Originally published on Forbes
What makes a great leader? Better yet, what makes a successful leader?
Answers to these two questions will vary depending on who you ask. Some people might even respond differently to each question. There isn’t necessarily a “correct” answer to either query.
Emotional intelligence, ambition, oversight and resilience are some of the characteristics I’d expect to see in many responses to these two questions. Like others, I would agree with the importance and impact of those traits on successful leadership.
Yet, I believe one characteristic is the foundation for all other such features—passion. In my opinion, passion is what makes a great and successful leader.
Passion is both the spark that ignites a fire under entrepreneurs and the fuel that keeps them going. Entrepreneurs who ditch the nine-to-five grind to start their own companies can’t make it on hope alone. Research has shown that passion has an impact on entrepreneurs’ performance, creativity and persistence. Passion can positively affect success.
I’ve noticed passionate leaders don’t have an intensity for business alone. They often have a passion for life, which influences several other factors that translate into a successful business.
Passion brings ideas to life.
When people ask about how I transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions, I always credit my passion. Generating ideas often comes effortlessly to business leaders, especially as they gain experience and knowledge in their industries. The difficult part comes when it’s time to turn those ideas into tangible products, services or processes that can be implemented into a business.
If you are passionate about your ideas, it’s much easier to sell them to your team. Once your team has bought in, it can be even easier to motivate employees to move a project forward. In my experience, people will work harder to bring ideas to life if there is passion and excitement behind them. This momentum is what a strong business model relies on to evolve.
Passion is contagious and can spread throughout the company.
You’ll know if a company is run by a passionate leader the moment you step into their office, and it will be even more obvious when you sit in on company meetings. Are employees engaged and eager to bring ideas to the table? Is there constant peer-to-peer collaboration and camaraderie happening in the office or over video calls? If so, the leader is likely passionate.
I’ve found employees who work for passionate leaders don’t work hard simply because they’re required to do so. They are driven because they want to grow within a company and contribute to its success. They’re excited to share their ideas and provide feedback to colleagues because they know their contributions are valued and affect the health of the business. This level of enthusiasm, productivity and drive can be ignited by passionate leaders.
Passion keeps leaders resilient in times of crisis.
Running a company will be one of the most rewarding and challenging things you’ll ever do. It’s easy to feel inspired when things are going well, but the true test of entrepreneurship comes during times of crisis. Hardships are an inevitable part of business, but what makes them worse is their unpredictability.
Passionate leaders are willing to fight hard for their employees and their businesses because they realize how much is at stake. Despite their fear of setbacks and disappointments, they maintain a positive attitude, which keeps them in better spirits. As a result, they do whatever it takes to protect the longevity of their teams and their company, whereas other leaders might give up and move on to something else.
Passion often makes leaders care about their communities.
I’ve noticed that passionate leaders are focused on the success of their businesses, but their priorities don’t stop there. Their passion often extends to the communities around them, which includes their employees. I believe that leaders have a responsibility to contribute to the well-being of others and should do whatever they can, with whatever they have, to give back to the people who support them.
Such generosity can take many forms. For employees, leaders could change their initiatives to provide team members with more flexible schedules and/or to make mental health resources more accessible. For the community, leaders could donate money or supplies to organizations after disease outbreaks or natural disasters. Passionate leaders choose to stand by others. They treat others with humility and believe in the importance of changing lives, even if it’s only one life at a time.
How can leaders cultivate and encourage passion?
For leaders struggling with passion, know that it’s okay to feel like you’re not “always on.” Leadership is a mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting role, and the more we exert ourselves, the more we can deflate our passion. If it’s a temporary loss of drive, my advice would be to step back from your work (even consider taking a vacation!), take a moment for yourself, and remind yourself of the fire that got you to where you are today.
Then, make it a point to give yourself more breathing room. Passion can’t burn if it’s constantly being extinguished by stress and anxiety. If it’s a long-term issue, however, I suggest reevaluating your position and asking yourself some questions. Does your business mission still hold as much importance to you as it once did? Is this still an industry you hope to make a difference in? If you’re struggling to connect to your company and industry like you once did, it might be time to consider a new path. Passion doesn’t always have to follow one clear path. Pursue your passion wherever it takes you.
For leaders wanting to inspire passion in their teams, my advice is to simply serve as an example. Be vocal about your passion. Show your excitement for your organization and all that it does for your clients and community. If employees see your passion, it will be hard for them not to feel it as well.
I believe passion is the bedrock of great leadership and successful businesses. It’s not just a trait used to describe someone who shows strong emotions. It’s an attribute that sets the great leader apart from the merely good leader.