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I am a vegan, yes, one of “those” folks who gets excited over a head of broccoli. I frequent restaurants that allow me to use a platter for my salad. As a “regular”, I know the employees and they know me.

I recently visited one of my favorite spots and was greeted by an employee who could be classified as a “rock star“. You know the type! This is the employee who knows the customers by order if not by name; they always have energy and a smile; they love their job; they exude enthusiasm; they provide great customer service; they know your product and upsell; and they ultimately build revenue and impact the bottom line. “Rock stars” approach their life with passion and bring their energy and personality to everything that they do. The “rock star” employee may not have the specific skills or know the job, but their attitude and desire to excel enables them to learn quickly and rise to the top.

As Albert Einstein stated, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” That passion fueled inventions that have changed our world, including: the theory of relativity, and the physics of atoms, molecules, and light. According to an article in National Geographic, Einstein’s theories led to the paper towel, the stock market, solar power, and laser pointers. Thankfully this passion was harnessed, and the world benefitted as a result.

Back to the restaurant and my platter of produce! The “rock star” employee greeted me and asked about my business, my day, etc. I mentioned I was heading out of town the following day and told her about my trip. She got excited and exclaimed “Shut the @#*; up!” and then walked away.

I was shocked into silence, which rarely occurs for me, and faced with an HR dilemma. If this were my organization, how would I deal with the situation? Would I discuss a policy, and discipline the employee in writing? Or would I approach this as a coaching opportunity and have a conversation about appropriate comments in the workplace? Both answers are correct! Depending on the employee, you would have to consider their past performance and pattern of behavior. If this was a repeated pattern, then documenting the situation and reiterating the policy is appropriate.

If this was a “one-off” occurrence that was a result of passion and energy, a coaching conversation may be in order. This option gains greater potential business results, an engaged employee, enhanced revenue, and ultimately greater profitability. How often do businesses squelch passion, creativity and energy through missed coaching opportunities? Of course, had I “complained”, the business may have had to respond in some fashion, the question is how? You can train boundaries, but it is difficult to train passion.

A former boss once told me, “If every reaction uses a hammer, then everyone’s action is viewed as a nail. Instead, view everyone as a flower, and your reaction is a watering can”. It is our job as leaders to identify and foster behaviors that will model and nurture the behavior that you want exhibited by the employee.

A heavy-handed approach with the “rock star” employee could curb her enthusiasm going forward. Just imagine if Einstein would have believed the teachers who told him he would not amount to anything!

On the corporate front, Southwest airlines has prospered for nearly 40 years by challenging conventional wisdom and embracing the “hire for attitude and passion” philosophy. Their people department identified the attitudes of the best performers, and then devised hiring and onboarding practices to search for those attitudes in new performers.

So, what did I do?  During the quiet of munching on a stalk of broccoli, I did my “right thing”. I ate a great salad and laughed until the tears ran down my face. Everyone has passion and it is shown in different ways. Easy to squelch, hard to find.

The story has been told in my hiring, customer service and leadership training course and always incites great conversation and insights. Most importantly, this employee gave me the gift of laughter. Every time I think of this situation I smile and laugh until my stomach aches. Wouldn’t you want someone to feel that way about your organization?