Too Much Passion Will Get You Nowhere

Written by:

I remember when George was appointed the new CEO, and he called the first meeting of officers. He stood at the podium in front of about twenty people, and he gave an impassioned speech about how we were going to increase the profits of the company. He was standing up there with his arms waving and shouting things like “we’re all going to improve our numbers!” and “I can’t wait to see our competitors in the rear-view mirror!”, while he pounded the podium for effect. At one point he even had all of us chanting “we are winners”, “we are winners” in loud voices. He thought he was building up our energy so we could go out and conquer the competition, but he was actually doing the opposite.

George’s style was intense. He would say he was aggressive and tough and got things done. And some people may have been motivated by his style. But does this sort of intense passion actually lead to better business results?

Emotions can be powerfully beneficial in business. Employees’ strong intentions for their company’s success are crucial, and positive, heartfelt emotions increase their cognitive and creative abilities. But when the desire for achieving a goal becomes too intense, it no longer feels positive and from the heart, and it becomes a wanting rather than an intention. If you get wrapped up in it, it becomes a form of aggression, which is founded in a fear of not achieving the goal. Fear creates negativity in an environment and severely limits cognitive and creative abilities, and the wanting of a goal actually pushes it out of reach.

You can feel the difference between intention and wanting in your own body, although we each feel it differently. For me, a positive intention for something gives me a warm feeling in my upper body, whereas an intense wanting of something gives me a burning in the pit of my stomach. So when you’re inciting emotion and intentions for your company’s success with employees, make sure your passion is coming from your heart. When you’re coming from your heart, employees will feel it in theirs, and it will have the intended effect.

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.
  Related Articles


  1. Sarah Haider  July 8, 2012

    “A system without a passion is as bad as a passion without a system” – Tom Peters

    We have all seen great ra-ra speeches that actually leave the audience more disillusioned than energized. And I believe the primary problem there is getting emotions high without a plan to channel that energy effectively. Often the core issue is that the people they are trying to motivate have not been engaged in the process of defining the change or feel on the outside of the new direction, or worse, as pawns in the game! When we listen to the people, and understand their motivations as well as concerns, and devise a system that gives the new direction structure as well as room for individuality of ownership and flexibility, we are able to build a more sustainable proposition that has a healthy balance between structure and flexibility. It is a human transaction that demands a balance between structure and flexibility, and respect for the individuals’ desire to excel.

  2. Baiju V. Pandit  July 9, 2012

    Hello Jackie, Great read. Insightful with minute & detailed findings & analyses. You have given a right way to approach & handle the essential role of Passion in Business. Thanks for sharing. I look forward for the eBook.
    Best Regards,
    Baiju V.Pandit

  3. Jan Roxburgh  July 16, 2012

    Thank you for sharing, Jackie. :o) Loved this: “So when you’re inciting emotion and intentions for your company’s success with employees, make sure your passion is coming from your heart. When you’re coming from your heart, employees will feel it in theirs, and it will have the intended effect.”

  4. Andrew Hintz  July 17, 2012

    I like your article and I like your approach to intention. You state that three things about the science behind it. The second states, “person’s focused emotional intention (or attention) directed to a future event of interest creates a wave channel between the person and the event”, which I would agree with. However, in your story the new CEO is attempting to rally the troops but he is not reaching them. So how is George to rally everyone around his intention? Based on how I interpret the story; George is trying to sell the “what” he wants to do rather than the “why” he wants to do it (The Purpose). I do not know if you have heard of Simon Sinek or not. He has an interesting perspective on how to motivate people. He talks about communicating the “why” verses the “what”. So in this situation I think if George had communicated his “why” or purpose behind his vision he would have had better results. Any thoughts?


  5. Ivon Prefontaine  July 17, 2012

    Jackie, I agree. Compassion is more than just the heart in action. It is a mindful process, a stopping and letting go of some of the emotion. The CEO, it might be argued, did have a heartfelt feeling, but did not find more than a fire. There is a poem by Judy Brown, Fire, and she suggested it is in the moments of calm we find the wisdom to act. Hard to say this fellow got beyond that and I think we confuse action with leadership. Emotions are the natural reaction. Mindfulness provides an opportunity to find space between the pieces of firewood that are needed for the fire to burn well and fully does it job.

  6. Ceferino Dulay  July 17, 2012

    I have seen this all too often when I was still in operations/business management. There’s a lot of rah-rah about achieving results but later that passion did not translate into actual sustained actions. And when this always happens, such passionate rhetorics will no longer sell and will just create apathy.

  7. Andy Makin  July 23, 2012

    Very thought provoking and in my case true. On occasion I have not controlled the passion and can see how this could be viewed by those I was leading previously. Experience has taught me to rein in the past 18 months.The results have improved for sure both personally and professionally.

  8. Peter Scott  July 23, 2012

    I love the last line in the article: When you are coming from your heart, employees will feel it in theirs, and it will have the intended effect.

    Assertive is taking action with compassion while aggression is taking action and not concerning oneself with others regard. I agree that we do produce what we focus on. One point I often make in my seminars is to suggest to participants that they not thing about a pink elephant with yellow polka dots. Or I will ask them not to think about the color of their car. If you focus on what you do not want, you produce more of what you do not want. Parents have learned to say – Please walk, instead of do not run. One of my clients used to say, “Failure Is Not An Option.” After working with him he now says, “Success Is The Only Option.” Even the perceived negative are now perceived as successes because they teach valuable lessons.

    Ivon, I love this. “Mindfulness provides an opportunity to find space between the pieces of firewood that are needed for the fire to burn well and fully does it job.”


    Pete :D)

  9. Carol Ann Embler  July 23, 2012

    Among other things, the article described George’s body language. I agree that perhaps he was too expressive (therefore inappropriate) for his subject and audience. However, is that really passion? I tend to believe that some motivations may appear to be passion, but might well be counterfeit. The article also referred to George’s style as “intense.” That’s a red flag. Intense emotion may appear as passion on the surface, but these emotions are generally undisciplined, and as llja puts it, really a form of “obsession” or compulsion.

    I believe real passion comes from deep conviction (vs. intense emotion). I also agree with Ivon that this sort of thing only “engages people for a short time.” The word passion comes from the Latin word “passio” which means – to suffer. Intentional suffering would more likely come from a deep conviction. This is very powerful and invokes commitment and loyalty. Some people are willing to die for their convictions. It is indeed what some of the most successful people in the world are motivated by and are able to motivate others with to accomplish great things. Thus, resulting in long term and lasting success. Therefore, the right kind of passion – true passion – will indeed, get you everywhere.

  10. Diane Chencharick  July 23, 2012

    The point that stood out in this article was the difference between WANTING and INTENTION. You can have passion for either one, but wanting is shallow and superficial compared to intention and a waste of passionate energy. This is where George was, and why most pep talks fail. They can rally individuals for the moment, getting them all pumped up, but people can see through its phoniness. Intention is pure and aligns positive energy with the future event.

    • Lowell Nerenberg  July 23, 2012

      I agree with you, Diane. One of the distinctions I see from this is that WANTING has a connotation for me of need, or lack, so that it drags with it a something which is NOT desired. INTENTION stands on its own. It does not drag along a negative or contrasting thing. I hadn’t really thought about the comparison of those two words in this way before reading Jackie’s post – and yours. Thanks to you both!


Add a Comment