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April 2008


Dear Friends,

Omar Khan’s new book, LIBERATING PASSION: HOW THE WORLD’S BEST GLOBAL LEADERS PRODUCE WINNING RESULTS is now available both in good bookstores everywhere and via Amazon.com. We hope you enjoy reading it and find the ideas and tools immediately applicable and valuable.

By way of a preview, this month we explore the thesis and some additional applications and tips to creating value for your team and company.

May you have abundant passion, rich relationships and the powerful results that flow from them!

In this newsletter we have explored the primacy of passion. We have highlighted that passion is a natural inheritance, a lust for life is inbuilt into our DNA. Any mother coping with the overflowing hunger for life expressed by her infant knows emphatically what we mean.

Passion abounds when we experience life with openness, engage our friends, enjoy hobbies, try new things. Yet passion seems sadly absent in many work environments. Why should the very place we work sap us of vitality and engagement, of passion and energy? The reason is that companies have become institutionalized passion killers. Passionate people are hired, but in several months, they often find their passion extinguished or at least substantially diminished. And then leadership sadly becomes about ‘motivation’ and ‘rallying’ people.

Based on this thesis here are some key ideas, applications and tools:


Everything can be divided into the ‘technical’ and the ‘adaptive’. With any problem, immediately ask what is the technical dimension and what is the adaptive opportunity?

The first will suggest the tools needed (hardware, software, technology, processes, templates, procedures, etc) the latter will point to how we have to adapt and adjust our own strategies, priorities, behaviors, habits and reactions in order to address the problem.

Make all your change efforts about the ‘technical’ aspects and you will deaden passion, drain enthusiasm, and have ‘projects’ that just don’t translate into real-world value.

Make change efforts about the adaptation needed, take the technical steps (that will often still be critical) and have them hook up with our leadership wherewithal, our mindsets and the actions need for sustained results. Changing office lay-out will not remove interpersonal barriers or change a culture by itself. But make that a tangible expression of a new impetus to reach out to each other, to have non-hierarchical dialogues, and to have leaders actively engage their teams, and we’ll see real breakthroughs.

Leadership passion flows when the technical steps necessary for our adaptation to produce full value are taken as stepping stones not as ends unto themselves.


If you find your strategy has stalled or there are recurring trenchant problems, or evident issues that aren’t being faced, or that our ability to execute has become blunted, or we have become distant from consumers, look no farther than the sponsoring relationships. Identify the relevant stakeholders and you’ll find that either we have the wrong people in place, or else the ‘right’ people have become ‘wrong’ because of the fact that they are fighting each other, or tripping each other up, or distrusting each other, or politicking, rather than taking on competitors, working to gain market share, and creating profitable partnerships with customers and strategic allies.

Imagine that the organization chart is a flow of potential relationships and conversations. Improve the flow, improve the quality of the relationships and the caliber of the conversations, and we will also enlarge our results, our prospects and our capabilities. This has to become a top leadership imperative. We are just shadow-boxing otherwise.


How well we know each other is a precursor to effective team-work. You can hardly team effectively with those you don’t know. Intimacy isn’t an abstract, mystical aspiration. It’s a pragmatic necessity…it’s opposite would be remoteness, alienation and apathy towards each other. No one considering this latter option is likely to gush with excitement at that prospect.

Here’s a useful tip re intimacy. When people share a view, an emotion, an insight, don’t rush to take it at face value. Ask questions to probe, to better understand, put it into your own words, and LISTEN. Each time, you’ll deepen your insight, gain rapport and have a sense of the other person.

Many times our own opinions are underpinned also with our fears, anxieties and emotions. Instead of being brittle, defensive, absolutist or shrill, share the emotional texture, the backdrop, the concerns and opinions, that undergird what you’re saying. Insights into your emotional coordinates, when expressed appropriately and constructively, build empathy and invite people to connect with you.

As they connect better, they tend to trust more, and you can together achieve more too.


Energies that are aligned, focused, followed through on, measured, and which build on collaborative efforts deliver windfall results. Therefore we have to 1) ensure we pick the right targets for our business — those that will deliver profits, grow share, and strengthen our brand and 2) make sure these targets deliver some larger goal or vision with significance so that people genuinely want to make them happen and 3) translate these larger aspirations and aims into the daily accountabilities of people throughout the organization.

For everyone in your company make sure they have a personal bull’s eye. It should be a composite of:

  • What they are doing overall in the coming six to nine months to deliver the strategy
  • The most important top 3 goals, aligned with their boss, they are taking accountability for making happen in the near to medium term — including clarity as to who they have to partner with for this to be delivered.
  • The biggest way they are going to add value to their team’s goals this quarter.
  • The most critical way they are seeking to improve their own leadership effectiveness this quarter.

Ensure this is known for everyone, and coach and catalyze accordingly. Watch the results flow!


Relationships are progressed via conversations. ‘Radical’ conversations go to the heart of what most needs engagement on — they are ‘root’, ‘core’ and hopefully emotionally vivifying enough to call forth our best — in terms of intelligence, maturity, flexibility and commitment.

Every senior leader should identify 3-4 transformational ‘radical’ conversations that could be game-changing. These could relate to innovation, customer intimacy, breaking a deadlock, eliciting cooperation, strategically influencing people across the value chain, whatever.

Each radical conversation needs prep. What preliminary conversations are needed? Who else can give us insight into the people we are seeking to dialogue with? Who knows them and has natural rapport with them?

How can we frame the conversation so that it is about an outcome important enough for us to rise above our peeves, our vanity, our turf issues, any baggage we may be bringing with us? And can I conduct it in a way such that I surmount my own defensiveness, take on personal accountability, and invite the other person to jointly brainstorm and design a way forward with me?

You know you’ve had a successful radical conversation when there are clear next steps, shared accountability in some way, agreed ways to stay in touch and provide ongoing input, and a past impasse now at least potentially surmounted. Moreover, every successful radical conversation leaves us with at least a somewhat improved relationship. We have a well of mutual trust, however tentative, to draw on for next time.

If we can improve the caliber, candor and openness of our conversations, productive opportunities abound!


In order to have transformationally radical conversations we have to ensure we face facts, but always with a lense of possibility, creativity, fresh design, aiming to create a larger future.

Psychiatrists warn against a type of mental dysfunction called ‘magical thinking’. This is where we deny that problems exist and simply act as if ignoring them will make them go away. However problems rarely fade when we avoid them, they diminish when we face them and outgrow them.

Here instead, the capability to develop is to face what is before us, accepting even our fear or anxiety if we must. But then we harness these to work on what we’ve faced, until we can nudge it or where possible, catapult it in the direction of our vision and purpose.

Face it fast, deal with the emotions, use them as energy, find a constructive frame (one that deals with the potential solution and opportunity) and celebrate all possible progress.

FDR had Americans face the Great Depression, Churchill the awesome challenge of defending England against an attempted Nazi invasion, the Japanese had to face their smoldering post-World War II ruins in order to create one of the world’s greatest economies, the US had to face the Russian edge in the space race to make it to the moon…facing reality with faith and making that faith real by taking actions that advance possibility, and celebrating all progress, is how we become leadership alchemists.


Sometimes a way forward isn’t evident, no matter how expansive our vision or how possibility-filled our paradigms. There we have to jolt the world in the direction of our dreams. We need to take audacious action towards an extraordinary future.

Alexander the Great spoke of ‘burning the boats’ so victory was the only option. We have to ask ourselves what assumptions about the way things are can we challenge so comprehensively, and thereby stake our futures on the alternative?

To do this wisely, rather than capriciously requires an amalgam of listening (to our customers, our teams, to industry leaders, to people at the most exciting fringes of our industry, to competitors even), picking a future aim large enough that it will require us to transform ourselves and jettison stale thinking, and the will to act on that future today.

Whether it is China turning itself radically around, or P&G outsourcing aspects of innovation, or Microsoft showing that ubiquity could be a more powerful wealth vehicle than proprietary licensing, or Toyota proving its productivity methods could be globally applicable — we have to imagine a bold future that is relevant to emerging market needs, where we believe we can execute in a profitable way, and we then have to almost brainstorm backwards from it to today.

Equally we have to get people to sign up with us for results they can co-imagine, co-create and co-commit to with us. This is a fundamental way we express leadership and liberate passion anytime shared results are needed.


When we feel we can’t influence our results, our work culture, our possibilities, passion is leeched away. A primary way to liberate passion and stimulate it in others is to encourage everyone to take responsibility for building the kind of culture they wish to inhabit.

So relative to bosses, peers, other stakeholders, members of our team, there is one overriding constant. Discerning, real-time, specific appreciation leads people to do more of what was recognized. Note however the ingredients. First, it has to be ‘discerning’, in other words you have to be known to offer appreciation when merited, you have to be known to care about results, you have to have a reputation for high standards. Ladling on insincere flattery helps no one. Second, it has to be in real-time, meaning as close to the event or behavior or action that you are appreciating as possible. That’s when we are most engaged with what we’ve done, that is when it will get the highest voltage attention. Third, it has to be specific. “I really appreciated it when you took the time to back me up at that critical meeting”; “your attention to detail in responding to that client was inspiring”, etc. The more specific it is, the less it can be swatted away as an empty comment, the more the person’s attention is drawn to what they should do more of. And if you do this both privately and publicly, you help to foster a culture where people catch each other doing things right and trumpet what is genuinely praise-worthy.

Indeed you also have to confront in discerning, real-time and specific ways. If all you do is appreciate, no one will trust you. If all you do is confront, you won’t be credible, as people will believe you have an axe to grind, or have them in the cross-hairs. Confronting should be preceded by first checking the facts, then sharing your view and your feelings as constructively as possible, and finally making a future-based request. “So, our meeting has started 15 minutes late three times in a row. Each time, upon checking, John we’ve been waiting for you. Your input is too valuable for us to begin without you. I feel all of our time is equally important and I hope you agree. What can we do to ensure you’re here on time and that we start all together…on time each time?” John can still be a jerk, but then you have a basis for escalating. Most times, stated this way, there is a very graceful way for John to respond, without having to excessively defend himself. Appreciating John when he IS on time overall, is also an excellent way, if done quietly and not excessively, to also encourage his focus and stimulate his further improvement here.

And for your own development, set up feedback partners, who let you know based on areas you keep hearing about, how you’re doing and what they recommend. Taking the initiative to set up such a loop, helps you create around you the culture and relationships you ideally should want.


Passion is stoked by habits, and certain habits are particularly productive of vitality. Here are some tips beyond what we’ve covered in the book.

Physical vitality comes first. Find ways to stimulate all your senses, as well as to exercise your body. Enjoy sensual treats like massage, picnics in beautiful settings, hikes, swims, bike rides, horsing around with kids, doing yoga or tai chi or other stretching, sleeping peacefully and adequately, eating nourishing food as well as glorious food that you deeply savor.

Mental vitality is next. Learn new things, taper your logic, unleash your creativity, stimulate yourself with variety, hang out with diverse and fascinating people, read widely and in some areas deeply, solve new and interesting problems, gain the ability to appreciate things outside your natural paradigms.

Emotional vitality is critical. Expand your ability to love, care for people by extending yourself, listen accurately and empathically, enjoy abandon and fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, be willing to share your highs and some of your lows, make room for those who are different, open yourself up to emotions and reflexes outside your usual range. Actively cultivate those things that make being alive precious and delightful to you.

Focus vitality gets results. Life is time to a large extent; waste one and you waste the other. We have to decide what really matters and ensure that gets done. We have to prune ruthlessly. We have to prepare fervently for our ‘on’ times and preserve our re-creating ‘off’ times too. We need to bring laser beam like concentration to getting the most important things done at optimal times and to remove those things from our attention, time and energy that are peripheral, incidental, or off-vision.


Just as individuals have to conduct transforming radical conversations, so do the everyday interactions of our teams need to be conducive to effective engagement and successful community. We need to move beyond the safe, trite, formulaic conversation that is the bane of so many meetings, into a measure of chaos or constructive conflict, and beyond…to making it happen together.

This requires that we are as committed to the process by which we produce results, not just the results. Each time we produce results we do so in a way that will either make the next set of results easier or harder, the relationships involved more robust or more brittle, the communication more likely to flow or to founder. So we have to assess how well we’ve delivered, and how we interacted en route to that delivery. Did we optimize each other as colleagues and even as resources for success?

Part of optimizing success on a team is to understand the talent profile of the team-members. More than industry knowledge, more than experience, we have to understand the natural abilities, tendencies and patterns of behavior that make up each person. And we have to ideally create a healthy complementarity of talents on our team. Otherwise no matter the quality of harmony, we’ll never get the results. On the other hand if we don’t make room also for the distinctiveness of talent, then we’ll be trying to get our style or personality to predominate, often in stifling ways.

While we honor each person’s talent, we also have to challenge them to develop it. Talent that doesn’t seek to express its full flowering, isn’t really talent. It may at best be a natural skill.

Finally, in organizations we all have to cultivate at least the skill, and ideally locate the talent, of expressing our best in concert with others, coming together for goals larger than any one of us could deliver by ourselves.


As we seek to develop ourselves and help to develop others in a way that liberates passion and fosters growth, we have to do so by working on two epicenters.

First, we have to realize that most growth opportunities and most growth barriers are behavioral. That is to say, when we speak about improving leadership effectiveness or effectiveness on a team, we are speaking about behavior we want to see more of, or less of, or expressed differently, or whatever. Our character and our leadership brand comes down to the habitual behaviors people come to expect of us. So the high road to improvement, for any of us, is to locate a coaching pool as we’ve said, of people who experience our behavior regularly and get their ongoing input. For those we are coaching, we have to help them create a coaching pool, and if we are their boss, become a charter member of this pool. By speaking to behaviors, we are speaking to things that can be learned, unlearned and relearned. The key ingredients are insight and will. We have to provide the source matter for ongoing insight from a composite of stakeholders, so the insights into our leadership behaviors can’t be dismissed as one person’s delusions or agenda. The person seeking the growth, has to supply the will. If they don’t, they are confessing their disinterest in creating results together with this team or with you.

However, for insight and coaching help to truly not be emotionless or just logically remote, we have to ensure we ask ourselves how we are perceiving this person we are seeking to help. Do we consider them as a valuable human being? Do we know anything about their hopes and dreams? And this is where we return in a way, full circle to intimacy. If we consider this person valuable as a person, then we will have keener insight not only into what they might need to get the results we all want, but also as to how to convey that in a way that is most likely to get through. Moreover, we will also be on hand when what they need has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the human being who is doing the performing. Until someone feels cared for, and is responded to from that caring, all the behavioral input in the world will fall flat.

However, and this is why we call it ‘do-be-do’, once you focus on being in a relationship with the person, you have to once more focus on what you are each doing, in tandem and individually. The final test of growth is new behavior, consistently expressed. The path to it may detour into necessary time connecting with each other on a person-to-person basis, but it must return — anchored in the resultant confidence to meaningfully confront and encourage each other — back to winning behavior.


Many of us recognize a passion killer when we see one. Many of us can celebrate a passion liberating moment or exchange when we encounter it. But we wonder, what can we do to bring this about?

Very simply and very powerfully:

  1. Take these prescriptions on personally. They are worth doing because they will foster joy, enable better results, build richer relationships, and amplify your own personal brand. Not a bad medley of benefits!
  2. Find some key influentials in your organization who you know and trust, and create a coaching and leadership culture influencing pool with them. Support them to create their own stakeholder dialogues, and you all in your own teams commit to fostering intimacy, getting bull’s eyes clear, having radical conversations, protecting possibility, provoking the future, etc. You can even create a dashboard for your team and pick the passion liberators you most need to work on together.
  3. Hype it as it happens. If you choose to launch an attack on passion killers or seek to liberate passion as part of your employee value proposition, make a change, then hype it!
  4. Remember finally that passion is natural. With the right relationships, and taking aim at important and valuable market-winning purposes, we can then challenge and support each other to behave our way to our vision.

Enjoy the numerous additional tools, tips, insights, case studies and applications in the book itself! Most critically enjoy liberating passion in yourself and for everyone you interact with. As the book asks, “Why would we settle for anything less?”