How to Manage Passion’s Downside

In a recent speaking engagement I was talking about the downside of passion and was quickly interrupted with the question: “How could being passionate about what you do ever be a bad thing?” As most people understand, anything taken to the extreme, or in excess, can in fact be harmful. Therefore I thought it might be of value to examine the downside of unbridled passion in this week’s column, so that passion can remain an asset and not end-up becoming a liability for you or your company. Most of the professionals I know would agree with me that passion is a necessary ingredient for success as an entrepreneur or C-level executive. While I have always been a champion of passion as a key success metric, I have on numerous occasions witnessed passion impeding purpose, which in turn hinders success. As I have observed this situation on more than a few occasions over the years, it has been my experience that passion only becomes a barrier to success when it is misunderstood and/or misapplied. Passion is an emotion of exuberance that can almost single-handedly fuel greatness. 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. That being said, passion without perspective and reason can actually serve to distort one’s perception of reality allowing them to slip into very dangerous territory. 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 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 an entrepreneur who is passionate about his business, and one that is emotionally over-invested in his business. 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, which can in turn lead 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 the proverbial 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 one another’s thinking instead of challenging it. I applaud those of you reading this column 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? My advice? Be passionate where prudent and justified, and always stay grounded in reality.