If you Google “David Mitchell – Passion”, you will find a great video sketch depicting people who are indeed, passionate about tax optimisation. The sketch is a really great comedic rant about what people declare they are passionate about in the workplace. There is little doubt that if everyone in a business was passionate then productivity would probably, be really good.
The challenge is, a lot of people at work are not passionate about what their business does and, in some cases, how their business does, what it does. The what and the how are however, very important, to customers. Recent cases of tax evasion and poor working conditions have clearly united customers to vote with their collective feet and depart from the services of those enterprises, which have not shaped up under scrutiny.
So, how do we uncover and unleash the passion that lies hiding in our organisations? Finding out what people are passionate about can be a challenging process. There are many leadership and management development tools out there, which identify what motivates people and what they like to do and don’t like to do at work, which is a useful place to start when trying to create an environment where people will flourish. However, a magnolia, one size fits all response, may not truly ignite the passion of colleagues and we may need to better understand the grass roots of their passion to get the very best out of them.
An experience I had when serving in the Royal Navy may help to explore this further. I was a very passionate (and still am) yacht racing skipper and used to pull rank to recruit the best crew especially for the toughest yacht races. The criteria for selection after the technical jobs were allocated, was usually muscle based. I simply needed people who could do the hard, physical stuff. One of my regular press-ganged crew members was a huge man called Spider (his surname was Web). He was amazingly strong and always first choice for a challenging race.
After one particularly long offshore race, we arrived on the yacht in Gibraltar. Spider explained he was off to do a sea fishing competition and asked me to join him, as he had always joined me for the yacht racing. I had no idea he was angler and furthermore, I had no interest whatsoever, in fishing. Long story short, I ended up going sea fishing with ten of the Royal Navy’s most devoted anglers.
So, there we were, on a detached pier in the middle of Gibraltar harbour, fishing vigorously. We had been dropped off by boat, where there was talk of needing a bigger boat for the return journey, as we were going to catch so many fish.
After three hours without anyone having a single bite even after deploying various guaranteed ‘bait’ concoctions. I was totally bored and sitting down on the edge of the pier staring at the water below. Directly below me in the water was a large and obviously very dead fish, floating between my feet as I looked down.
Without anyone noticing, I slowly reeled in my line and foul hooked the dead fish. I then feigned getting a bite and proceeded to make a song and dance about it. Pretty soon all the other rods were cleared so I could move with the fish and I was receiving lots of tips how not to lose the fish. When at one point someone observed it looked like it was tiring, I almost burst out laughing. It was at this point I began to ponder if the dedicated and very serious anglers may not see the funny side of my actions. I was now hoping and was trying to assist the fish in getting away.
Sadly, it was not to be and after much advice I ‘skilfully’ reeled the fish up to the catching net, much to the delight of all concerned. I was still being congratulated when the fish was closely inspected in the net. I could not control my laughter any longer as it turned out the fish was already gutted! It had obviously dropped off a fishing boat during transportation.
I was in tears with laughter as I was manhandled to the edge of the pier and thrown into the sea, followed by the fish.
Spider sailed with me for many years after the Gibraltar episode, but no longer as muscle. The determination, perfectionism, attitude, tireless effort, relentless energy and good humour he had shown when fishing in competition had demonstrated all the innate strengths I was looking for in a watch leader. A watch leader is put in command of the yacht when the skipper is off the deck. Spider is still an outstanding watch leader for me today and is as passionate as I am about yacht racing.
So, what did I learn?
- Get to know your people and what they are passionate about.
- Create a role where their skills, knowledge and talents can be fully deployed or repurposed to tap into their root passions.
- Don’t get involved in stuff you are not passionate about and certainly don’t
make fun of the stuff other people are passionate about.
Now, go and watch the David Mitchell video.