Gauge the Optimal Passion

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We all know that it’s important to ignite passion in a business organization, but we don’t all know that it’s equally important not to generate too much passion. There’s a direct relationship between passion and the propensity for chaos, so the more passion you ignite, the more governance you need to effectively channel the energy.

Not all missions require a high level of passion. Transformation, or the creation of something new, requires a high degree of physical and emotional energy, but maintaining an established business does not. If you don’t need a high level of passion, don’t generate it because in the worst case it will cause chaos and in the best it will demand increased management oversight.

We’ve all seen organizations that don’t have enough energy to accomplish their mission. Those are the ones that eventually get overtaken in the market. But have you ever seen an organization with too much energy and passion? I once mistakenly created this dynamic. A Fortune 500 company brought me in to transform their Information Technology (IT) organization because their services had fallen behind the industry. We were able to arouse a high level of passion in the group by defining a compelling purpose of technology transformation that would benefit customers and internal users. The problem was that we created the passion before we had all of the governing mechanisms in place. As a result, some teams and individuals went off in frenzied directions, pursuing technologies that weren’t part of our standard architecture and solutions that weren’t part of our plans. I remember one team in particular that spent several months writing an application in a language that they knew well and could rapidly write, yet it didn’t integrate with anything else we were using. Although they thought they were helping to achieve our mission, they were spending valuable time and money going in a contrary direction. We had to quickly put better governance in place.

When there is a high level of intensity in an organization, a high level of direction is needed to keep it orderly. This direction is needed to ensure that each individual’s expenditure of energy is coordinated, modulated and targeted toward the group’s objectives, rather than dissipated in other irrelevant or detrimental activity.

In the company described above, we also struggled with employees whose jobs didn’t provide an adequate outlet for their passion. While employees who were working on development efforts were able to channel their passion into creating new solutions, the personnel who were supporting the old legacy systems didn’t have a way to channel or use their passion. Although they felt the desire to be part of the transformation, their jobs didn’t provide the creative outlet. Many of these people suddenly became frustrated and disruptive. They started trying to find ways to become more important in the organization by hoarding information and trying to look like heroes, and some even became actively belligerent and disrespectful of the accomplishments of others. We eventually redesigned their jobs so that they were doing development work in addition to support, and this solved the problem.

When higher levels of passion are needed, using a compelling common purpose to spark an increase in energy will activate individuals by exciting emotions, and it will help channel the energy. However, purpose will help channel the energy only when employees are clear about how to execute their job in a way that fulfills the purpose, and only for employees whose jobs align to the purpose. Organizations in which employees are highly energized by a common purpose must also establish solid boundaries and standards for performance, as well as a tight system of management that ensures energy is directed toward realizing the purpose. And again, if you don’t need a high level of energy in your organization, don’t spark passion and thereby spare yourself the chaos and management overhead that can accompany it.

As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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  1. Currie Rose  May 15, 2012

    I appreciate this article very much. I am reminded of a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again: Allowing. Sometimes when I’ve had too much energy or begin helping in an area that has too much passion, it seems that the end result is almost forced into action… sometimes prematurely and I’ve found each and every time this happens, it sabotages what everyone was working toward in the first place.

    I agree that the company must harness its energies and take the time to make sure the appropriate people who share the vision are all on board working toward the common vision.

  2. Christina Schagen  May 16, 2012

    Great Article! My Spirit invited me to read this article! I have a lot of energy, sometimes to much and a lot of passion. This article woke up more clarity in me. I am still igniting to much passion in places where it cannot be received! Last week during a massage I started to be aware of this old pattern and now with this article Clarity and Truth are dancing in my body.

  3. Seymour Hersh  May 16, 2012

    Great question. Passion is a wonderful energy. How much is too much depends on the organization’s ability ( and culture) to manage passion and passionate people. Focusing all the energy to the good of the company and the good of passionate individuals becomes a challenge. In some organizations passion just explodes and goes nowhere. Other organizations can harness the power as they have the creative processes/governance and enabling empowerment to take advantage, leading to managed chaos.

  4. Jane Coskry  May 22, 2012

    Sorry to butt in – have just joined, such a relief to find a group that’s not about work but how we do it and a reminder – oh yeah! I’m a Buddhist in business! And there are others! Anyway, that’s an interesting point, i.e. ‘..if it’s the right thing to do, who needs the passion?’ I suspect the answer is: ‘I think I do’! For me, intellectual understanding that something is right doesn’t nec generate the energy for me to adopt that knowledge in a way that affects my behaviour and emotions accordingly!

    When I think of ‘passion’, to me it’s simply a super strong energy that moves the mind and being, or rather propels it, towards something, e.g. an ideal, a value, action or a purpose. I guess the risk is prob the same as for any emotional and psychological energy, i.e. where is it taking us and are we mindful enough to be able to protect ourselves from catapulting into strong neg energy? I work with very disadvantaged people in social housing, support, care etc., particularly homelessness and marginalised groups. Walking the line between sheer, blind anger with these wretched ‘corporate’ Housing Groups that have evolved to deliver services from building massive new housing developments (lucrative, keeping male energy firmly in charge) to delivering personal care to vulnerable people (money pouring out the back of the org and not valued, not macho at all so the energy always out of kilter), and the desperate need to push incredibly hard for justice for our clients is so incredibly difficult. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years and I wonder how to keep going without genuine passion for social equality and remaining committed to doing what I can to reduce suffering – I’m knackered! This is not a glam path to say the least and not the slightest chance of getting carried away by the coporate vision, which only sees the communities we serve as a useful PR driver that ‘qualifies’ them somehow to take charge of all the money allocated to helping them and the building/housing dev industry. Haha – feeling slightly disaffected today!

    Surely when we talk about ‘passion’, it’s the same as any strong energy, only that energy manifesting in a particular context. In itself it’s a neutral force that can manifest in anyone who has the capacity (conditions) to make moral judgments. It’s not anger (but can turn on a sixpence into rage), it’s not love (oft mistaken for love though!), it feels simply like fully owned commitment to me. That could be to anything: enlightenment; money; our family; a Nazi ideal. Passion in itself is neither here nor there, surely it’s all about the story we tell with passion?

  5. Barbara Sliter  June 3, 2012

    I like the distinctions and examples you give in your article.A possible addition: Is there a point where passion becomes success at any cost? Do you distinguish between genuine care and compulsion, perhaps for the game, to succeed, look good, be important? It seems this sort of passion is driving many of our headlines these days.

  6. Jackie Barretta  June 3, 2012

    Barbara, that’s a good distinction. I think that when the passion is for the mission of the organization, and the mission serves humanity, there’s no such thing as too much passion, as long as it’s directed. However, if the passion is for personal gain, it’s easy to have too much of it.

  7. Jessie  June 5, 2012

    Logically I think there is a big difference between market leadership (being an entrepreneur) and just having a sustainable business. Leadership is about serving and driving passion to serve others. Having a passionate and sound mission statement and company direction is a good starting point. Often times there is a generic mission statement which does not reflect the modalities of the business so when passion is injected from a leadership perspective things spread open… there is no focus therefore expectations are not in line with reality. It’s the age old advantage, know thy self to know thy self.


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