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The Four Fundamental Leadership Traits: Having Passion

In my last post, we covered the first of what I consider the Four Fundamental Leadership Traits:Having Vision. This time, we’ll look at the second of these four traits, Having Passion.

Passion is a form of intensity, a hunger for life. It’s the driving force behind leaders—the trait that gives them the fire and the focus to take risks and see beyond the status quo. Passionate people are deeply curious about how the world works. They’re also full of ideas, and they have the energy and charisma it takes to rally others around those ideas. 

Passion is usually innate. You’re born that way and you lead that way. (That doesn’t mean you can’t be born stoic and become passionate about a specific topic, like politics.) According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, passion tends to run strong in personalities that lean toward the E (extraversion), N (intuition), and T (thinking) sides of the equation, and being aware of your personality type is one way to help identify and channel your passions.

You can see passion in the kind of work a person produces. It’s the difference between technical and inspired. The difference between raw strategic concepts and polished, experiential thinking. The difference between good and great.

In business, passion is visible in how companies are conceived and designed. Each of us can think of “blah” organizations that have managed to succeed in business and have stuck around for years, but their brands fall short of inspiring their workers and clients. A closer look proves that in most cases, the leadership of these companies lacks passion. On the other hand, companies with the fiercest brand loyalty (Apple, for example) tend to be conceived by passionate people and designed to inspire that same passion in their employees, partners, and customers.

Passion doesn’t manifest the same way in every leader or organization. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it does.

The four focus areas

Similar to the Myers-Briggs personality types, each leader tends to direct their passion into one of four focus areas: innovation, objectives, process, and culture. If you watch and listen to a leader, it quickly becomes evident which of these four is their primary type, and it’s generally how they have designed and run their business. Here’s what each of these focus areas looks like, at their best and their worst:

  • If you’re an innovation-based person, at best you’re doing—or at least trying to do—things no one has ever done before. At worst, you wind up being a dreamer who accomplishes nothing.
  • If you’re an objective-based person, at best you’re getting things done. At your worst, you’re insensitive.
  • Process-based people are passionate about structure and following the right steps. But the downside of this focus is revealed when a unique problem or set of circumstances pops up. Without an established process for handling the situation, this person—and the organizations they lead—can suddenly feel lost and adrift.
  • Culture-based people put all of their energy into creating businesses that their employees identify with, where they think “this is the best thing!” But the flip side of that is, nobody ever gets fired. People’s bad behaviors go unaddressed, and as a leader, you can become a sort of collector of people.

Passion clearly has its pitfalls. So how do we avoid them? In a word, balance. By always being aware of the potential downsides of passion, we can moderate our worst tendencies. Are you sure you’re right about something? Check yourself. Are you impatient with others because they don’t understand your vision? It’s time to say “OK, I need to reset. I need to calm down.” As a passionate person, you’d better be willing to fight for your ideas, but you always need to do so with a thought to the focus areas that aren’t in your primary corner. 

Channeling your passion

Regardless of what drives your passion, it can still be a curse if you don’t channel it correctly. Passionate people are inspiring to be around, and they can be a whole lot of fun. But unbridled passion can get us into trouble.

For example, passionate people can be opinionated, but they can also be wrong. If you’re a passionate person, a lot of people are going to follow you, and if you’re wrong you can take them right into the abyss. It becomes a credibility issue: If you’re wrong and people know it, they might not trust you the next time.

Passionate people can also come off as overbearing. They’re thinking two, three steps ahead, and with all that energy they’ve got to watch how they express themselves. If you’re not careful, instead of being inspiring, you’ll be seen as domineering. You might be getting things done, but on the other hand you’re impatient with others, and you’re creating stress.

It’s also not uncommon for passionate people to appear unfocused. Often they’re working at a conceptual level while the people around them are operating at a strategic or even tactical level. You’re moving fast, you’re getting things done, but you might not seem present to those around you.

Being aware of these perceptions is important if you want to direct your passion in an effective way. Take time to understand how people view your ideas and always make an effort to communicate your true intent. It’s key to channeling your passion and using it to inspire others—which, after all, is the spark behind your business success. 

Next, we’ll cover the next of the Four Fundamental Leadership Traits: Ability to do an Ask.

About the author

David Atadan

Founding Partner and Chief Ventures Officer
An entrepreneurial force in the Mid-Atlantic region, architect of the Trellist operating model and trusted consultant to our clients, David, Trellist's CEO, built the company from the ground up 25 years ago and is implementing the Trellist vision of a family of companies that includes sole and joint ventures as well as philanthropic endeavors.

About Trellist

Trellist is a professional services firm delivering performance-driven business solutions that are flexible, innovative, and optimized to maximize efficiency and return. The firm consults on, and integrates, data with marketing, design, technology, and digital services for clients at the global, national, and regional level. Trellist utilizes a unique approach to business—from the firm's employee-shared structure, to how it partners with its clients. 


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