Let’s Get Real about Passion at Work
Everyone wants to have passion in their work. We want a job that’s engaging, and to be led by people who care about an overarching mission. People will spend their careers, jumping from job to job, simply trying to find a place that aligns with their passion.
Passion in the workplace is a positive, inspiring force. Passion is contagious; when someone exudes excitement about something, others around them will crave that same sort of intensity. Indeed, passion, when channeled properly, is one of the most powerful motivators out there.
However, when that energy isn’t adequately controlled, things can quickly go awry. When a leader’s energy and the energy of those on the receiving end are out of sync, it can be off-putting and actually have the opposite effect of what’s intended. One of the most famous examples of this is 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean. Dean was a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, until he let loose the “Dean Scream.” Standing on a stage after a caucus, red-faced and overly animated, he appeared a little unhinged with enthusiasm to an audience at home who was just getting to know him. His scream became a meme, and dashed his presidential hopes. (He has since joked about it, redeeming himself with some self-deprecating humor.)
Showing the right amount of energy is more difficult than it appears. As leaders, we want to inspire, but how do we do that without going over the top? We need to maintain credibility and realism. How can we calibrate our energy to the appropriate levels? What’s the right amount of passion? Here are some guidelines to get to that sweet spot.
Find your passion in the message.
In order to inspire others, we first need to recognize how our own passion manifests. Take time to figure out what lights you up first. If you have a message to convey, know what you truly care about within it before you state anything out loud.
Passion exists in the realm of emotion, and there’s an energetic transference that’s occurring. When you show your conviction, how do you want others to feel? Once you fully understand your message, then you can figure out the best way to convey that energy to others.
Calibrate your energy to your environment.
Your passion needs to be tailored to the situation at hand. Too much and you get the Dean Scream effect. Too little and there’s a disconnect.
Here’s one way to think about it. In order to successfully calibrate your excitement, consider your energy on a scale of one to ten. Then do the same for your audience. Now, strive for achieving an energy level that’s the average of those two scores.
Here’s an example of this strategy in action: let’s say you’re trying to persuade an employee to take on a new project. Your excitement may be a 10 (very enthusiastic) and she may be a 5 (on the fence). In order to effectively communicate with her, you should dial your energy down to about a 7.5. You want to temper your excitement because if you talk to her at your full 10, you run the risk of overwhelming the conversation.
If you’re engaging with a group, then individual members’ energy levels will likely differ. Feel free to query the group to get a sense of the tenor.
While there is some math involved, this is in no way an exact science. Use your intuition to gauge the room’s energy. Look for clues, such as positive body language, for indicators of engagement. Are people nodding their heads? Leaning toward you? Or do they have folded arms and wandering eyes?
State how you feel.
In the business world, we’re taught to be stoic and to convey authority and steadfastness. However, the downside to this posture is that we often fail to show how we actually feel. To convey your energy, you must convey passion in a way that others can understand. Consider the language that you use. Often we weaken our points by adopting vanilla language that’s devoid of any real sentiment. Use emotion words – like excited, frustrated, anxious, pumped – to take some of the guesswork out of it. If you want people to know how you feel, tell them.
Role model what you want to see.
Energy spreads so you might as well spread the positive. If you’re excited about something, others will get excited too. As a leader, it’s your job to model how much energy others should have for the task at hand. If you don’t care, then they certainly won’t muster the energy to care.
Consider your energy as a strategy to inspire others. Just as you practice message points, also practice the energetic connection you wish to make. We are inspired by both the head and the heart. There’s no reason to exclude either.
Kristi Hedges is a senior leadership coach, speaker and the author of The Inspiration Code and The Power of Presence. You can find more articles at thehedgescompany.com or on Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
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