This year's Training Top 125 winners share three priorities that are too often dismissed from other learning programs as a cliche. But they are among the essential success factors that emerged in a Stanford/Wharton study I conducted with 365 of the world's most innovative leaders globally—from Virgin's Richard Branson and Apple's Steve Jobs to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and the Dalai Lama.
I heard the survey results on a bitter cold, clear day in Connecticut, where we huddled near a small fireplace in a converted barn near a frozen pond. This was the home office of one of the toughest turnaround leaders in history, Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Allied Signal and Honeywell. I was about to start an interview with him when I got a call from our research director, Bonita Buell-Thompson, from whom I was hoping to hear some highlights from the worldwide survey that I could use for this interview.
"We have results from 110 countries, and it's clear that three traits make the difference between groups that have success that lasts and those that lose their edge," she said. "The tricky part is—for this to work—all three factors must be in place on your team":
1. Meaning is more important than perfection. Success comes from focusing only on a few things that matter. Unsuccessful people think they have to be perfect at everything. Successful teams have "integrity to meaning"—they set priorities so they don't get distracted from what matters most to their long-term effectiveness.
2. The environment always wins. One powerful way to turn meaning into tangible results is to create an "environment that wins"—a workplace or office that removes obstacles and catches people in the act of doing things right, recognizing people instantly for doing what matters. A bad work environment will undermine any great training program.
3. Lovers finish first. Successful people believe it's essential to follow their passions. Doing what you love is what actually makes you great at it—and it's what makes you able to leap back into action when things inevitably get difficult.
I confronted hard-boiled Bossidy with this soft-sounding conclusion, but he didn't flinch. Bossidy is a serious-looking, get-it-done-now sort of fellow who has never been accused of being politically correct or touchy-feely.
"It may sound naïve," he warned, "but it's dangerous if your team doesn't love their work. It's a competitive imperative," he insisted. "Only by loving it will you actually do it better than competitors. Passion matters so much that if you don't have it, well, then, we'll find someone else for the job who does!"
The world's second richest man, Warren Buffett, claims this is why his managers are so successful. "I always worry about people who say, 'You know, I'm going to do this for 10 years. I really don't like it very well, but I'll do 10 more years of this,' the billionaire told me. "Working without passion is a little like saving up sex for your old age," he laughed. "Not a good idea."
Passion is what makes us alive and productive. It's what makes us creative. Tapping into the passions of our people is something that can be taught, but is too easily dismissed from corporate learning programs—when, in fact, it is the one thing that turns ordinary teams into extraordinary ones.
Mark Thompson is a best-selling author and leadership expert serving Global 1000 companies.