Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 31;   August 3, 2016: The Passion-Professionalism Paradox

The Passion-Professionalism Paradox

by

Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Frank Murphy

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Frank Murphy (1890-1949), who served from 1940 to 1949. He had a rich political career, serving, among other capacities, as Mayor of Detroit, Governor of Michigan, and U.S. Attorney General. As a Justice, his most famous case was Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the constitutionality of the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, and from which he passionately dissented. In his dissent, he criticized the majority opinion as "legalization of racism." Although Korematsu's conviction was overturned by a lower court in 1983, the Korematsu decision stands to this day. Whether or not the government could prevail against a citizen in similar circumstances today is controversial. Photo from the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, courtesy upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/da/JusticeFrankMurphy.jpg/657px-JusticeFrankMurphy.jpg.

You have a great idea — a vision of something new your organization can do that will transform it, if not the world. You've mentioned it to some people who might be able to help make it happen, but they haven't done much. Maybe nobody else gets it, or has the passion for it, or whatever it takes.

You're about to encounter the passion-professionalism paradox.

In the modern workplace, to be passionate is to persist in pursuit of objectives, despite obstacles that would deter most of one's colleagues. Most people believe that only strong emotion can provide the drive that enables the passionate to make the sacrifices and take the risks that make persistence possible. We associate passion with excitement, commitment, and enthusiasm, possibly beyond the point of sound, objective judgment.

To be professional in the modern workplace is to conduct oneself in accordance with the standards, ethics, politeness, and demeanor of one's position. Most people regard professionalism as the right combination of skill, judgment, stability, objectivity, composure, precision, and focus. Professionalism, many believe, requires discipline of the emotions, to prevent them from clouding judgment and biasing decisions. Professionalism is dispassionate.

To lead the people of your organization to somewhere new, or to persuade them to adopt a new way of seeing some small part of the world, requires passion. Yet, those same people must trust the vision you offer. They must feel that you're objective about that vision, that your judgment is sound, that you are knowledgeable, and that the vision you advocate is achievable. Only by projecting professionalism can you influence others to adopt your vision. Only by being passionate can you marshal the internal resources needed to overcome the obstacles to realizing that vision.

Passion and professionalism are in tension. Visionaries who project more passion than professionalism stir doubts about their objectivity and their motives. Visionaries who possess more professionalism than passion have difficulty maintaining the level of commitment needed to deal with the challenges that obstruct adoption of their visions.

To resolve the tension between passion and professionalism, use both.

Have a passion for professionalism
Professionalism requires continuously calm, objective assessment of your situation, solving problems as they arise, or skirting them if possible, or deferring them until you can solve them. Professionalism requires resilience, making adjustments when necessary. Having a passion for professionalism makes this possible even when no path forward is in view.
Take a professional approach to nurturing your passion
Passion Visionaries who project more
passion than professionalism
stir doubts about their
objectivity and their motives
is the drive that makes persistence possible, despite obstacles that would deter the less passionate. Nurture your passion. Do what's necessary to renew the energy as you consume it. Being open to seeing more clearly what thrills you about your vision is good. Better is being disciplined about seeking those thrills.

Most important, if resolving the tension between passion and professionalism seems difficult, verify that you really are passionate about what you think you're passionate about. Go to top Top  Next issue: Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenDtMJhIXSqkTuuemoner@ChacuAFgmyLNbnWrYdtyoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Organizational Change:

Penguins look before they leapLook Before You Leap
When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts. One approach that works well is the simulation.
FeedbackHe's No Longer Here
Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves. Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we do about it?
Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New YorkGood Change, Bad Change: II
When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us, and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
R.M.S. Lusitania coming into port, possibly in New York.Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
Demolished vehicles line Highway 80, also known as the "Highway of Death"Reactance and Micromanagement
When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden, or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain some of the dynamics of micromanagement.

See also Organizational Change and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The end of the line for a railroad trackComing May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sAnd on June 6: Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenyuEWjAcQFKNZwJrKner@ChacrREXdKYoDiOFUTEzoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Case
This Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Caseprogram outlines the steps necessary for deploying a program for rational management of technical debt. For many organizations, adopting a program for rationally managing technical debt entails organizational change. And unlike some organizational changes, this one touches almost everyone in the organization, because technical debt isn't merely a technical problem. Technical debt manifests itself in technological assets, to be sure, but its causes are rarely isolated to the behavior and decisions of engineers. We can't resolve the problem of chronically excessive levels of technical debt by changing the behavior of engineers alone. Technical debt is the symptom, not the problem. In this program we outline the essential elements of an effective business case for adopting a rational technical debt management program. But this business case, unlike many business cases, cannot be captured in a document. We must make the case not only at the leadership level of the organization, but also at the level of the individual contributor. Everyone must understand. Everyone must contribute. We explore five issues that make technical debt so difficult to manage, and develop five guidelines for designing technical debt management strategies for the modern enterprise. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.