Stop Trying to Find Your Passion and Get to Work

Despite what the ever-multiplying "find-your-passion" gurus will tell you, possessing passion is about as relevant to business success as possessing Steve Job's black turtleneck.
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Let's get something straight: passion is not a requirement for business success, and the seemingly 24/7 'passion-in-business' industry is selling you a pup.

Despite the ever-multiplying "find-your-passion" gurus and the breathless profiles of passionate leaders by never-ran-a-business-in-their-life journos, possessing passion is about as relevant to business success as possessing Steve Job's black turtleneck: try hard enough and you can get your hands on either (or both), but neither will guarantee you business success.

There are two significant ways in which this fixation on passion as a prerequisite for success in business is seriously damaging: it deludes new and potential entrepreneurs into believing that if only they can find their 'true north', then their business venture will surely succeed; and it is hijacking (or at least hobbling) the development of serious leaders with genuine depth.

Here's the problem with selling passion as a fundamental of business success:

1. It's largely a fiction: Sure, there are a cluster of usual suspects who get rolled out in every 'passionate leader' discussion: the aforementioned Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Tony Hseih and (insert your personal favorite here). There are any number of problems with this roster, but let's focus on just three:

First, every one of these people are successful because they're brilliantly competent, not because they're passionate.

Second, most of these folks, brilliant as they are, know how to mix great PR and communication skills with a laser-like focus on a world-class strategy, which is a complex and nuanced skill. Reducing it to 'passion' demeans them and their accomplishments.

Third, for every poster child for passion, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of counter-examples -- business leaders that only you or I or their employees or their immediate family have heard of, because they're just quietly getting on with being successful. If we all had to be like Tony Hsieh to succeed, the economy would be screwed.

2. It gets in the way: Have you ever actually worked with somebody who is driven, night and day, by raw passion? It's tiresome in the extreme and highly ineffective. It makes everything a drama, posits challenges where there need only be action, and disrupts needed rhythm and focus from the daily routine that ninety percent of business tasks are composed of.

Don't get me wrong. I love meeting 'permanently passionate' people. I even enjoy the odd cup of decaf coffee with them. Maybe even lunch (maybe - so long as it's two courses, max). After that, I want to get back to the real world, where the rest of us live.

3. It doesn't do the job: There are times when passion is an important part of a leaders job, but those times are limited. If I attended spin class (which I don't) I'd want my spin class leader to be passionate, but for one reason only -- that's part of the deliverable. Don't get me up on my toes and this thing isn't going to happen. But my muffler replacement guy? No thanks. I just want him to be competent. And my top sales person. And my GP. And my VP Accounting. And my CEO. I want competence over passion, any day.

When you're 24-3 down in the playoffs, it may be great to see your team barreling into the next huddle like viking invaders with their hair on fire, but it only means something when they step up and competently execute a 14-play drive that ends in a touchdown.

Soaring oratory in a difficult time can help raise morale, but it actually means something only if you have an effective strategy and world-class execution to back it up.

And in both cases I know which one - passion or competence - is optional.

The passion-driven leader may be pretty to watch, but selling people on the concept that passion means everything for business success? No thanks. I'll take competence -- even mercenary competence - every time.

Les McKeown is president and CEO of Predictable Success, the leading advisor on accelerated business growth.

You can download a free chapter of Les's Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller "Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track - and Keeping It There" by clicking here.

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