Manage passion, NOT people!

Last week, I was at a conference in Dublin and one of the participants was articulating how she drives best-in-class performance with her team. The “AHA” moment for me was her quote on her leadership style. “I manage passion, not people”. One of the most powerful and thought provoking leadership quotes I have heard in a long time. The more I think about it, the more it resonates with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the quote on my flight back and was able to connect some real life experiences / stories to the quote

  1. Hire the right PEOPLE
  2. Align PEOPLE to the right roles
  3. Motivate and develop PEOPLE

This is what every leader strives for. The 3 key pillars of leading and making people succeed. Now, lets switch PEOPLE with PASSION!!!

I think this gives a totally different perspective to leading teams and raises the bar for the people managers significantly, forcing one to think beyond and understand what an individual’s purpose and mission for their careers, connecting that to day-today work rather than just herding.

1. Hire the right People Passion: One of the most critical roles of a leader in any organization is to hire right, there is no margin of error. During my HP days, we hired a product / technical trainer who came in with several years of experience being a technical trainer. She had an engineering degree that complimented her technical trainer experience. She did a great job in the interview and said all the right things and we thought she was a perfect fit for the technical trainer role. So, we hired her and she did do a decent job as the technical trainer, delivering on what was expected. A couple of quarters in, we were looking to hire a HR counsellor as a part of our wellness team and she was pretty quick to raise her hands and apply for the role. I was intrigued and wanted to understand why a technical trainer with multiple years of experience would want to become an HR counsellor! I have to say that, I was amazed with the passion she showed towards the role and how she has been doing the counseling / wellness work independently outside work for over a decade. For personal reasons, she couldn’t relocate outside of the area she was residing and the only opportunity that she could find to support her family was a technical trainer but her heart was in wellness / counseling throughout. We decided to give her a try and she transformed the wellness program and went on to become a senior leader in the wellness community in the organziation. The key to hiring is going beyond the paper resume and exploring the passion of the individual and finding a potential match between their passion and the role that you are trying to fill. Sometimes experience and qualifications alone might not lead you to the right person for the job.

2. Align passion to the right roles: Have you ran in to a situation where you had an amazing rock star employee who was performing extremely well and as a reward, you promoted her/him to a different role/team. And, all of a sudden, this rock star employee is now struggling to deliver even on the basics.  This is a perfect example of the misalignment between team member’s passion and the core work. Employees sometimes end up accepting the promotion even though they might not be motivated to take on the role due to lack of growth opportunities in the area of their passion in the organization. The role of a leader is not just to reward / recognize the employee butREWARD / RECOGNIZE RIGHT. One of the people managers who used to be a part of my team a few years back, was having a hard time leading his team and his group struggled to deliver even on the basics. He had been with the organization for over 10 years and grew through the ranks to be a people manager. His track record was astonishing. As a programmer (Individual contributor), he had developed applications that gave us a competitive advantage in the market, delivering $xxxM to the bottomline. So, we rewarded him with a people manager role to lead a team. He didn’t have an option but to take it, we didn’t have any growth path / job ladders designed for him as a developer (Individual contributor) at this level. The only way he could reach to this level / compensation was by becoming a people manager.  A perfect example of “role fit” issue that we often run in to during internal promotions. Often, the only way for people to grow in an organization is by becoming a people manager which may not be everyone’s passion. This is a huge opportunity to build career ladders for employees to grow in their area of passion instead of force fitting them to areas that they may not get their energy from.

3. Motivate & develop people passion: It’s also the role of the leader to connect different pieces of the role to the passion of the employee. Jake was an awesome team member and a leader. He was one of the best people managers we had in the team, super passionate about leadership and managing people. A very responsive individual but, for some reason, he just wouldn’t attend the required technical training in spite of several reminders from me. It turns out that Jake did not see a value in the technical training and felt that it was a waste of his time. We had a long talk and realized that attending the training and improving his technical skills may not be inline with his career goals or passion but would help him be a better coach to his team and a better manager. This helped Jake connect the areas that he didn’t see as his primary interest areas to his passion which was people management. Often, people need assistance in connecting their passion to key developmental areas to further improve on what they are passionate about.

Aligning passion to the role also drives significant engagement and innovation. It’s the role of the leader to go above and beyond just managing people and identify, hire, develop and grow the right passion required to shape the future of the organziation.

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