To keep up with the development and growth of the leaders I coach, I do an annual assessment of their leadership with my clients and with the people they lead. Last year I heard an interesting bit of feedback in one of these sessions: “At times his passion is great, but most of the time it’s overwhelming.”
I’d never before considered the possibility of a leader having too much passion. But since then, I’ve taken some time to think about the highly passionate leaders I’ve worked with. And they do seem to share some tendencies that can lead to problems:
They can be overwhelming. As I learned directly, passionate leaders can come across as overwhelming without even realizing it. Their passion and enthusiasm can feel like a burden to people who are struggling to keep up with their pace and level of energy.
They can make everything important. Passionate leaders have a tendency to make everything high priority, and that urgency creates chaos. They may try to make everything urgent—which ironically means nothing can stand out as being important. People need clear priorities.
They can complicate the simplest matter. Passion can drive complexity, complicating things that should be simple. People are thrown off by unnecessary complication.
They can be too intense. People want to feel comfortable around their leader. Intensity can easily cross the border to be disturbing or even frightening.
They aren’t always adaptable. Great leadership is about being adaptable and flexible, able to change course when needed. When passion makes a leader stubborn and unyielding, they’re unable to find new solutions and have difficulty adapting to changing circumstances.
They can be closed-minded. Leaders need to always hold an open mind. They have to be able to listen to others and learn along the way. Sometimes passion leads to the kind of certainty that closes a leader’s mind and shuts others out.
They can be intimidating. Some leaders express their passion by speaking loud and long, which may unnerve people and leave little room for them to express their thoughts.
But here’s the good news: It’s possible for passionate people to lead without being overwhelming, complicating, and rigid. The secret is staying attuned to others. To be an effective leader means being able to read the room and meet people where they are—not where you want them to be.
Leaders who are admired for their passion are inclusive. They listen when others speak, they stay flexible and adaptable, and they’re great communicators.
When passionate leadership is about a single-minded perspective and a narrow mindset, it’s likely to go off on the wrong track. But when it’s about making others better, serving the organization and guiding a vision, it can be a source of tremendous strength.
Lead from within: The world needs passionate leaders, but make sure you avoid the traps of overly passionate leadership.
By Lolly Daskal