Passionate Leaders and Their Impact
We have already established that many “WOW!” companies have passionate leaders! While defining “passionate” can be difficult in the context of business leaders, most of us immediately recognize passionate leaders when we see them. The leaders of many “WOW!” companies I’ve encountered have that passion “oozing out of them” for the lack of a better description. It’s the same type of passion most of us have probably observed in a teacher or professor who truly and genuinely loves a particular subject. We often meet people in our everyday lives who have given up fame and fortune to pursue their passion. This is the same sort of behavior demonstrated by passionate business owners.
There are certainly many talented, dedicated leaders who aren’t necessarily passionate but have advanced their organizations to great levels, including some in the “WOW!” status. From my perspective, these executives are truly “professional managers” who could take their talent to other companies with similar success, and they are major contributors to the job growth and prosperity of our private enterprise system. However, adding a little passion to those leaders seems to do two things — it gets their organizations to “WOW!” status faster, and makes it more likely that they’ll remain there.
The passion of the leader has absolutely nothing to do with education or experience. Passionate leaders tend to be humble, yet confident. They are typically calm, yet assertive. They are genuinely interested in providing the very best product or service to their customers, and creating a work environment that allows each employee to reach his or her full potential, even if it means the employee might eventually leave the company to pursue his or her own dream. They proactively invest in their people, and in becoming the very best provider to their customers.
- Some of them are passionate about what the business does.
- Some are passionate about being the best, regardless of what the business does.
- Some are passionate about both.
Because of their humility and drive to have the very best organization possible, passionate leaders recognize their own shortcomings and surround themselves with talented people who can offer the expertise they need. They do this by bringing employees into the organization who are more skilled than they are in specific functions of the business. In addition, they have an Outside Board that they rely on heavily for on-going, high-level advice regarding the future of the business, as well as personal advisors who can bring the guidance they need in areas like personal finance, banking, law, insurance, health, etc.
It’s important to note that having a passionate leader at the helm creates some potential future risks for the organization. When the passionate leader is no longer in charge for whatever reason, there is rarely a successor who possesses the same level of passion.
Although there are definitely exceptions, over a period of time, each successive leader generally demonstrates a little less passion, not through any personal shortcoming, but simply because the subsequent leaders are likely to be more passionate about something else besides the business. They definitely have a keen interest in the business, but it’s generally not passion.
It’s certainly possible to stay in the “WOW!” category with a leader who is interested. However, there can be times when the leadership of an organization regresses to a level below interested. It occasionally occurs in multi-generational family-owned businesses when leadership has moved from the passion of the founder, to the interest of his or her children and grandchildren, to a later generation whose approach can best be described as entitled. This is something I call the “Passionate – Interested – Entitled” (P.I.E.) Phenomenon. If allowed to run its course, it can be a contributor to the disappearance of a family business that may have operated successfully for more than one hundred years. This is not to say that subsequent generations of the family weren’t passionate about something. Indeed, many of them may have become passionate about charitable activities or other noble causes, but somehow the business didn’t receive the necessary attention.
For those truly well-managed companies that do NOT have passionate leaders at the top, here are a couple of observations that may be of help going forward.
First, a leader should never stop trying to stay qualified for the job as it changes. In the same way that others in the organization need to grow and develop to remain qualified for their jobs, the leader must do so as well. In some cases it may even be appropriate for the leader to relinquish the leadership position to someone more qualified, but only after there is clear evidence that the leader has reached full potential.
Second, if an organization continuously and candidly re-evaluates itself and finds it is unable to move beyond the “Ouch,” “Ho-Hum,” or “Gee-Whiz” category, then the constraint is likely related to the limited capacity of the leader to lead. For example, over a period of years, perhaps the leader is able to move the organization from “Ouch” to “Ho-Hum,” and maybe even temporarily “top-out” in the “Gee-Whiz” category for a brief time before falling back into “Ho-Hum.” In that case the leadership potential has probably been reached, and has now become the constraint on further advancement for the company toward the “WOW!” classification of professional management.
Remember this about passionate leadership. Strong leaders can definitely get organizations into the “WOW!” category, even if that leader might not be described as passionate. However, passion seems to play a major role in how quickly a leader can take an organization into the “WOW!” category, and how likely that organization is to remain there.
Bill Matthews is Co-Founder of The WOW Business Advisory, LLC, and author of Five P’s to a “WOW!” Business. Copyright 2012-2016 by The WOW Business Advisory, LLC. All rights reserved.