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Passion and emotion leadership primer

Organizational leaders use the terms ‘passion’ and ’emotion’ in their communication to try to frame desired and undesired behavior. Passion is typically used in the positive context. You might hear things like “We want our people to be passionate about their jobs” or “We promote passionate employees in the workplace”. On the contrary emotion, is typically used in a negative context. We hear things like “Don’t be emotional” or “We are looking for employees to react without emotion”.

So what’s really the difference between these two nouns and what’s the leadership principal we should follow? Webster defines passion as a strong liking or desire for an activity or thing and Wikipedia defines passion as a type of emotion with compelling feelings, enthusiasm, or desire for something. So passion is defined as a positive type of feeling that drives people to action. Our underlying belief is that through passion you will be able to sustain and enhance the object of your actions. Strong leadership is built on this very principal; to get others to build, sustain, and enhance objects of focus.

Emotion is a more general term and covers a wider range of mental states.  Webster defines emotion as a mental reaction subjectively experienced and as a strong feeling which is directed at some object. In terms of leadership, I believe the key part of this definition is that emotion tends to be a ‘reaction’ instead of a well thought out course of action. So leaders see emotional reactions as negative because they don’t believe the reaction to be based on sound thought and logic.

I think the challenge for leaders in the workplace is to properly use and and interpret these two types elements of human behavior. It can be easy to confuse passion and emotion if the passionate acts by a person run contrary to existing thoughts, processes, or direction. In this case, the burden of proof lies with the passionate employee to show their actions are of true sound judgement and do in-fact support the vision and mission of the organization.