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When work passion goes awry

4 min read


It seems everyone is talking about having passion about the work they do these days. Having (or finding) passion seems especially important for leaders who need to infuse the energy of their passion into the workplace to get done what needs to be done.

Yet there needs to be note of caution here. Is it possible that passion can go awry? For some well-meaning leaders, is there a possibility that they can have too much passion for the work?

I’ve seen this happen, and when it does, it can become a career-killer. Here are some of the things you might notice in yourself when your passion goes awry:

Pace: You’re moving much too fast. Perhaps you’ve noticed twinges of frustration, impatience, or anger when everyone else isn’t moving at your pace. Deadlines aren’t met (or may not be communicated well because you just don’t have time) and those around you are concerned about your frustration and wary of your impatience, but just can’t keep up with you.

Focus: Your focus is big and visionary (normally a good thing), but your employees need more from you. You get frustrated by the detailed questions they’re asking or that they just don’t seem to get it. There is a gap between what they feel capable of doing — often at a more tactical level — and what your broad vision dictates as the end result.

People: You may be way too focused on action and results while leaving out part of the success equation — the people who follow you. Perhaps you haven’t adequately developed the relationships with your key stakeholders to be completely convinced of the direction you’re heading in. You can tell this when things get quiet when you’re around, or it feels like you’re pulling teeth to get people to respond.

OK, so you’re noticing some of these signs of passion gone awry. Now what? Take some responsibility and consider that you may be part of the problem by remembering that showing your frustration, impatience, or anger may make things worse.

Slow down: You need to bring your pace more in line with those you are counting on to do the work. Take time to listen and ask questions to find out what they need. Ask others what’s keeping them from meeting your expectations. You may be able to turn things around by providing clarity about the work or adjusting the deadline. Clarity may be as simple as a few minutes of your time to answer their questions. Challenging deadlines aren’t uncommon and can be a good thing, but impossible ones won’t do your reputation any good (especially if they aren’t met).

Details: Many leaders I know hate details. They prefer to leave them to others, while they focus on the big picture. However, is it possible that by meeting your employees somewhere between that big, long-range vision and day-to-day tactical work to help them to move forward? Help to connect the dots for them between the work they’re doing and that big picture. Ask them what obstacles are in their way to doing their best work to achieve the goals and help them by removing any barriers to their success.

Coach: Slow down enough to develop relationships and coach those responsible for moving ahead. Both of these things involve action but perhaps not in the way you’ve been used to. You might feel some discomfort in slowing down but consider that it’s short-term effort that will pay off in long-term results. You’re helping your team to think for themselves, to learn, and to become more independent, freeing you up to lead at your best.

Passion for the work you do is a great thing. Not everyone is lucky enough to feel great about what they do. However, make sure you’re watching for signs that your passion has gone too far and slow down enough to help others be a part of it.