Small Business

Talk About the Passion


As a communications coach with a background in business journalism, I attempt to identify the qualities that all great communicators have in common. These men and women are inspiring, persuasive, charismatic, and electrifying. While they all share several qualities, one continues to stand out in my mind: passion. Without passion, it's nearly impossible to become an extraordinary communicator in business. Having a passion for your message is what truly matters.

Donald Trump was once quoted as saying you have to be passionate about what you do, otherwise you'll find yourself with a lack of energy. And without energy, he says, you have nothing. That's the point. Passion generates energy, enthusiasm, and excitement, all the qualities that you make you likeable. And if you people like you, they are more likely to do business with you.

JACK'S ALPHABET. In many cases, passion makes the difference between a star career and the end of a career. In his book, Jack: Straight from the Gut, the former CEO of General Electric (GE) described the "vitality curve" at his former company, a way of differentiating the "A" performers from everybody else.

Welch says the A people had the four E's of GE leadership: high energy levels, the ability to energize others around common goals, the edge to make tough decisions, and the ability to execute on their promises. According to Welch, "In my mind, the four E's are connected by one P—passion. It's this passion, probably more than anything else, that separates the A's from the B's."

Welch argued that A's should receive bigger bonuses and heftier stock options than B's. And we all know what he thought about the bottom rung, the C's—they were history (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/28/06, "Going with Your Gut").

MAKING IT PERSONAL. Great leaders such as Welch are attracted to passionate people, as are your customers, investors, and employees. But where does that passion come from? Here's a hint: It's not always about the widget itself (your product or service) but what the widget can do for others. For example, I interviewed Suze Orman several times in my career as a journalist. Orman worked her way up as financial planner, became a best-selling author, and now hosts a show for CNBC.

I'm convinced that Orman is persuasive and successful largely because she exudes passion about her topic, whether the camera is on or off. But think about it. Orman isn't passionate about irrevocable trusts or 401(K)'s per se. What gets her fired up is the ability to help people avoid the crushing debt and financial problems that caused so much pain for her and her family when she was growing up. That's what she's passionate about—and it shows.

RESPECTING OTHERS. When I interviewed Starbucks (SBUX) founder Howard Schultz for my book, I quickly realized that he wasn't necessarily passionate about coffee, or pomegranate Frappuccinos, or whatever new creation the chain was promoting.

No, it's not about the beans. Schultz is fiercely passionate about creating a workplace that treats employees with respect and dignity, something that wasn't extended to his father when Schultz was growing up (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/5/06, "Starbucks' Secret Ingredient"). That's the message that Schultz conveys consistently, so it should be no surprise that Starbucks is consistently voted one of the most admired brands and one of the best places to work.

BUILDING BELIEF. Passionate people stand out in every profession. The other month I spoke to a group of custom homebuilders. When I asked one exceptionally successful homebuilder about the type of homes he built, he launched into a discussion of family and how, as a society, we need more quality time and togetherness time with our loved ones.

So he builds homes with family togetherness in mind! He was so passionate that it rubbed off on me and I stood there transfixed, listening intently to his description of the communities he builds. What was the difference between him and the others? Passion, pure and simple. But what was he passionate about, the nails, wallboard, and tile? No, he was passionate about how his product (homes, in this case) could improve the lives of his customers.

LOVING WHAT YOU DO. Virgin founder Richard Branson once said that if you can indulge your passion, life will be far more interesting than if you're working. Every business Branson enters, whether it's airlines, music, or space travel, has to be fun for him. He has to have a passion for it. Otherwise he's working, and who wants to do that? I believe the secret behind Branson's charisma lies in the simple fact that he finds joy and passion in what he does, and it comes across in the way he articulates the vision behind his brand.

Your audience—investors, customers, employees—wants to be around people who take pleasure in their work. It's up you to you dig deep, discover what you are truly passionate about, and share that message.


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