by Dennis Burnside

Pretty loaded topic, don’t you think? Before I started to write this article, I Googled “passion in the workplace.” Take a guess at how many references to the topic popped up. Close to 15,000. It’s clear that “passion in the workplace” is a business phrase with buzz.

Defining passion in the workplace is hampered by the way the word passion is used on the street: it can mean intense emotion of any kind–love, hate, ambition or contempt. It is most often defined in terms of sexuality, represented by the steamy cover of a romance novel. But in fact, passion in the workplace is the positive energy we bring to our clients, co-workers, suppliers and those we come into contact with every day.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, uses “passion” in the way he characterizes great leadership: the ability to be passionate and show compassion at the same time, truly caring about the people you work with, from your clients to your vendors. I think Mr. Welch has it right. Most everyone I know has a job or a vocation in addition to their “real” lives. The people I admire most in their professional lives also have admirable personal lives. They are energetic, curious, thoughtful, and caring. They seem to have the ability to make others feel the same way. They bring their passion to the workplace. Not all of them are the Jack Welches of their organizations. Many of them are sales professionals, administrative support, technology junkies and operational staff. Sometimes the most inspiring (and valuable) employee is the person who answers the phone or acts as the company receptionist.

A workplace can support or suppress this positive passion. The most passionate workplaces feature

  • Trust between management, employees and customers
  • Shared vision between leaders, employees and customers
  • Environments that encourage creative thinking and sharing of ideas
  • Risk-taking for the purpose of doing better
  • Community involvement and an honest effort to give back and do good for others
  • Striving for knowledge that will benefit clients and the organization
  • Sharing that knowledge to benefit many
  • Management that encourages and financially supports employee personal growth
  • Physical space that reflects the organization’s positive culture
  • Ongoing commitment and an evolving attitude toward passion–the “passion to be passionate”
  • Mature, articulate, visionary, creative, inclusive and giving leaders who lead by example

But leaders aren’t the only ones who can lead by example and show how passion can improve life at work. By fulfilling your assigned role to the best of your ability as you focus on doing things that develop trust among everyone connected to the company, you inspire others. Your official role may be answering the phone, overseeing accounts payable, fulfilling a client assignment, installing new technology, or running the company. But if you perform that role mindful of the positive effect you can have, you are a company leader–you have just helped create a passionate workplace.