A Deloitte study, conducted in 2014, found that “up to 87% of America’s workforce doesn’t contribute to their full potential”. Though much has been written about a leader’s role in motivating, engaging, & bringing out the best in employees, the study found the reason for this sub-par contribution to be lack of passion for work. Passion plays an important role in the potential, and present performance of an employee. This passion gap is important because passionate workers are committed to continually achieve higher levels of performance. So the question is how does a leader develop others toward their passions?
Adopt a servant leader’s mindset. In the face of heavy workloads, it’s easy to figure-out why every interaction turns into a rushed conversation focused on getting stuff done or fixing problems. Developing others toward their passions requires a mindset shift. As Robert Greenleaf, coined the phrase and wrote, “The servant-leader is servant first…it begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve. The best test, which is difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as people? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”. One needs to adopt this mindset of thinking & working for the employee before self.
Help to unlock and discover people’s passion. You can help to explore what drives passion on the job for your employees by giving them a chance to pause and reflect. Choose natural points in the workflow to ask below suggested questions:
- In advance of new experiences: What are you excited about for this upcoming project or initiative? What are the ways you hope to develop, learn, or grow with this experience?
- After key milestones: What’s something you felt great about, or were especially proud of on that team or project? What was especially rewarding, meaningful, or inspiring coming out of that project, initiative, or event?
- At annual performance reviews: What did you enjoy working on most this past year and why? What are the types of things you’d like to get more experience in next year?
- In career development conversations: What is your career aspiration over the next three to five years? How do you see this role helping you get there? What inspires you now?
Prioritize work at the intersection of passion and contribution. With greater information in hand, you can help to better identify the sweet spot where your employee’s passion and contribution, to your team or organization, overlap. Help your direct reports in prioritizing their work with the focus on tasks that align with passion and high value of contribution, while also doing tasks that are important and may be consuming too much time and energy. This will ensure that passion is included in the equation.
Be careful of assuming that throwing more opportunities, or stretch assignments, at your employee is the key to unlocking passion. They may seem to be performing fine, doing all the right things, however, they could be operating in a silent state of continued overwhelm, and the long term consequence maybe disengagement.
Know when it’s time to help someone move on. Practically, you aren’t always going to have work or opportunities that hit the “passion contribution” zone for your employees. The key is to recognize when a role has run its course. Don’t become the boss who keeps others “in a box” or gets locked into a view of someone from the past. Not allowing a protégé to move on or spread their wings can create a passion drain. As a leader it is important to accept churn. One must recognize that smart, creative, flexible people tend to have fast-paced careers. Even if someone moves out of the organization, continue to offer advice, personal introductions, and membership into their networks.
The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes, that there is a strong correlation between believing in the mission, enjoying the job, and performing at high levels. As a leader, identifying your team member’s passion, helping them explore & prioritize, helps them be excited about work as well as grow in their roles and career. Helping others to develop toward their passions can be a rewarding part of being a leader. By adopting a servant leader’s mindset, as aforementioned, you will not only increase engagement but also are more likely to build long-lasting relationships.