To reach the level of CEO, a certain level of passion is required. Beyond work ethic, expertise, communication skills and leadership abilities, having a strong desire to excel is essential.
A passionate CEO can lead to a passionate company. In a story for Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst explores how powerful that desire can be: “What sets companies apart, the companies where people love to work, is passion. People want to be passionate about what they do, and they want to be surrounded by people who are also passionate about what they do.”
Here are several ways passion can play a role in a CEO’s success, and a few tips for how to make the most of it.
The power of enthusiasm
A leader who shows enjoyment and energy in support of the business’ mission can be encouraging to managers and employees. This sort of excitement — not generic rah-rah commentary, but genuine enthusiasm — can be contagious. In a story for Inc.com, Matt Ehrlichman describes the benefits of leaders being “in-tune with their passion.”
“Think of the last conversation you had with someone about something they were deeply passionate about,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter if the subject is completely uninteresting to you, the conviction in their voice and the authentic enthusiasm they have for it is captivating. Passionate people know what it’s like to dive deep into a subject and completely understand it.”
The product or the mission
Passion doesn’t necessarily have to directly refer to the product or service the business provides. Author Carmine Gallo examines this in a story for Entrepreneur. He writes that successful leaders are primarily passionate about the overall mission: “They’re passionate about what their products or services mean to the lives of their customers. They’re passionate about changing the world or disrupting an established category.”
Gallo uses Steve Jobs as an example, writing that he “wasn’t passionate about computer hardware. He was passionate about building tools that would help people unleash their personal creativity.”
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had passion for more than just coffee. Gallo writes that Schultz told him, “Coffee is the product, but it’s not the business we’re in.”
“Schultz built an empire from scratch precisely because he wasn’t as passionate about the product as he was about ‘creating a third place between work and home.’ Anyone can sell a cup of coffee,” Gallo writes. “It takes a true innovator to create an experience.”
The CEO who delivers a fiery speech to rally the staff, then disappears into the corner office when things take a sour turn, won’t inspire much confidence. Being dedicated to the staff can mean a great deal. In a story for chiefexecutive.net, Ray Attiyah compares CEO loyalty with that of diehard sports fans, noting that they support their teams in good times and bad.
“Similarly, CEOs should support their team/staff even (or especially) during tough times,” he writes. “Give encouragement and thanks to team members who are going the extra mile. Let them know that you stand beside them. Cheer them on rather than abandon them when challenges multiply. (Booing the home team when the chips are down is not only bad form in sports, it’s bad in business too.)”
Emotions are OK
Passion is naturally tied to emotion. In Whitehurst’s story for Harvard Business Review, he notes that the word “emotional” is often considered “a bad word” in business. “But inspiration, enthusiasm, motivation, and excitement are emotions too,” he writes. “If you ask your people to check their emotions (both the good and the bad) at the door, you can’t tap into their passion.”
It also plays a role in hiring. Having employees that care about the business can help propel it forward. Passionate employees can also attract like-minded people, Whitehurst explains.
“One way to get passionate people into your organization is to rely on the people who already work there to refer people they want to work with,” Whitehurst writes. “Create a flexible incentive program that rewards people for bringing in candidates who are a perfect fit for your culture.”
Find the joy
Here’s a concept that can be of use to anyone in business. Finding the happiness in a high-level job is crucial, and ideally it’s not just about the salary. In a story for Fast Company, Robert Safian focuses on PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who said in a 2014 discussion that passion can play a role in the often-discussed work-life balance: “The job is work and life. Home is also work and life, so there is no balance. It is a 24-7 job because some part of the world has some issue at all points in time.”
There are plenty of experts who stress a hard line of separation between business and personal lives. But the happiness that success can bring — and the happiness in the work that it takes to get there — may make the difference.
Nooyi said in the discussion: “You’ve just gotta love what you’re doing, and you’ve gotta believe in what you’re doing, and you’ve gotta say to yourself, ‘When I feel like I’ve done enough with this company, I want to leave feeling great about my contributions and the legacy I’m leaving behind.’ If you approach the job that way, it’s a very fulfilling, phenomenal job. If you look at it as just, ‘Oh God, I gotta go to work, I gotta get this big CEO paycheck,’ that’s not the right way to approach the job.”
A CEO can have a significant impact by being present, and not shying away from personal interaction. That openness can help employees understand the CEO’s enthusiasm, and that can then help it to spread, as Attiyah writes.
“Display your passion by meeting one-on-one with your leadership team members and face-to-face with your employees in general,” he notes. “Get out in the field often and get to know the people who work for you. Feel their pride in and passion for the work they do, and then carry that feeling to others. In doing so, they will witness your passion firsthand and see that you care and are committed to each person and function and understand their point-of-view.”
Don’t overdo it
How a CEO displays his or her passion can be tricky: How much is too much? If it reaches an extreme level, this passion could result in a backlash of sorts. Examining how that energy translates to the employees can be key, according to Cedric Bru, CEO of Taulia, in a story for Fortune.
“Part of the job description is showing up to work positive, focused and driven each day,” he says. “A lot of leaders are naturally quite intense, but this can have the unintended consequence of wearing out your team. Something I’ve learned throughout my career is to coach my leaders to diffuse their intensity, so it doesn’t overwhelm their employees, partners or customers. It’s the difference between a fire hose and an irrigation system.”