How Can Leaders Spark Passion in Their Employees?

If passion was a skill, or a certification, employers would have one half of the interview process taken care of. Unfortunately, passion at a former job does not necessarily mean there will be passion at one’s current job. Conversely, a lack of passion at a former job does not mean that one does not have the possibility of finding the most meaningful position they have ever had at a future job. So how can leaders spark passion in their employees?

Many companies have a mission statement that expresses their objective of offering the best customer service or the highest quality product. Whatever the objective, without a passionate employee, companies will never really attain that promise.

In seeking new employees, employers must determine if there is a shortage of talent in the market, and if the salaries they offer are competitive enough to recruit the type of passionate employees they need to grow their business. Thankfully, employers have resources they can use when selling the benefits of their companies to prospective employees.

One key tool in an employer’s toolbox to market to potential employees is word of mouth recommendations from friends, neighbors, and other employees. This is an especially successful recruitment method when one is targeting the 18 to 29-year-old demographic.

Importance of Culture

A good leader understands the importance of the culture they create in the workplace and how important that culture is for current employees as well as potential employees.

Take the case of Dan Price, founder and CEO of Gravity Payments in Seattle who recently announced that he was taking a cut in his own pay, and every employee’s starting salary would be $70,000 per year.

But, just a few weeks after the big announcement, two of Price’s “most valuable” employees quit proving that salary alone is not all that sparks a passionate employee.

A Gallup survey of employees in the United States and Canada showed that only 29 percent of those surveyed felt engaged in the workplace with 18 percent specifically reporting that they were disengaged. The survey went on to show that 26 percent of the respondents said that engagement and meaningful work was the most important factor that contributed to their job satisfaction. Based on that survey only about one third of the workforce feel engaged in their current positions.

So, how does one bridge that disconnect and create a culture of employee recognition? Creating an atmosphere that grows passion is something that can be learned and implemented by simply listening to what employees are saying.

The Need for Motivation

Disengaged employees need motivation from their leaders. Strong leaders make sure that every employee, regardless of their job title, knows how important their job is to the overall success of the business. That knowledge makes an employee proud of their contribution, and passionate about the role they play.

A strong leader also can ignite passion through open communication within their organization.

J.W. Marriott, executive chairman of Marriott International, explains this concept through an encounter with President Eisenhower. At the time, Marriott was a young student at the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School, and he asked the president a question about policy. The president asked him, “What do you think, Bill?”

Marriott says those four words are the most important for any leader to use to be successful. An employee who knows he has a voice is far more likely to find his work meaningful.

A group of people who spend 40 hours a week together are going to see each other on both good days and bad days. Most employees understand the boss has bad days, too. But, good leaders realize that the way they handle the bad days can be even more inspiring than how they handle the good ones.

In the end it is really a very simple equation, engaged employees are passionate employees. Passionate employees love coming to work. Having a passionate team who is invested as much as management is in the overall success of the business is not just a great idea to consider. It is a great necessity to create.

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Social Entrepreneurs Ireland: Think Big, Act Now, Change Ireland

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland: Slow down. Take stock. Decelerate.

Not the typical thing you’d expect to hear from an organisation like Social Entrepreneurs Ireland perhaps. We are set up to scale the best solutions for social problems around Ireland. We support projects that have the potential to take an idea and replicate it elsewhere. After all, if we have found a solution to a problem in Wicklow, shouldn’t we be implementing this in other counties around Ireland? If we have found a more effective or more efficient way of doing something, shouldn’t more people benefit from the positive impact?

And it is a core trait of all entrepreneurs that they want to grow and develop their idea, to reach as many people as possible, to impact upon the world. As Steve Jobs said, entrepreneurs want to ‘make a dent in the universe’.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we love that attitude. Our slogan is ‘Think Big. Act Now. Change Ireland’ and it is because of this passion and the potential to significantly impact Ireland that we work with social entrepreneurs.

But over the last 10 years we have learned that all of this should come with a small note of caution. The rush to scale projects, to work with more people and to increase your impact, while totally understandable,  is potentially counter-productive. Our experience has taught us that often what some of the most exciting projects need is a period of deceleration before they can think seriously about acceleration.

Getting the Model Right

Before you can deliver a solution at scale, it is vital to delve deeply into the core service, product or solution that you are delivering. And once that is clear, the scaling model needs to be clearly developed and defined before starting to roll it out. We have seen it many times that early success is seized upon and attempts are made to replicate something before it is ready. And the danger is that a really powerful idea might fail and as a result be written off.

Is your model scalable? Is it sustainable? Can you replicate the core elements of it or is it dependent on the actions of a few key individuals? Do you have the capacity to deliver at a bigger scale?

At SEI we now take a lot of time at the beginning of the Awards Programme to work through all of these things with the entrepreneurs, and only move to scaling conversations once the fundamentals are in place.


Another challenge that we have seen in recent years is that big, exciting ideas often receive a huge amount of attention very quickly. In particular, projects led by young social entrepreneurs can receive a lot of interest from media, potential partners and supporters. While this support and coverage is potentially transformational for the entrepreneur, the risk is that they may become over-exposed, they may burn out, or they may just be distracted by all of the noise, events and attention, to the detriment of their projects. In these cases they may not fulfil the early potential that their projects have.

Learnings for SEI and for Social Entrepreneurs

Indeed, this is a challenging issue for us in SEI, as our Awards Programme celebrates these social entrepreneurs quite publicly. It is a constant challenge for us to find the right balance between protecting the social entrepreneurs and showcasing their work. I’m not sure we’ve always gotten it right but we are constantly working on it.

Over the years at SEI we have changed and adapted our approach and now have a much more nuanced approach to how we work with social entrepreneurs. We are very conscious that sometimes the best thing we can provide a project is to give thempermission to decelerate for a while, to take a breath, to take stock, to slow down, so that when they do choose to scale, they are ready to give it absolutely everything.


Darren Ryan, Chief Executive, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

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