Thursday Thoughts: Leaders Make Energy and Passion Contagious

Energy and passion are the key drivers to business success. But what does it really mean to be energetic and passionate as a leader and more importantly, as a corporation? One of my favorite passages in a book called “What the Best CEOs Know” by Jeffrey Krames, shows energy and passion at work through a look at leadership at Southwest Airlines and GE: One business leader who consistently showed his energy and passion was Southwest Airlines’ feisty founder, Herb Kelleher. In a period when most of his larger rivals were racking up multibillion-dollar losses, Kelleher was delivering steady growth and profits, year after year, and winning industry wide customer service awards. What was his secret?

Like Jack Welch, GE’s Chairman for over a decade, Kelleher reinvented the management rulebook. Among other things, he hired for passion, thereby creating a unique service organization that was known for its positive attitude and good humor. “If you are not on fire about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the people who do it with you,” he explained, “then you can’t kindle their minds, hearts and devotion to a cause.”

In addition to hiring for passion, he argued that the organization should let people be themselves at work- and then go even farther. The company, he wrote, should “celebrate the achievements of (its) people, often and spontaneously.”

Southwest became legendary for celebrating the milestones experienced by its employees, including their weddings, births, marriages, and other happy moments- and also for acknowledging and sharing in employees’ losses and catastrophes, which is almost unheard of in large corporations.

The point? Kelleher’s action added energy to the organization. He valued informal dialogue. He urged his managers to speak from the heart, as well as from the head. He underscored the idea that job titles aren’t important but that leadership qualities are. Kelleher believed strongly that an organization’s two most important constituencies are its employees and its customers- in that order. “Employees are your premier customers,” argued Kelleher. If the company succeeds in involving and inspiring its employees, they become more tolerant and more empathetic- toward each other and also toward their external constituencies.

Source: Jeffrey Krames, “What the Best CEOs Know,” (McGraw-Hill) (pp. 189-191)

Bottom line: love what you do and you’ll inspire not just yourself, but the employees around you who are integral to your company’s success. Soon you’ll find yourself amidst an organization that carries a reputation for passion and energy – the kind that everyone wants to work for and do business with. Passion and energy come from within, but can be very contagious.