Why Great Leaders Must Have Passion

Let’s do a thought experiment. If you can, reach way back deep inside your most distant memories to the time when you were in school. Take your time. If you need to go dig out the old yearbook, that’s okay; I’ll wait.

Now, who was the best teacher you ever had? From which teacher did you most enjoy learning? Who most inspired you–personally or professionally? Chances are, there’s a teacher popping into your head already. You probably don’t even need to think about it.

How about this: who is the worst teacher you ever had? From which teacher did you learn the least? Which teacher did you find the least inspiring? You probably have a fairly clear picture of this teacher as well.

What separates these two teachers? It’s probably not the subject. I’ve met people whose most favorite teachers taught chemistry and whose least favorite teachers taught art. A “boring” subject does not necessarily imply a boring teacher.

So, what is it that separates the most inspiring teachers from the least inspiring teachers. My guess is that it’s one thing: passion. Those teachers and mentors who leave the most lasting effect on us are probably those who were most passionate about what they did. Passion seems to stick with us.

In a famous study conducted by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, a sample of 1,400 successful ad campaigns were analyzed based on their methods of persuasion. The IPA wanted to see if it could determine whether appeals to reason or appeals to emotion were more effective. And what do you suppose they found?

Of the 1,400 campaigns, 16% relied strictly on rational appeals. That is, the ads gave viewers logical reasons to buy the products–the basic features and benefits spiel. And what about the emotional appeal? 31% of the ads relied strictly on emotional appeals–twice the amount of those that attempted to persuade with logic. Based on this fairly large data set, then, we are twice as likely to be persuaded by emotion than we are by reason.

To most of us, the results of this analysis probably aren’t all that surprising. We know that the heartstrings are the key to the purse strings. We know we buy stuff that makes us feel good. But that’s not just why we buy stuff; it’s also why we buy ideas.

For leaders, passion is everything. If you aren’t passionate about your work and your organization, you are not going to convince your team to do the work they need to do. Sure, you can give them a logical argument: do “x” and you get a raise, but do “y” and you get fired. But that’s not nearly as likely to motivate them as appealing to their sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in the work–that is, appealing to their emotions.

Passion persuades. If you are a passionate leader, that passion will translate to your team. If your employees feel passionate about their work, that passion will in turn translate to your customers. And it all starts with you. A leader without passion is a leader without effect. Want to be effective? Then, be a passionate leader. It makes all the difference.

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