Inspiring Loyalty: The Place for Passion in Leadership

Business performance depends heavily on reliable high quality delivery, in line with organisational goals, to generate essential customer satisfaction. But employees’ commitment to producing excellent goods and services is impacted by a whole range of diverse, sometimes conflicting, demands – both personal and work-related – which can deflect effort away from the strategic direction. Combining appropriate levels of passion within a strong leadership style refocuses strays – inspiring staff, customers and even suppliers to demonstrate the loyalty necessary to ensure sustained corporate success.

Requirements of leadership

Much has been written about the requirements of leadership, and how to meet these requirements. In summary, four fundamental tasks have to be addressed: formulation of a vision of business success; development of a strategy for achieving this vision; definition of a pathway that will take an organisation from its current position to alignment with a new strategy; provision of support to ensure that this pathway is travelled, efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, organisational success can only be attained through accomplishment of the final task – which, as a consequence of recent social changes, is nowadays recognised as demanding highly tuned soft skills.

While managers maintain the status quo, working with existing practices, a leader’s role is to bring about change. This starts with crafting a new vision and defining clear targets. Focus, detachment and objectivity are essential at this stage. Strategy design is strongly associated with traditional ‘hard skills’, such as financial analysis, planning and identification of risks, and is best undertaken without emotion. ‘Soft skills’ begin to play an increasing part as activities move on to setting a new direction and detailing the pathway for attaining re-stated organisational aims. As results are largely achieved through people, true leadership qualities are called upon when, with a route to success mapped out, staff need to be coaxed and encouraged to undertake the required journey.

Though the majority of business heads possess excellent visioning and strategising abilities, many find the switch to ‘people skills’ more challenging, and indeed at odds with the very qualities essential for other aspects of their role. To accomplish a new company mission, willing, committed followers must be brought onboard. Working from the top, down through all levels of his organisation, a leader must build teams, and draw all parties to share appropriate common goals. He has to stimulate, influence and persuade his workforce. Even once employees are suitably motivated, customers too have to be won over, which involves all the same tactics and attributes.

A whole range of leadership styles have been defined, and can be adopted, to assist in developing loyalty – from commanding to democratic, transactional to transformational – but the application of sensitive relationship management is certain to have greatest positive effect. Those possessing high emotional intelligence are most likely to find relationship management within their capabilities, being more self and socially aware.

Why followers stray

Successful leaders need steadfast followers. But followers stray if they don’t understand, or buy into, the corporate vision. Equally they drift away if they don’t have confidence in the person creating and communicating the vision.

Employees cannot be expected to instinctively know of, or appreciate the reasons for, a new vision or strategy. Unless these are clearly communicated, with a thorough explanation of benefits at all levels, a workforce is highly likely to resist. Changes have to be sold to those they affect, and messages reinforced over-and-over again, particularly when they are radical.

Where direction is unclear or the vision not bought into or future benefits not seen, individuals will not follow a leader. To allow themselves to be led, staff must understand and accept a vision, seeing their own role within the bigger picture; they must feel cared about and a necessary part of what is happening. Yet too often messages are heard second-hand or watered down. At best this leaves recipients unmoved or confused – at worst it has significant negative impact. Equally, if new pressures conflict with personal values, placing opposing demands, workers will be reluctant to stay on the ordained path.

A workforce unaligned to organisational ambitions is often a symptom of applying the wrong leadership style for a given situation. Change invariably calls for a transformational style, with its focus on selling ideas and providing guidance, not commanding (‘do as I say’) or transactional (‘do this and you’ll be rewarded with that’). Individuals grow under good leadership; under bad leadership they degenerate and quickly lose the will to be led.

People will only go along with someone who they respect and by whom they feel respected. They have to accept his authority to make decisions on their behalf. He has to be seen as competent, credible and trustworthy, operating non-politically and not in self-interest. Without these credentials, a leader’s behaviour has a negative effect on stakeholders: employees, customers and suppliers alike.

So followers are lost, or perhaps never engaged, if they fail to be convinced by the vision or the leader. Non-followers have a number of choices, including ongoing de-motivation, leaving an organisation or establishing their own direction of travel; all such outcomes are far from optimal. Better that everyone agrees to be led to a shared goal. And passion is a potentially powerful tool that can to be used in the conversion of strays.

How passion helps

Employees need to be enthused and energised to achieve corporate targets. Leaders who are passionate in their beliefs inspire those around them, building motivational forces and awakening workers to the possibilities of what they, their teams and the organisation can accomplish.

References define passion as: ‘strong feelings’, ‘boundless enthusiasm’, ‘something that is desired intensely’, ‘devotion to a cause and tireless diligence to its furtherance’ and ‘in passion mode, one releases one’s energy boundlessly, downward and outward’. It almost goes without saying that anyone driven by, and exhibiting, passion will infect those around them with their enthusiasm – converting and exciting others, who feel injected with energy.

To witness the passionate presenting of messages and ideas is an uplifting experience for staff. Demonstrable support for a vision, by those most involved in formulating it, creates firm faith in an organisation’s directors. And by sharing his passion – using his valuable time and resources to communicate with the workforce – a leader is showing confidence that success is achievable through his people. In response, employees feel empowered and encouraged and, as objectives are met, deem that they themselves, with their teams, brought about improvements. Thus a positive spiral of accomplishment is generated.

Having convincingly imparted his vision, a leader must establish the path for change, so that willing followers can realise the required outcome. Sometimes the pathway isn’t clear – help is needed in seeking the way. Where workers have been persuaded of the rightness of the undertaking, won over by fervour, they will readily join the exploration for the most suitable direction and means of travel. And, with the road ahead identified and clear, a passionately driven leader will expend time guiding and coaxing others, wherever necessary, to make the journey. He will continually check for alignment with the route to attaining targets, thus keeping the whole organisation moving forward. This keenness to embrace everyone in the enterprise, from top to bottom, to contribute to bringing about success, gives a sense of worth and an investment stake in a perceived partnership. Thus inspired, staff will give their very best for the cause.

It is not unusual for business heads to be seen as distant and cold, lacking empathy. In such circumstances it can prove difficult for subordinates to develop the enthusiasm required to pursue corporate goals. By contrast, displaying passionate behaviour makes a leader appear real. He emerges as courageous, standing up for what he believes in, driving from the front. The natural response to such voluntary exposure is to feel supportive, wanting to offer personal commitment to assist. In a time when automatic respect for authority is decreasing, the honesty of more emotional behaviour produces followers – and, importantly, ones who recognise the imperfections of their leader, as well as his strengths. And such realistic appreciation and trust proves essential if dark times are encountered, with planned paths ending in blind alleys or strategies seeming unachievable. When things don’t go to plan and extra drive is called for to face new challenges, the candour of bonds based on real human emotions is most likely to sustain the workforce through a difficult period.

Demonstrating passion

A leader’s confidence in a company vision is demonstrated by his desire to articulate the mission, endlessly explaining its benefits at every level, such that the follower base grows in number and drive. With the aim of establishing a common dream, about which everyone feels passionate, a leader must display integrity, empathy and courage. He builds mutual trust and respect through tireless communications, from exciting presentations down to one-to-one coaching sessions.

So, a key initial focus for a corporate crusade is countering the negatives that make followers stray. The starting point for this has to be clearly conveying and selling the vision, particularly where new ideas are more radical. Successfully promoting a fresh future, and the strategic journey required to reach it, takes passion – transferring one’s own enthusiasm and belief to others, until they adopt the vision as their own. Only when employees truly understand the benefits attainable will they share in a leader’s dream, not blindly following, but actively cutting a road to achievement of the sought after outcomes. This desired state is reached when those at the top of an organisation display a strong conviction for the mission, explaining in simple terms why it is preferable to the present state and adding vibrancy to the tasks ahead. Wanting people to understand why a message is important, wanting them to be as keen as you, honestly describing problems that may be encountered – all these things connect with, and influence, in a very positive way.

Communicating expectations of employees, and a confidence in their ability to meet these, resonates constructively, creating strong bonds. So also does empathy. Showing an understanding of others’ viewpoints and concerns – being attuned to their thinking – earns trust and support. And passion so naturally carries empathy with it, bringing to each individual’s level the message ‘I want you to share my beliefs because they’re so important to me’ and ‘I need you to back me and help me to achieve my goals’. Shared values are tapped into, to reveal aims as collective. Leaders thus demonstrate respect for followers so that, by reflection, mutual trust and comfort is built. Out of this grows real, unswerving commitment and boosted morale.

Setting oneself up as sincere, accountable, open and of high integrity, is taking a significant risk. Prospects for failing, at some point, against such high standards are considerable. Keeping promises isn’t always easy when buffeted by the demands of external forces. But it is this very vulnerability that captures and holds the loyalty of others. On the one hand being tough and reliable – feet firmly on the ground, especially through periods of most change and uncertainty – while on the other hand accepting challenge and admitting mistakes, portrays the type of honesty and realism that employees seek. Accepting short-comings is evidence of humility – and humility is ultimately a sign of strength, not weakness. It is the mix of drive and aspirations, with acknowledgement of flaws, which describes successful leadership.

With passion inside, how then can a leader instil like-mindedness in his staff? The start point is usually group presentations, reaching large numbers of people and boldly ‘nailing one’s colours to the mast’ for all to see. Appropriate degrees of charisma are required, with gesticulation, movement and a range of tones of voice. Passion is active, not passive. Lively presentation skills may come naturally but, for many business leaders, calm restraint has become a way of life, so some acting skills might be called upon. And while every presenter has a personal style, inventing a manner that suits the company and the audience is vital, reflecting organisational culture.

Presentation content and how it is packaged is equally important. Listeners need to feel that the message matters, such that their belief and involvement also matters. Whilst it may seem a cheap trick, tugging at emotional heart-strings can be very effective, leaving a lasting impression. Contrast the impact, to a conference of software testers, between a presentation that starts “Software testing is important”, and one starting with “I read in the paper yesterday of a little old lady in Scotland who, on receiving a huge electricity bill that she couldn’t hope to pay, wandered out into the winter snows, confused and worried, and died of hypothermia; the bill was quite incorrect – the result of a software bug; don’t you think we, the software industry, should all feel a sense of responsibility?”. Add some pregnant pauses and some pacing up and down, and the result is a mesmerized audience.

Using rhetoric questions, pensively pausing on “That concerns me”, sharing what appears to be inner thoughts – all these emotive tactics are effective. A leader showing that he has human feelings will never seem too detached from reality. Explaining visions and strategies in terms of how they provide outcomes to address minor concerns, is a powerful mix of ‘big picture’ and fine detail, answering every level of question in one hit. Demonstrating an ability to understand the trivial worries troubling followers, but moving these up to a higher plain; dealing with issues that listeners hadn’t even thought of; pumping up small successes to show progress – each of these approaches impress and encourage.

Not only large presentations, but all communications, need to be undertaken with the same enthusiasm. Any manner of forums should be used – and opportunities created – to share and sell messages. ‘Walking the floor’ demonstrates involved interest; one-to-one and group coaching strengthens personal bonds, soothing and calming those fearful of change; actively listening. These behaviours subtly show, and build, commitment. And the theme of every interaction is always the same: to tie personal aspirations and values to corporate goals and visions – to exhibit passionate belief. The actions described above are natural for transformational leaders, though less easy for others. For those who struggle to display a suitably convincing level of feeling, relying on their executive team for support is a good idea; indeed group leadership can increase effectiveness, through the appearance of a united front and a spread of faith, using a variety of communication styles.

But a set of important rules apply: don’t command; don’t insist on too much (followers do not have the same volume of energy as leaders); don’t be defensive or blame others; don’t brag or be arrogant. Even dynamic presentations are not about being ‘larger than life’ or about self-promotion. Never reveal negative emotions – like anger. Effective passion is positive, inclusive and requesting, offering promise and drawing people in.

Passionate leadership produces committed followers

Business success requires a loyal workforce, committed to achieving organisational goals. Leaders who exhibit passion – “devotion to a cause and tireless diligence to its furtherance – releasing energy boundlessly” – inspire those around them; employees and customers alike become partners, with the leader, enthused and energised to realise a shared dream.

© 2011 – 2014, Sandy Arpino. All rights reserved.