Leadership literature is giving a lot of attention these days to the concept of engagement – just how committed people are to their work tasks.

And a lot of the news is not good. Various studies find that a majority of people are not engaged at work and, as a result, are not as productive as they could be – and not nearly as productive as their employers would like them to be.

But Naphtali Hoff, an executive coach, consultant and former educator and school administrator, says there is a deeper, more important thing leaders should be focusing on: passion.

Hoff says that while the engagement and passion are often used interchangeably, they are different:

  • Passion describes a long-term, intrinsic motivation to work at a high level.
  • Engagement refers to shorter-term interest and commitment, often inspired by extrinsic motivators such as praise, competition and incentives that push folks who normally assume a passive (or worse) posture to “get into it” for a period of time.

Hoff says a report from scholars at Deloitte University’s Center for the Edge says truly passionate people can be distinguished by 10 traits. They:

  • Bring noticeable energy to their work;
  • Search for new, better, solutions to challenging problems;
  • Take meaningful risks to improve performance;
  • Cut across silos to deliver results;
  • Are happier to go to work each day, which translates to less sick time off;
  • Are more loyal to their employers;
  • Work as needed to get the job done; and, perhaps most important,
  • Perform at a higher level with each passing year.

“Passionate workers also possess personal resilience and an orientation toward learning. This can be particularly helpful for companies that need to withstand continuous market challenges and disruptions,” says Hoff.

And there are additional benefits when you have enough passionate people to put them together in teams – because passionate teams:

  • Inspire others around them because passion begets passion.
  • More willingly create a team-oriented atmosphere.

It’s obvious why and how organizations benefit from having high percentages of passionate people on board. What is not so obvious is how to find or develop them.

The good news, according to Hoff, is that you don’t have to rely on dumb luck to bring passionate people on board – or to cultivate greater passion among those who are already on board.

He proposes six strategies for fostering passion among people in your organization:

1. Make it a priority. Look for passion at every step, particularly in the hiring process. Ask about the interview process. Be willing to prioritize it over experience and credentials. Ask such questions as: What do you love about your chosen career? What inspires you? What kind of work or subjects do you dread? How do you feel about working with others and taking risks? You want to get a sense of what the potential employee feels and believes.

2. Connect to their emotions. Passion is an emotion, a state of mind. While many leaders may think task-first and seek to leave their emotions out of things, this can be damaging to worker passion. People need to know that their work matters and see how it all comes together. Encourage them to engage with customers and other ecosystem partners. The more that they feel that they’re innovating and making a difference, the better they will typically perform.

3. Break down barriers. Sometimes the biggest obstacles to passion are barriers that prevent people from “making it happen.” Silos, real or imagined, exist in almost every workplace, particularly larger entities. By encouraging people to work cross-functionally, you tap into their connecting disposition and keep them from feeling confined, which can drain their passion and sense of possibility.

4. Craft the job around their interests. The sign of a good coach is that she or he develops a system and game plan around the players. Teams do best when they take full advantage of the talent and abilities on the roster. Similarly, team leaders ought to be willing to adjust job descriptions and requirements around them. Be flexible where possible to ensure that folks feel that you really have their best interests in mind. Also, encourage your people to work on projects they are interested in as well as those they are assigned.

5. Build their capacity and efficacy. Offer training and educational opportunities to help your people grow and become more confident in their work. Nothing drives passion like a deep sense of ability and aptitude. Also, encourage your people to connect with others in their industry. This will offer many benefits, including new insights, stronger connections and leads -- and, perhaps most important, an outlet for folks when they need advice or someone to talk with.

6. Put passion all around them. Hire great managers and team members who are engaged and passionate about helping others discover their talents. Passion breeds passion.