Passion and Leadership

February 10, 2012 — 9 Comments

Today’s post is a guest blog by Steve Moore. He is a long-time friend and someone I respect deeply. Steve serves as the President of Missio Nexus. He is a also a member of the Growing Leaders speakers team and is available to provide leadership training to organizations.  His most recent book, Who is My Neighbor? Being a Good Samaritan in a Connected World, was released in May, 2011.

The word passion is used to describe a powerful range of emotions, from love to anger, hatred to joy. It is somewhat ironic that in leadership literature, passion is often associated with what happens to leaders when they don’t have it: lack of energy, loss of creativity, diminished motivation and ultimately burnout. Take the opening few sentences of an article on passion in Entrepreneur magazine for example: “You’re trying hard not to show it–you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling for your business…It’s time to rekindle your passion and renew your commitment as an entrepreneur.”

Passion is important for leaders for at least two reasons. First, your passion as a leader is one piece of the self-awareness puzzle that will enable you to focus your energies on the causes that resonate with the core of who you are. In addition to your personality, natural talents and gifts, you need to understand and tap into your passions. Second, as a leader you will need to help others understand their passions so you can place members of your team in areas of responsibility that contain what I call “passionators,” intrinsic motivational forces that flow from inner passion.

Passions are like interests on steroids. Self-aware people actively seek to bridle their passions and constructively channel their inner currents of desire. Passions are like threads of inner concern that when woven together tightly form a rope strong enough to support your dreams.

What amazes me is how many leaders seem to have so little self-awareness when it comes to understanding their passions. I believe you will recognize the seeds of passion in interests or issues that you are motivated to spend time learning more about, participating in, recruiting others for or pay a price to pursue. However intuitive or mystical this journey may seem, you need to understand your passions. 

The Relationship Between Vision and Passion

Few topics have been given more attention in leadership literature than vision, for good reason. Some have suggested that vision is the one common denominator of leaders, the driving force behind their desire to gain influence with followers. If vision is “what you see” as a leader, passion makes what you see important. Vision without passion is mechanical. Vision with passion is inspirational. If you have ever listened to a leader trying to cast vision for a cause about which he or she was not passionate, you know the difference.

Most leaders intuitively understand that effective communication calls for both passion and vision. So if passion is limited, a common temptation is to substitute intensity. Followers know the difference. Intensity communicates, “I really want you to believe this.” Passion communicates, “I really believe this.” Intensity is marked mostly by emotion; passion is marked mostly by conviction. Intensity is often packaged with hype; passion comes with authenticity. Intensity comes across as superficial; passion comes across as natural. Intensity is communicated by talking loudly; passion is communicated by talking plainly. There’s a place for intensity in leadership, but its no substitute for passion.

Your Passion Profile

Passions emerge from the interests and issues that you are motivated to spend time learning more about, participating in, recruiting others for or paying a price to pursue. My experience in coaching leaders in the area of life planning has clarified a few principles that might be helpful in identifying your Passion Profile.

1. Recognize the difference between interest-based passions and issue-based passions. People engage in interest-based passions because they’re fun; they’re a source of pleasure. Some people like golf, others tennis, still others painting, etc. These are leisure activities.

People pursue issue-based passions because they provide a measure of fulfillment; they give us a sense of purpose.  Some people care about the environment, others homelessness, still others leadership. These are causes that allow us to leave a legacy.

Everyone has both interest and issue-based passions. Leaders who have no room for leisure put their legacy at risk over the long haul. Interest-based passions are often connected with activities and therefore flow from the combination of an interest and a natural ability or acquired skill. We tend to like things we are “good at” and are good at things “we like.”

Issue-based passions are often associated with causes and therefore tend to emerge from experiences. People who are passionate about the urban poor can usually point to some formative experience where the needs of inner city people were imprinted on their heart.

I’ve devised a simple Passion Finder Matrix you may find helpful in processing your Passion Profile. Consider making a list of the interests and issues in your life that fit each of the four qualifying statements.

2. Understand the difference between passion and strategy, especially as it relates to issue-based passions. It has been said that the reason God wires people with so many different kinds of passions is so that everything He wants us to do gets done. The same could be said about the strategies associated with individual passions.

There is beauty in variety. People can embrace the same passion yet go about fulfilling it differently. Your passion will require more than one approach; be careful not to turn allies into enemies by devaluing their strategy even though you share a common passion.

3. Look for ways to blend the threads of interest-based and issue-based passion together to form an incarnational passion. Take for example a person who has musical interests, plays the guitar and sings. If this person had a corresponding issue-based passion for social justice, they could weave these threads together in a band, like Bono and U2. This is what I call an incarnational passion, and is lived out in real life situations or roles. Likewise, if this same person had issue-based passions connected to his/her faith, he or she might pursue a very different incarnational passion as a worship leader.

I’m using simple and common sense examples for clarity. But you can see how this process can become complex and that several interests and issues can converge in the formation of an incarnational passion. In fact, the more these two tracks of your Passion Profile can naturally weave together, the stronger your inner motivation to live out the incarnational passion. In turn, you will be more effective when recruiting others to join you, and better prepared to pay a bigger price to remain true to the cause. The ultimate test of passion is what price we’re willing to pay to pursue it. In this sense, we are in danger of producing a generation of passion-less leaders, if they’re not prepared to suffer or sacrifice for a God-inspired cause. What are you passionate about? What price will you pay to pursue it?

Working it out…Ideas for Application and Reflection

1. How do you feel about what this article asserts regarding the relationship between vision and passion? Can you think of a time when you (or someone) tried to substitute intensity for passion when communicating vision?  How did listeners (or you) respond? (Remember the infamous “I have a Scream” speech by Howard Dean after the 2004 Iowa Caucuses?)

2. Take some time to complete the Passion Finder Matrix and make a list of your interest and issue-based passions. Do you see any natural incarnational passions in the making? To go deeper, go to: www.MyPassionProfile.com for an assessment.

3. What issue-based passions would you be most willing to pay a price to pursue? What life-shaping experiences helped imprint this cause on your heart? To what extent does your current role tap into this issue-based passion?