Passionate vs. Emotional Leadership

by | Jan 18, 2019 | Passion

In my experience, passion in leadership usually instills urgency, value and meaning into a team’s work effort. But it’s easy to equate passion and its distant cousin, emotion, to disastrous effect.

They are related but very different. Borrowing from

  • Passion is “A strong enthusiasm or desire for anything.” (I’d add to that a strong conviction or belief in something)
  • Emotion is “An affective state of consciousness (distinguished from cognitive and volitional states) in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced.”

Just to be clear: There’s nothing wrong with emotion. We’re emotional beings. You can no more stop having emotions than you can stop breathing. The issue is failing to distinguish emotion from passion, which (in a leadership context) will likely get you into trouble.

You can no more stop having emotions than you can stop breathing.

Passion is purposeful, volitional and intentional. It is typically sourced in something more timeless and outside yourself (like a value or principle). Passion can generate emotions, but it doesn’t always do so.

Emotion is usually a reaction to stimuli. It is situational and temporary.

And Your Point Is…?

Not distinguishing passion and emotion will likely default to you being emotional—which makes you a reactionary and dramatically undermines your leadership credibility.

So What?

A reactionary, emotional leadership approach makes it challenging for your team to relate, understand, and anticipate you. You have no operational, behavioral “groove.” In short, it makes it hard to trust you.

When you’re emotional, you’re not thinking cognitively (which is where passion lives). So you get driven along by the gale of emotion, ultimately clouding common sense and reason. Your logic gets strained, you’re thinking becomes chaotic. Unchecked, it will ultimately boil over into damaging behavior and decisions that appear illogical, out-of-the-blue, over-the-top, personal and uncontrolled.

When you’re emotional, you’re not thinking cognitively.

The Big Picture

Again: I’m not suggesting that we, like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, purge ourselves of all emotion. This is more about leading emotions, instead of letting emotions lead us; being more aware of our emotions, so we can manage them.

It’s appropriate to let some emotions show when communicating the things we’re passionate about—it shows our human side—but only in so far as it contributes to the level of influence desired.

This is more about leading emotions, instead of letting emotions lead us.

Your Next Step

At the end of each day, think through your behavior in all the interactions with other people.

  • Which were impacted by an emotion you were feeling at the time (frustration, excitement, jealousy, anger, happiness, etc.)?
  • How did emotion drive the interaction?
  • What will you do next time?

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