Is passion your business killer or driver?

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that when I questioned entrepreneurs and business leaders about the core motivators for believing their business will succeed, they listed ‘absolute passion’ amongst their top three drivers. Add to this the number of motivational and business-focused books, articles and talks that promote the presence of passion as an absolute necessity and it may seem that I am challenging a fundamental tenet of business success by puzzling through whether passion is always a driver of business success. But it is worth asking a few critical questions:

What is passion?

I love investigating the origin of words, because we so often use them far too glibly and don’t do justice to their intended meaning. The word passion is derived from the Latin pati meaning to suffer, used chiefly in Christian theology. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun as “Strong and barely controllable emotion: a man of impetuous passion”. There are numerous other definitions from the singular of “A state or outburst of strong emotion: oratory in which he gradually works himself up into a passion” to, of course, affairs of the heart; Intense sexual love: their all-consuming passion for each other [in singular]: she nurses a passion for Thomas”.

It doesn’t require an analyst to immediately spot the inherent dangers that passion could bring to any business. There will certainly be a fair amount of suffering in any business whether you are a start-up or a well-established corporation, but what you definitely do not need are “barely controllable emotions”, reliance on occasional “outbursts” or for that matter any one aspect of the business that is all-consuming unless it is required for excellence.

 So the next time you, as a manager, business leader or interviewee consider emphasising passion as a core value that you are either looking for or offering, I suggest you think carefully about the context and clarify how passion fits into the picture. Tempered passion should be acknowledged as an added value or asset but not the central driver.

 Do we truly understand the role of passion in business?

 Too often in business we lose sight of the basics that can provide a sound foundation. For a variety of reasons we start doubting our instincts and ourselves and too often only accept direction that has originated from an area of third party expertise, rather than be guided by what we instinctively know. This is where passion in business has a role to play.

 When we are passionate about something it is incredible how many qualities it can bring to the fore. You become extremely resourceful and cunning, finding every possible way to overcome any obstacles that stand between you and what you desire. These challenges might include financial resources, geographic distance, the inconvenience of diaries and time demands, sacrificing time with family and friends.

 There are many more emotions and behaviours that I am sure you can recall. What you need to do is recognise that this is part of your inherent skill-set and apply it to your business environment. Having the passion and people who share the passion can provide you with an energy and determination that will pull you through adversity, make you more agile, calculating, competitive and resourceful. Passion in business strengthens self-belief, helps to maintain a positive attitude and keeps the drive levels high.

 So what’s the problem?

 Can passion be more of an enemy than an ally to our ambitions?

The possible downside of passion is that you can become so enamoured of your idea that you do not see the potential pitfalls and shortcomings. We have a tendency to be easily blinded by our passions and even more so by a brilliant idea that you are convinced will have Lemmings rushing back on-shore.

Before pursuing your passion, do as much groundwork and research as you can. The web is your greatest, unemotional, ally and case studies are abundant. Next turn to leaders and top performers in a similar field. If they are truly successful and confident they will welcome competition and you may be surprised at how much information and guidance they will be prepared to share. My suggestion is that you also probe what sacrifices these top performers have had to make to realise their passion.

 Passion, regardless of how strong, is no substitute for a sound business plan and clearly defined strategy. Having considered all of the factors and calculated the risk, dive in even if it is a heavily contested sector. The fact that you have passion will be to your advantage.

 What do you do if you’re not sure you’ve got passion?

Chemical enhancement is unfortunately not the answer. The reality for most people, especially in today’s tough economic environment, is that they are not sure whether they are passionate about the work that they do! Often the truth is that you are just hanging in for dear life because you have the challenge of paying the bills at the end of the month and on top of it you have a fetish for imported Italian shoes. And then you go for an interview or are faced with your annual review with your Line Manager and you are asked the question, “Are you passionate about this line of work / your job / this industry / this company?’’ And, of course, your brain is on high alert and your pulse has increased because you quite rightly suspect that this is a loaded question.

 If you are approaching this challenge as a potential employee, here is my first bit of advice. Do a convincing job of persuading the person across the desk that you are passionate about pursuing your career path and doing what it will take to be a top performer. At least this isn’t a lie and whilst you have skirted the issue of being passion-deficient, you may now have the opportunity to find out what it will take to excel, and pay the bills.

 The reality, as many of us have discovered, is that even though you have taken on the challenge, perfected the skills, and would receive a glowing review or a healthy balance sheet, you may find that you still do not feel the passion, the raised heart-rate, the energising desire to pursue another day in the same field.

 This is where you meet or hear about people who have completely re-invented themselves and taken on a new road, much to the surprise of those around them and very often with great success. You may one day find yourself becoming a part of this group of people, with an overwhelming dose of passion coursing through your veins. Until then park your passion, take a deep breath, get perspective, do your groundwork and only then dive in, in the passionate manner.

If this article fires up your passion, why not contact me or buy my book, The Art of the Suit. Click here to buy the book.



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