Passion is Passé

Watch - fanaticalPassion is passé as a management term. It is overrated as a sought after characteristic in an employee, and as a word it is so overused it has lost its relevance. What does it even mean? Individual passion can harm team performance, harmony and alignment. A team-member's passions are not always for causes that support its strategic intent. Some employees can be passionate about causes that run counter to leadership values or that are undermining of the organization's reason for existence. A neutral person is more constructive than one who is passionate for the "wrong" causes. So if you ar going to use the term passion to describe a quality you want in the people who work for you, be careful to qualify what it is you want them to be passionate about. Passion should link to a value or to a belief, and that belief should be one that is aligned to the organization's values and those of its leadership. There is another characteristic that is more broadly advantageous to a team or organization: Energy. High energy is a powerful force in an individual or team. It is infectious and it is values-agnostic. A high-energy person displays their energy in everything they do. High energy is evident in the way people walk and in the tone with which they talk. High energy is a personality trait and transcends any particular value. It is much more potent than passion. High energy comes from a sense of urgency and understanding of the value of speed and completion, and doing something one believes in. High energy should not be confused with hard-working. High-energy people add energy into a group or a task by virtue of their presence; low-energy people deplete energy from a group. High-energy people are not hyper-active, they can be quiet and deliberate, but you feel the impact of their presence, their words and their actions. High energy is a quality you should hire for. It is unlikely that a low-energy person you hire will become a high-energy person later on. If you want to identify high energy, be cautious not to hire anyone you haven't watched walk. It doesn't matter where they are walking or why, you should be able to detect their level of energy. Do they always look as though they are going somewhere important? Does their body move with energy or does it seem to be unwillingly dragged along? Are their eyes bright and alert, or are they dull. You should also look out for it in their voice and the way they talk. Do they modulate their tone and pace of speaking depending on the level of emotion they are trying to express? (If when talking they express no emotion at all, they are probably low energy.) Low energy people can be hyper-intelligent and they can be hard working. Organizations need such people too. But if you believe you need high-energy, don't compromise on it in the hiring process and don't outsource the hiring without you yourself having an opportunity to assess the candidate's energy level. There is a quality still more powerful -- and more rare -- than high-energy, and that is fanaticism. I know that fanaticism is not a particularly PC (politically correct) word. Yet I wonder whether the weird attraction organizations like ISIS have for some a disturbingly significant number of "normal" youths, might indicate a need in people for something to be fanatical about. People used to be (and some are still) fanatical about their religions. More people than today, used to be more fanatical about their nationalism. Some people are fanatical about their sports teams, but most of us are not fanatical about anything. Now the word fanatical definitely has a negative connotation and I don't intend it that way at all. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and other ventures, and now a venture capitalist and hedge fund manager, explains the difference between positive fanaticism and negative fanaticism in You Should Run Your Startup Like A Cult. He says:

"The best startups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults. The biggest difference is that cults tend to be fanatically wrong about something important. People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed."

A company must believe in itself, it must believe in its mission and its Purpose. It must believe that the world (or some of the people in the world) would be in a less fortunate place without it. A company, and those who work for it, should believe in the rightness of what they are doing, and fight for its success with a fanatical focus and attention to detail. So, as you build your culture whether as a start-up or a mature business, whether an organization or a team, drop the passion word; its had its time. Instead, articulate the importance to the world of what you do and how what you do can change the world -- or a part of it. Be a fanatic and attract others who are fanatical about what you do, and at the very least, aim for a culture of high-energy, urgency and caring.        

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