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Mark P Friedman
Strategy Advisor/ Growth Mentor/ Small Business Coach
Boulder, Colorado
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Passion & Leadership: A Primer

"Passion" has been one of this decade's buzzwords. Leaders must be passionate. Employees must be passionate. Entrepreneurs must be passionate. But can one be successful without passion?
Written Oct 05, 2010, read 1505 times since then.
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"Passion" has been one of this decade's buzzwords. Leaders must be passionate. Employees must be passionate. Entrepreneurs must be passionate. But can one be successful without passion?

A respected colleague, Dave Taylor, argues that passion is overrated, that business people should follow the money, addressing whatever opportunities that fit their skill set. While talking with him, I got the sense that he considers professionals who limit themselves to their passions are self-indulgent dilettantes.

Certainly obsession with passion can turn into counter-productive fetishism. I once worked for a company where the VPs of Marketing and Sales were in a constant, hyperventilating battle over which of them was more passionate about the company and industry;  they ended by destroying the company.

That, of course, was an extreme of egotism. The real question is whether professionals, as some argue, must follow their passion to succeed. Let me assert this answer: no. I've known highly effective doctors, for example, who had long since lost their interest in healing. Similarly I've known many successful businessmen who couldn't have cared less about their products or customers. Conversely, just because you are passionate about stamp collecting doesn't mean you need to launch a stamp business.

But ignore your passions at your own risk. Because here's the deal: life is short. Why would you want to spend 20, 40 or 80 hours a week at something you don't care about? Who hasn't known someone who lingered at the bar every night, soul dead, lamenting how they had wasted their life?

Some points to consider:

  • Allow broad leeway in defining passion. You don't necessarily have to care about your product if, say, excelling at the function of marketing lights your fire. Or you could be indifferent to the subject of the book you're writing if the act of putting sentences and paragraphs delights you. I've known passionate leaders who did not care about the widgets they manufactured but obsessed (in a good way) about building their organizations.
  • Accept that passions have seasons. Sometimes the tide ebbs. There can be months where you question your path. Even the best marriages have periods more defined by comfort or even struggle than passion. No need to beat yourself up. Back off for a while. Take a vacation. Look for opportunities to re-energize elsewhere. Then, when the season again turns, come back with renewed vigor.
  • Recognize that passion has at least some choice. Stephen Covey wrote, "Love is a verb." Passion does not necessarily happen in lives. It can be cultivated, stoked, chosen. That doesn't necessarily make it inauthentic. But beware of forcing it. If something doesn't do it for you, acknowledge that it doesn't and move on.
  • Different strokes for different folks. Some leaders are fulfilled by a mastery of making money or gaining power. If that's you, I respect that. But as Dan Pink points out, mastery is only part of what drives us. Most of us also crave a purpose. Purpose is about devoting your work to serving a higher mission, and that, almost by definition, requires passion.

A couple of years ago, my wife survived a scary bout with cancer. Afterwards, celebrating on a beach in Hawaii, we turned from the waves one afternoon and simultaneously said to each other, "Life's too short!" We left the town we lived in but didn't love. I left the job I worked at but didn't care about. We moved to a place we love and are each building careers serving our purpose.

I wish the same for you.

What do you think? Am I being too touchy-feely? Because I think, and Pink would agree, that I'm being pretty hard nosed pragmatic here.

Learn more about the author, Mark P Friedman.

Comment on this article

  • Bellevue Graphic Designer/Illustrator/Toy & Book Creator 
Bellevue, Washington 
Susan Straub-Martin
    Posted by Susan Straub-Martin, Bellevue, Washington | Oct 08, 2010

    Mark: Life is to short. I worked in corporate America and loved my customers but not necessarily my job. I think although there are difficult days my downsizing was one of the best things that happened to me.

    I was finally able to work on what I was passionate about. There is something comforting in walking into a room of colleges and introduce myself as an artist.

    That power is passion and visa versa. Great articel

  • Strategy Advisor/ Growth Mentor/ Small Business Coach 
Boulder, Colorado 
Mark P Friedman
    Posted by Mark P Friedman, Boulder, Colorado | Oct 08, 2010

    Susan - great to hear your experience. You're absolutely right, passion can create incredible power as long as it is aligned with your talents.

    Glad that things worked out for you.

  • Business development advice for early stage creative entrepreneurs to create more impact, influence and income.  
Ojai, California 
Thomson Dawson
    Posted by Thomson Dawson, Ojai, California | Oct 08, 2010

    Bravo Mark!!!

    I loved how you turned me around from your first two paragraphs...which had me thinking "this guys not really going to advocate diminishing passion from our professional lives"?

    Nicely done...

    I would like to add that whatever your passion, it's extra good if it serves the good of others as well... as entrepreneurs, our purpose is to create value for others first.

    to your continued success, Thomson

  • eLearning, Presentation Design, Web Video, Voice-over 
Mercer Island, Washington 
Jim Dickeson
    Posted by Jim Dickeson, Mercer Island, Washington | Oct 09, 2010

    Follow your passion <--------------> Follow the money

    It's not black and white. It's a spectrum. And we all position ourselves somewhere along that spectrum. And we won't always be in the same position as our friends. We won't even be in the same spot we were a year ago. But like any bell curve, I'll bet hardly anyone is at the ends.

    Actually, I like the term passion. But I've always hated mission statements. They sound so contrived. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, ... Perhaps entrepreneurs should instead have passion statements.

  • Strategy Advisor/ Growth Mentor/ Small Business Coach 
Boulder, Colorado 
Mark P Friedman
    Posted by Mark P Friedman, Boulder, Colorado | Oct 11, 2010

    Thomson and Jim - thanks so much for your comments!

    Thompson, I fully agree with your statement that passion in service of others raises the value created to another level. Nicely said.

    Jim, I think you nailed it with the idea of a spectrum. That helps clarify the discussion. But I'm in a different place on mission statements. I agree that most are a waste of time because the writers don't fully understand what is required. But when you get the mission statement right - or, to use your words, the passion statement - it becomes your north star, giving you the stable point to guide your navigation.

    Again, thanks for your comments, and hope to see you here again.

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