Passionate leadership

What is passion? 
Passion is essentially what drives people to achieve outstanding results. It may take any form and does not necessarily have to be tied up to one’s work life; it may for example be a natural commitment to helping people or to promote new ideas. Passion is the feeling and the action of putting something extra into a cause and not giving up on it. Passion may exist for almost anything – the key is articulating what that thing is.

Can you give examples of passionate leaders? 
One example is Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group. His passion is for accomplishing new things, challenging systems and stretching current realities through having fun. There is a natural desire within him that tells him to continuously challenge, improve and question things. As a result, he has redefined the boundaries of numerous branches and business areas to include ever more creative solutions and ideas. 

Another example is Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple. He is particularly passionate about technology, design and innovation. I think it is especially interesting to see how it comes very natural to him to be enthusiastic about the products and the company and how people around him get inspired by his authentic and truly deep-felt commitment. 

What characterises the passionate leader?
S/He is almost like a child in terms of his/her enthusiasm. He is enthusiastic, authentic and a true believer in his abilities to move the world - and most of all, he is extremely self-confident in his area of passion.

His main challenge is therefore often to gain a higher degree of self-awareness and self-reflection, so that he can balance inner drives with external factors and create a win-win situation for himself and the people, who work around him and for him.

His passion can sometimes create only short-term success. This is evident in entrepreneurs as they face the challenge of letting go of passions and allowing other people in their organisation to take responsibility for growth in the business. In many cases, entrepreneurs begin to lose interest in the business of growth, as this may not be their passion. It is essential that entrepreneurs address the issue of transferring the passion into long-term ambitions; ambitions that can be made available also for other people within the organisation. 

I n this connection, t he good thing about passion is that it is contagious. Leaders who emanate passion are much more likely to be a source of inspiration for other organisational members. An important question in this connection is: how do leaders best communicate and express their passion to others? I find it is clearly through the actions and the behaviour of the leader that people become inspired. It is not what they say as much as what they do that leads others to follow their example.

For this reason, passionate leaders become also especially important in situations of organisational crisis or change, as they can help lead the way and advocate for a different future.

You are a leader yourself. What do you do to be passionate?
I would like to think of myself as a passionate leader, yes. My passions lie especially within sports and the various initiatives in BMC Global Services, where we aim to pass on the torch of creative leadership to others. My passion is to see people and organisations fulfil, and grow, potential. I am also passionate about embracing the person as a whole and utilising their uniqueness to deliver outstanding outcomes.

Can anybody become a passionate leader or is it something you are born with? 
We all have passions inside us, and therefore we also all have got the potential to unlock our passions. We can find our passion by looking inwards and reflecting on what drives our actions and goals. What is it that you are truly passionate or enthusiastic about? What gets you excited and emotional? You then turn your passion outwards and explore the potential for matching it with your surroundings. How can you realise your commitment and make it central to your life? You try to create links with your passions and the broader objectives of your working environment. 

Can you describe some of the techniques you use for training leaders to be passionate? 
There are a number of different techniques that can be used to help people unlock their passions:

First of all, I ask them to engage in self-reflection to come closer to what they dream about. It involves training in holistic thinking rather than means-end thinking, where you are focused on only one step at a time. Once you start to think holistically, you consider how whole developments are going to strategically improve things over longer terms. Every passion is subjective, so training will involve going to the bottom of people’s spirituality and culture to reveal their personal values and beliefs.

Second of all, I show them the minds of athletes and winning teams to illustrate how we, as human beings, create successes and a mindset, which is outcome-based. Here, it becomes interesting to take a neuroscience perspective on what gets us excited or depressed and what causes us pain or pleasure and how we can work on balancing out these feelings. In leadership and organisational terms unlocking passion is only relevant if we can deliver outstanding outcomes. Otherwise, it is purely an emotion.

Thirdly, it is necessary to look into interpersonal relationships and how people interact with each other to get an understanding of the passionate leaders’ relation to his environment, and how he can engage with his audience to maximise the effectiveness of this passion.

And fourthly, we take a look at some of the forms of communication and presentation techniques that the passionate leader has at his disposal, when the purpose is to arouse also other people’s interest on the subject. Especially storytelling techniques prove useful as channels for the personal story of passion. 

As you can imagine, the Master in leadership is very much a self-development program. By unlocking people’s passions, we essentially empower them to take control over their lives and destinies. Many will find that they need to take a different course in life to be true to their newly found passions. They will most likely return to their job with a new view and a richer perspective on their function in the company.  Thus, increasing their value to the organisation at whatever level.

How does passion help increase organisational performance?

The obsession with optimising financial turnover is a trap which hinders many organisations from focusing on their real asset: people. Think about how many people go to work everyday without being true to their passion, and thus restricting their value add to the business. If you can turn these people into passionate organisational members, I believe the total outcome will be much bigger than the organisation could ever imagine.

The Master in leadership will contain experiential learning methods such as combat sports, cooking, acting and Yoga. What is the point of this?  

The point is to activate people in a process of thinking and doing. The underlying philosophy of the programme is this: a good coach will provide the student with the tools to develop themselves and thus be able to take control of their own destiny, in their chosen fields.

How do you predict the field and the interest for Passionate Leadership will develop in the future?

I believe we will see more and more examples of leaders, who work strategically and purposely with the five elements of leadership intelligence that underpins Passionate Leadership thinking:

- Spiritual intelligence, which refers to unlocking personal beliefs and values.  

- Emotional intelligence, which is how you cope with and respond emotionally to various phenomena and situations at a personal level.  

- Social intelligence, which is how you deal with other people and behave in a social setting with other people.

- Physical intelligence, which refers to your energy levels which are essential to deliver change.

- Mental intelligence, which is your IQ.

All five levels of intelligence work interactively with each other. 

Rakesh Sondhi is professor at The University of Buckingham and Managing Director at BMC Global Services, a business consultancy company with the mission to empower businesses for change and development, through the development of leadership, talent and passion in the organisation. He will be teaching at the Master in leadership at Ledelsesakademiet.