You have a great idea — a vision of something new your organization can do that will transform it, if not the world. You've mentioned it to some people who might be able to help make it happen, but they haven't done much. Maybe nobody else gets it, or has the passion for it, or whatever it takes.
You're about to encounter the passion-professionalism paradox.
In the modern workplace, to be passionate is to persist in pursuit of objectives, despite obstacles that would deter most of one's colleagues. Most people believe that only strong emotion can provide the drive that enables the passionate to make the sacrifices and take the risks that make persistence possible. We associate passion with excitement, commitment, and enthusiasm, possibly beyond the point of sound, objective judgment.
To be professional in the modern workplace is to conduct oneself in accordance with the standards, ethics, politeness, and demeanor of one's position. Most people regard professionalism as the right combination of skill, judgment, stability, objectivity, composure, precision, and focus. Professionalism, many believe, requires discipline of the emotions, to prevent them from clouding judgment and biasing decisions. Professionalism is dispassionate.
To lead the people of your organization to somewhere new, or to persuade them to adopt a new way of seeing some small part of the world, requires passion. Yet, those same people must trust the vision you offer. They must feel that you're objective about that vision, that your judgment is sound, that you are knowledgeable, and that the vision you advocate is achievable. Only by projecting professionalism can you influence others to adopt your vision. Only by being passionate can you marshal the internal resources needed to overcome the obstacles to realizing that vision.
Passion and professionalism are in tension. Visionaries who project more passion than professionalism stir doubts about their objectivity and their motives. Visionaries who possess more professionalism than passion have difficulty maintaining the level of commitment needed to deal with the challenges that obstruct adoption of their visions.
To resolve the tension between passion and professionalism, use both.
- Have a passion for professionalism
- Professionalism requires continuously calm, objective assessment of your situation, solving problems as they arise, or skirting them if possible, or deferring them until you can solve them. Professionalism requires resilience, making adjustments when necessary. Having a passion for professionalism makes this possible even when no path forward is in view.
- Take a professional approach to nurturing your passion
- Passion Visionaries who project more
passion than professionalism
stir doubts about their
objectivity and their motivesis the drive that makes persistence possible, despite obstacles that would deter the less passionate. Nurture your passion. Do what's necessary to renew the energy as you consume it. Being open to seeing more clearly what thrills you about your vision is good. Better is being disciplined about seeking those thrills.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Don't Rebuild the Chrysler Building
- When we undertake change, we're usually surprised at the effort and cost required. Much of this effort
and cost is necessary because of the nature of the processes we're changing. What can we do differently
to make change easier in the future?
- Beyond WIIFM
- Probably the most widely used tactic of persuasion, "What's In It For Me," or WIIFM, can be
toxic to an organization. There's a much healthier approach that provides a competitive advantage to
organizations that use it.
- When Fear Takes Hold
- Leading an organization through a rough patch, we sometimes devise solutions that are elegant, but counterintuitive
or difficult to explain. Even when they would almost certainly work, a simpler fix might be more effective.
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as
if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.