Is “Passion” Just an Excuse?

Would you describe yourself as a passionate person? Passionate about your business, your industry, your job, or your people?

If you are, that is a good thing…. maybe.

I say maybe because too often people in leadership positions use “passion” as an excuse for losing control of their emotions. If you’ve never used the excuse you have certainly heard it, you know, the “sorry about losing my temper, but I’m “passionate” about this. Or, “sorry I called you an idiot but my “passion” for the project got the best of me.”

I’m going to say this as cleary as I can; Authentic Servant Leaders do not use passion as an excuse for losing control of their emotions.

When you lose control of your emotions you lose. You lose credibility, you lose trust, you lose productivity, you lose time, you lose respect. You may not lose them all but you lose at least some. If you lose them often enough you will also lose the ability to lead.

Let’s look at a very high level definition of passion and emotion. On the surface you are passionate about something; you get emotional about someone. But there’s a more fundamental difference between the two. Passion involves the mind; emotion, by definition, excludes mental judgments, at least sound mental judgments.

Passion drives people to action. A passionate football fan will be driven to study statistics, learn rosters, follow players on social media. They will devote significance time to knowing and understanding the game. Someone who is emotional about football might throw their beer at the TV when the quarterback for “their” team is intercepted late in a game.

Later, when shopping for a replacement TV it will be obvious that throwing the beer was a bad idea. However, at the emotional moment that it happened, practicing good judgment wasn’t even a thought. The guy explains the “unfortunate moment” to his wife by saying he is just a passionate fan.

It’s perfectly okay to be emotional, in fact, we have to be emotional to lead a full life. You need to be aware however that emotions often block your critical thinking skills. When you’re in a highly emotional state you’re thinking differently than when you’re not so emotional. That does not make you a weak leader, it makes you a human being.

The most effective leaders have passion. They also work to maintain control of their emotions when people around them are losing control of theirs. They allow a bit of time to come between their emotions and their decisions.

Authentic Servant Leaders do not make rash emotional decisions. Yes, they will allow emotions to “inform” their decisions but that is far different than making a raw emotional decision.

When you understand the difference between mindful passion and mindless emotion you will be more likely to positively influence the people you lead.

So go ahead, be passionate, be emotional and especially be aware of the difference between the two!

10 thoughts on “Is “Passion” Just an Excuse?

  1. Excellent point, Steve. You’re so right about emotional reactions obscuring the ability to think critically, especially about considering future consequences. You can never take back words you say in the heat of emotion, and others will remember the emotional reaction as well as the words. The sad thing is, the “window of opportunity” for developing the connections in the brain for critical thinking occurs during adolescence, ages 12-24. Most adults aren’t aware of this, and they don’t pro-actively work to help young people with this development.

    • Wow, that is so true. Once we learn to react a certain way, emotionally for instance, it is really a challenge to “unlearn” the behavior. If someone has the desire to learn a better way it can be done but many people are not even aware of how they react in the first place. Or…. they realize it too late… I think that’s called regret 🙂
      Thanks for your thoughtful and spot-on comment Meredith, I appreciate it!

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