Look at today’s top-performing companies, and you’ll inevitably find a high degree of employee engagement. From frontline workers to CEOs, people are passionate about their companies’ purpose, values and mission. But how do leaders ignite passion and performance?

Many workers are motivated to give their best and often go beyond what’s required. Some are lucky enough to work for companies that are consistently designated a “best place to work.”

But for countless other organizations, only 20% of employees say they’re excited about work. They show up to earn a paycheck. At most, they aim to achieve personal success and climb the promotion ladder.

In the first workplace, people are passionate. In the latter, they’re looking out for themselves, with management struggling to realize performance goals. We can attribute the difference to organizational factors like hierarchy, processes, incentives and, often, personalities. But the real culprit may be their leaders’ failure to ignite passion.

I see this in many of the businesses where I consult and coach. Leaders don’t see emotional factors as relevant to performance, except for when things go wrong.

Passion and Performance

For years, we’ve been learning how workplace performance depends on emotional factors like engagement, culture, values and a sense of purpose. But many leaders and managers ignore the need to foster employee connection to the corporate mission.

While most leaders are highly experienced in financial planning, capital budgeting, and organizational structure and strategies, most receive no formal training in building, leveraging or measuring employee passion.

Engagement surveys are a reasonable way to gauge passion levels, but they cannot capture what it looks like or how to increase it.

We usually see successful startups filled with hordes of passionate people, yet we view them as anomalies—unique because of their youthful culture or trendy products. We seldom imagine older, more traditional companies as hotbeds of passion and energy.

Stagnant leadership thinking plagues executives who fail to identify a purpose beyond making profits.

“If you look through the right lens, every organization has the potential for world-changing impact. The role of a leader is to foster passion around that impact and to keep that passion alive by reinforcing it every day.” ~ Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, in The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015)

When leaders recognize a higher purpose and their companies’ potential to make a difference in the world, they ignite passion in their people and achieve stellar performance. When they ignore purpose, values and passion, they are missing out on one of the most powerful motivators for performance.

What do you think? As always, I’d love to hear what you think. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.