The Downside of Passion

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

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…