What’s Driving Your Leadership Style? Passion or Fear?

In my experience as a business coach and consultant, I’ve found that leaders thrive doing work they enjoy with people they respect in circumstances that align with their personal priorities and values. I’ve also found that the most effective way to sustain true leadership has to do with the engine that powers the decisions, which is at the core of the culture you create and the customer experience your provide.

Despite the myriad of motivations that push us to act, there are two that emerge as the primary drivers behind our actions: passion and fear. Knowing the difference between how both of these feel in action is important to keeping you on track to accomplishing your goals.

I’ve found that articulating your “mission, vision and values” is critical– no matter what size your company is (even if it’s just you right now!) More than an exercise, taking the time to create these guiding principles leads you to your WHY. I believe you’ll find, as dozens of my clients have, that nothing will be more important to your development, growth and success than a clear understanding of your “why.”

In simplest terms, your “why” is your passion. It’s your professional raison d’etre. It is the barometer against which you will ultimately measure your success. As such, everything you do– every choice you make– should propel you toward realizing your “why.”

Typically, people who make decisions based on passion can be proactive because they have a clear idea of where they want those choices to lead. There’s a feeling of being “in the zone,” where dots get connected readily and the pieces fall into place– sometimes the synergy is such that even more is achieved than originally conceived. Even when obstacles appear, you can continue to drive forward with renewed vision and new enthusiasm. In a passion-driven environment, missteps are naturally converted to learning experiences to which neither shame nor guilt is attached.

Some may think the opposite of passion is a state of being characterized by boredom, ennui, and a lack of imagination. Indeed it is, but I would suggest that these are only symptoms of the real issue. It goes deeper than that. The opposite of passion, and the alternate driver to many professional decisions, is fear.

Fear is that voice in your head that paralyzes you because you are worried that you will make a terrible mistake whose repercussions will hamstring you forever. Whereas passion-driven companies are proactive, organizations where fear-based decisions reign, are not just reactive, they can be immobilized.

Passion attracts. Fear repels. Passion plays offense. Fear plays defense– and badly, for that matter. Decisions that arise from passion motivate you, your team, even your customers and clients– everyone feels the strength and clarity of the vision and responds accordingly. On the other hand, fear-based choices hold everyone hostage. Everyone feels your hesitancy, so it’s the rare team member who can muster the courage to do much that is innovative or new.

Let’s look at just one example.

In order to sustain their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, many owners and top level organizational leaders were faced with big decisions. Questions like “Do we move our work force home? If so, who, how many, and when? What tools will we use to stay connected? How will we stay accountable and results-based?” had to be made quickly.

Those who knew their “why” were able to evaluate each decision against that matrix, and move in directions that both supported their passion and advanced their goals. However, when very understandable feelings of “fear” prevailed, the choices driven by emotion were usually scattershot and not strategic. Whereas businesses with a fear-based culture sometimes didn’t live to tell the tale, those who could respond with decisions guided by passion not only survived but thrived.

Now that pandemic restrictions are lifting, more decisions need to be made. Leaders are now asking, “What is “normal” now, and does it make sense to return to it? What things about our new M.O. are superior to the way we used to run the company? How do we adapt those features to post-pandemic life? Can we create a hybrid from the way things used to be and our new ways of operating?”

As you engage in this new set of conversations, I suggest you review your “why” first. If it’s unclear, revisit it.

Getting in touch with your passion again will help you make the decisions that will create the culture you want for your company and the experience that will keep your customers coming back.