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Do we need passionate leadership?

Some time ago I had a presentation to members of one communications institution in London on our team’s success related to our acquisition communication for which we have recently won ‘The Best Financial and Corporate In-house Team’ and ‘The Communications Department of the Year’ awards in the UK and Canada respectively. The discussion which followed the presentation turned to personalities of Chief Executive Officers and whether they need to be passionate about the business to be able to drive the business forward and succeed. And then the conversation swiftly moved onto passion and its role in any business success. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the opinions that arose during this, occasionally passionate, conversation.

Some participants expressed that passion is key to success for all sorts of reasons. For example, passion fuels confidence – passionate people lead the way, not just show the way. People who are confident are great leaders and earn respect as well as confidence of others.

Passion also leads to excitement that can be shared. The CEO in my company often shows his great passion about the business and its prospects. The excitement he creates subsequently fosters an organised value, a sense of a common purpose, and enthusiasm in his teams and in the entire business. Passion can be very contagious and a passionate person generates different company dynamics, maximising the energy of the teams and employees. I also believe that in business passion inspires trust in the company future and success; at the same time, it can be a conduit to the motivating work environment – provided it’s genuine. Passionate people engage their employees to go faster, work harder and improve their results. They don’t push or drive people, they inspire; they cause people to dig deep, give their best effort and ultimately go the extra mile.

In fact, one could even say that the best leaders are or were those who leave their footprints in their areas of passion. Looking at some of the megabrands around, we can easily identify passionate leaders who have inspired their employees in amazing ways, such as Steve Jobs (Apple) and Larry Page (Google).

But if passion matters, why does it matter? In the today’s challenging economic climate organisations need passionate leadership more than ever before. In addition to what has been said, according to some research, passionate leadership is linked to more ethical and fairer organisational climate as when a leader is passionate, people feel a deep sense of being led in a meaningful and worthy direction by someone who is dedicated to something more important than his or her own individual glory.

On the other hand, some discussion participants were saying passion is not sufficient for creating and maintaining sustainable success. You need more than that. You need expertise to deliver value, for example. Establishing an area of expertise, amassing and leveraging knowledge, skills and experience to attract clients is crucial to distinguish a business from your peers. Without all that, it is impossible to deliver value, so passion cannot be substitute for competence.

And what happens when times get tough? To maintain passion is great; however, resilience is the answer. Without it, it is hard to survive in an unpredictable and uncontrollable market which may affect a business. What can be controlled, however, are responses to the challenges. Only those who recognise that change is inevitable and adapt to the new reality will successfully navigate the hardship - and after the crisis is over, they will emerge from it stronger and more capable. In those tough times, you may also need creativity and innovation to make the most of limited resources, so being resourceful with a strategic focus is critical too.

In addition, as the discussion revealed, it is necessary to feel the urgency, the internal push, to take your business to the next level. John P. Kotter, regarded by many as the authority on leadership and change noted that, "With an attitude of true urgency, you try to accomplish something important every day." So again, having a passion without a true sense of urgency might result in preventing you from taking the vital action needed to advance your goals.

There are pros and cons but in general ‘passionate leadership’ seems to be something that can be beneficial to many companies. In the book ‘The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership’, entrepreneur Richard Branson describes his experience in building the Virgin Group, focusing on aspects such as fun, creativity and the lost art of listening. However, he also talks about the fact that one cannot train someone to be passionate – it’s either in their DNA or not. I can imagine, this subject could open up another long polemic.

Despite differences in our opinions we arrived at some conclusions. Of course, one needs an arsenal of fundamental skills and proper planning to succeed in business. But imagine someone with a top-notch education. This person has all the right strengths to excel, the knowledge and the experience. Now, imagine that this person, though perhaps equipped to handle the job, has no interest and is disengaged – their heart is not in it. What will the result be? Passion makes a world of difference. It’s the passionate people who take the biggest risks, step up the plate and help make the biggest leaps forward within teams and companies.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer and lecturer: “Passion is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without passion.”

So, do you demonstrate passionate leadership? And are you passionate about what you do?



About the author: Tereza Urbánková is a PR, communications and marketing professional with over 15 years’ experience and proven success in industries such as hospitality, retail, IT, defence, broadcast, logistics and engineering. For the past nine years she has been working and living in London, UK; currently, she is Head of Global Communications for Amec Foster Wheeler plc, a large international engineering consultancy. Tereza also works as a freelance consultant in the area of communications and PR. In 2015, she became a member of the Executive Committee of the Czech British Chamber of Commerce in the UK. She speaks Czech, English, Spanish and Russian and can be reached on terezaurbankova@yahoo.com or through her LinkedIn profile



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