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The Downside of Passion

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Review any list of positive leadership traits and “passion” will undoubtedly rank near the top – rightly so. In most cases passion is an asset capable of carrying you through tough times, sharpening your perspective, revealing purpose, and helping you succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. You’ll find no shortage of content describing the positive attributes of passion, but few that examine the downside of passion, and trust me, there is a downside. On more than a few occasions I’ve witnessed passion run amok resulting in untold harm. Virtually any positive trait when taken to extremes, misunderstood and/or misapplied can quickly become a liability. So, in today’s post I’ll examine the downside of unbridled passion…

The word “passion” comes from the Latin root which quite literally means “to suffer.” Therefore it should come as no surprise that those who are passionate in their pursuits are often willing to make personal and professional sacrifices in order to reach their objectives that the unimpassioned simply won’t make. Channeled properly, this is a huge advantage. As a person who provides advice and counsel to leaders I can tell you I’ve rarely come across a successful person who hasn’t been truly passionate.

You’ll find no argument from me that passion can almost single-handedly propel leaders to new heights of success. History is littered with accounts of marginally talented individuals who have risen to greatness based upon little more than being passionate about the pursuit of their objective. Passion creates a “refuse to lose” mentality which can enable the average person to move outside comfort zones, take-on greater risk, go the extra mile, and achieve phenomenal results. However it’s important to note the same trait which can propel you to the top can also send you over the edge of a cliff. Passion is not aptitude, nor is it omnipotence, neither is it totally unique. These are nuances lost on many…

This is where things begin to get a little tricky – passion without perspective and/or reason can actually serve to distort one’s perception of reality. These distorted perceptions can quickly become a very slippery slope that will blur the lines between fact and fiction…very dangerous territory for any leader. Have you ever known someone who wanted something to be true so badly that they started to adopt positions and manufacture circumstances to support their own false reality? Just because you can convince yourself (or others) that your position is correct, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is…

Just as there exists a very fine line between brilliance and insanity, there also exists a fine line between passion and many negative traits such as narrow-mindedness, narcissism, fanaticism, delusion, and even paranoia. For instance, there is a big difference in a leader who is passionate about their business, and one that is emotionally over-invested in their business. Passion which is balanced by perspective and reason can reveal purpose, but passion absent those filters can just as easily impede purpose.

Healthy passion for one’s business actually brings focus and clarity of thought, which serve to accelerate growth and create sustainable success. However being emotionally over-invested in one’s business can lead to irrational decisioning, prideful or ego-driven actions, the use of flawed business logic, and poor execution. These are the regrettable and completely avoidable precursors to unnecessary loss and/or failure.

It is not at all uncommon for entrepreneurs and executives to be too close to the forest to see the trees. Passionate professionals thinking clearly will seek independent outside counsel and advice to continually gut-check and refine their thinking. Emotionally over-invested professionals will either avoid counsel or surround themselves with legions of yes-men. Another trait of healthy passionate thinking is to recruit tier-one talent at the executive leadership and senior management levels in order to stimulate innovation and thought growth. Effective leadership teams have a balance of left-brain and right-brain thinkers from a variety of backgrounds so that they can draw from the broadest possible array of experiences when formulating positions and options. Emotionally over-invested professionals tend to surround themselves with very small teams of like minded individuals from similar backgrounds who tend to reinforce each others thinking instead of challenging it.

I applaud those of you reading this post who constitute the passionate minority…I would however also counsel you to take pause and evaluate your current positioning and thinking. Are you operating in a vacuum? Do you seek advice and counsel from those who will tell you the truth, or from those who will just tell you what you want to hear? Is your passion creating clarity, focus and purpose, or is it blinding you from seeing the reality of your current situation?

As always, I welcome your thoughts, experiences and opinions and encourage you to comment below…

 

Image credit: The Sun

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    Nikko

    August 19, 2011 at 4:14 am

    As a passionate leader of my organization, I can 100% agree with what Mike is trying to say here.  I sometimes will find myself so engrossed in my passion for what I am doing that I need my partners to bring me back and help me see the bigger picture.

    Great post.

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Nikko – it never hurts to have partners who help you “keep it real.”

    Annette

    August 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I can’t tell you how timely this article is for me. Someone very close to me is involved in an MLM organization where some brainwashing appears to be taking place. Scares me half to death. Her ‘mentors’ (they call themselves) promote passion but what I see is an overly zealous fanatacism void of logic at times. I’m showing her this article. Thank  you!

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Annette:

      I hope this helps. For what it’s worth, I’m NOT an MLM guy, but neither do I believe MLM in and of itself is inherently bad – it’s simply another business model. There are quality people associated with quality network marketing organizations, and there are countless people who have been duped by less than reputable organizations. I’ve known people who have improved their lives as a result of MLM, but I’ve known more who have been hurt by it. I tend to default to this mantra: part-time efforts tend to yield part-time results. Good luck Annette.

    Anonymous

    August 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Fantastic post.  I recently had a successful entrepreneur tell me that something similar.  Passionate people tend to focus on the vision instead of the execution.  I was advised that I should spend no more than 2 hours a week on vision and the other time focusing on execution.

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      I tend to agree with you in principle, but this assumes that the vision is refined. If you spend the majority of the time executing on a flawed vision you won’t be pleased with the results. I’ll leave you with the following thought for your consideration:  
        “Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what Resources, Infrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution.” (Mike Myatt, 1988)

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      I tend to agree with you in principle, but this assumes that the vision is refined. If you spend the majority of the time executing on a flawed vision you won’t be pleased with the results. I’ll leave you with the following thought for your consideration:  
        “Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what Resources, Infrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution.” (Mike Myatt, 1988)

    Kevin_zamora

    August 19, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Great article. In fact, usually the passionate are just as you say. They are “off” a little bit. Perhaps that is the requirement towards greatness. This can be alleviated by practicing emotional intelligence techniques which increase both your personal and social awareness.

    -Kevin Zamora

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      Hi Kevin:

      If we all developed a heightened sense of emotional intelligence, as well as personal and social awareness the world would be a more pleasant place. Thanks for sharing Kevin.

    Lisa

    August 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Brilliant!

    Liz

    August 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Great article. Reinforced the importance of our recent decision to hire a consultant to conduct an organizational assessment. Although it will require a great deal of work, it will help me to examine my passionate ways.  

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      Never hurts to have an arm’s length look at things. You’ll likely receive validation of your efforts, but if not, the feedback and input received will help you make the necessary course corrections. Thanks for sharing Liz.

    Mike Myatt

    August 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks John – your reference to Germany in ’39 is exactly what can happen when passion run-a-muck crosses over to the dark side and actually becomes insanity. Thanks for stopping by John. 

    Mike Myatt

    August 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks Philathia. Congratulations on your success and the wisdom to surround yourself with good people. 

    Susan M. Bearden

    August 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Great post!  I am lucky to have a colleague who serves as my passion “reality check” on a regular basis and I consider myself very fortunate.

      Mike Myatt

      August 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks Susan. Having colleagues who tell us what we need to hear instead of what we want to hear is a true asset. 

    anne christie

    August 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Excellent. I have often thought about this very thing. Thanks for the insightful discussion.

    Kerrie

    August 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    The publishing of your article could not have been more perfectly timed for me. I can only express appreciation for your perspective which is both thoughtfully articulated AND thought-provoking. 

    Carlossuazo1263

    August 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Excellent post, my team and i where just talking of the subject, since we are in the middle of receiving two consulting projects in major areas of opportunity, thanks !

    Mflanagan

    August 19, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Great post.  My company is filled with passionate people, but much of it is misguided.  This article made me think of my actions as a passionate leader as well.  Thanks.

      Mike Myatt

      August 20, 2011 at 3:37 am

      It’s always wise to do some introspection, and I’m glad the post helped in that regard.

    Aries14boxx

    August 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Great article and thank you for highlighting the difference between healthy passion and unhealthy passion.  The reference to Germany 1939 should make everyone remember what can result from passion “run amok” with evil intent.  God willing, it will never happen again. 

    Ramaneswara Rao

    August 20, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Hi Mike Myatt
    You have rightly pointed out the other side of the coin called PASSION.  Sofar majority of the people look at only positive side of the phrase ignoring the negative aspects.
    This article will definetly an eye opener for all of those in the bandwagon.

    Best Regards
    Ramaneswara Rao Rongala

    Frode Heimen

    August 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Its like an athlete who likes to run. In any direction or being able to follow the track. Only one will reach the goal. 🙂

    afkelly

    August 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Good article, I have seen what the yes-men can do to an organization it is not pretty, driving down morale and making people scared to do their jobs.  Passion directed correctly is powerful and positive.
    afk

    Bob Baulch

    August 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Mike Myatt in his blog, The Downside of Passion gets it right by saying too much passion can be misdirected.  The disconnect I believe between passion and success is with people.  Organizations are made up of people and if passion for success is too strong it tends to negate the need for people in the equation and that is where I belive things go off the rail.
    All leadership comes down to getting the people in any organization on board and bringing them to a desired outcome willingly.

    Bob Baulch
    http://www.smallcoachbob.com

    Alan Hhaveson

    August 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    very good insight….however you left out….many with “the passion” can easily become “enablers” to those around them…in one of the
    comments someone indicated something about the challenge to lead is a slippery slope…it definitely is…however for those of us with passion….it is far better to have the passion than meet the
    challenge of the day on a downer!     alan haveson

      Mike Myatt

      August 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm

      Passion as an enabler – a great catch, and perhaps one that deserves its own post. Thanks for stopping by Alan.

    Alan Humphries

    August 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Mike,

    A very timely article that rings true in all of us that espouse passion in what we do. To me it was a reminder to not let my passion overide appropriate input from others and to stand grounded in my emotional commitment.

    Sean

    August 24, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Well written…touched a few tender spots regarding my own all consumimng relationship with my restuarant. One thing that maybe I missed but I bring to this discussion is that passion is a lonely emotion. Understandably, most don’t or cannot share your passion. It is, after all an all consuming personal experience as its your nuts on the line. I have often made what seems to others as completely inrrational changes to the direction of my business…all, so far, have paid off handsomely. The point being that no one “Got it.” I believe, as mentioned in a previous comment, that passion actually puts the trees in plain sight while the “Passionless” try to find their way through the forrest.  

    marissa mullins

    September 13, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I agree with yhis and found it wonderfully true AND objective!

    “Passion creates a “refuse to lose” mentality which can enable the average person to move outside comfort zones, take-on greater risk, go the extra mile, and achieve phenomenal results. However it’s important to note the same trait which can propel you to the top can also send you over the edge of a cliff. Passion is not aptitude, nor is it omnipotence, neither is it totally unique. These are nuances lost on many…
    This is where things begin to get a little tricky – passion without perspective and/or reason can actually serve to distort one’s perception of reality.”

    I see this often in my day-job (Sales Manager in the Automotive Industry) and generally in those around me.

    Thanks for an insightful piece!

    Elliot Kim

    February 9, 2013 at 10:59 am

    In short, I understand the point to mean that it isn’t too difficult for passionate people to be delusional. I consider myself a passionate person, and I do testify to that correlation. The question is, how can I complement outside counsel with something I can do by myself that will help me see reality more clearly?

    Josh Tam

    August 11, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Agree 100%. Only focus on passion if it can be a source of income/funding to sustain life, OR do something else for funding and pursue passion only when you have a surplus of resources. Or else… (1st hand experience)

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