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!

Why Leadership Really Matters

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Top performing, passionate people still need direction, focus and a purpose. The most common source for those three prerequisites for success is an effective leader. Without effective leadership even top performers lose the motivation the use their skills and abilities.

They can get simple direction from a manager, they can even be somewhat forced to focus but their purpose becomes clear only when there is a vision to work towards. Vision casting is a prime responsibility of an effective leader.

People will put forth effort for mere money… for a while. Money alone however has proven to be a poor motivator for top performers. People are most productive when they know that they are making a difference. Working towards a vision shows them where and how they can make a difference.

If the vision can’t be articulated by the leader then there might as well not be a vision. If the vision isn’t shared often then that too is nearly as bad as not having a vision at all.

Leaders are role models as well – good or bad. They should not expect to see more effort from their people than they are willing to offer themselves. They should not expect better decisions or more prudent risk-taking than they put forth as leaders.

If you’re in a leadership position then you absolutely MUST know that your people are watching you… always. They watch to see if your words match your actions. (They do what you do, not what you say) They watch to see if you’re committed enough to the vision and if they determine that you’re not then they will not commit to you.

If they cannot commit to you then they will not commit to the vision. People, especially top performing people, commit to a leader before they commit to the leader’s vision.

The energy that makes good people top performers turns on itself without direction, focus and purpose. When that happens top performers go sour, become ineffective and they eventually leave the leader…. or worse, they stay with the leader and simply stop performing.

Leadership matters, it always has and it always will. Without effective leadership even promising top performers will struggle to reach their potential.

If you’re in a leadership position then you not only have the opportunity to lead, you have an obligation to lead. If you can’t or won’t meet that obligation then you owe it to your would be followers, and even to yourself, to step aside and let a real leader take over.