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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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