknowledge that PASSION loves company as much as misery does. What's more: while misery is predictable and points to a resignation-laden dead end, passion insists on possibility, on not knowing the outcome and on the possibility of igniting auxillary fires. With employee engagement at an all time low across the planet, we've got to bravely move towards starting those fires and see how they lend energy and vigor to our work.

Bring your inspiration and passion "home" to the office. You have people around you who also have hearts, minds, jobs and ideas. Chances are the guy or woman in the other cube or office would also benefit from being in an engaging, dynamic environment. Don't allow your passion to lie fallow until you stumble upon a touching moment at a movie, hear a great motivational speaker or have a great b.s. session with friends. Here are a couple of ways you can build your own circle of fire at work:

  • Herd your direct reports and colleagues into a conference room and put on the table that passion only happens when all concerned agree to prioritize it - including YOU and each of them.

  • Start a group brainstorm on how to make passion and inspiration matter more in the office and on projects.

  • Ask them what they want to do to have passion as a more prominent element in their work.

  • Keep and make public a running list of what inspires the various people on the team so you can effortlessly share the right ideas with the right folks whenever you stumble upon it.

  • Have a Passion Power Lunch where you each bring one thing - be it a youtube or product, email, book, whatever - that inspired you each week or month.

There may not always be a linear process to put action behind the energy. Indeed it may call for those involved to collaborate powerfully on how to harness the ideas and possibilities raised, how to put passion to purpose and allow it to act as a river connecting dreams to productivity. By calling on those participating with finding ways to make those connections, you'll heighten their engagement and reinforce the notion that not only DO they impact the world around them but they also determine how they move through it.

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