Passion vs. Emotion in Leadership

I’ve seen passion get a bad rap too often by being mislabeled as “emotion”... I want people on my team that believe deeply in those they serve & therefore may reflect their passion through strong words and actions.

I’ve seen passion get a bad rap too often by being mislabeled as “emotion”. You’ve probably experienced it too. It may be in a budget meeting when funding is being debated and someone passionately voices their opinion. Or, it may be during cross-functional staffing assessments when one leader vehemently disagrees with another’s reflection on a person.


Whenever it occurs, passion reflects an individual’s commitment, strong opinions and dedication to their position. In other words, passion may be described as a person’s unwillingness to maintain their composure. With a particularly strong belief in the matter at hand, passion is often the byproduct of someone deeply engaged in serving their organization. Therefore, I believe passion is a great characteristic to have in your team members.


In contrast, emotion often stems from a person’s inability to maintain their composure. This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending upon the circumstances. For example, someone receiving negative feedback in a performance review may reveal their disappointment in tears. In addition, frustration from an inability to effectively influence others often results in anger – too often in public settings. While unfortunate, the former emotional scenario is somewhat understandable and, particularly given the confidential nature, generally acceptable. In contrast, losing one’s temper as a result of their own ineffectiveness is not acceptable. Either way, because emotion is generally perceived as a reflections of one’s inability to control their reactions to given situations, emotion is generally considered negative characteristic.

Call me crazy (or passionate), but I want people on my team that believe deeply in those they serve and therefore may reflect their passion through strong words and actions. Yes, I want people on my team who have the ability to maintain their composure.  However, if someone is passionate enough about their commitment to serving a person or group and therefore not willing to maintain their composure all the time, I’m okay with that. Provided, of course, they know when those right times are.

Question: Have you seen passion confused for emotion? Do you like having passionate people on your team?


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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

5 thoughts on “Passion vs. Emotion in Leadership”

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  3. This is often most problematic when dealing with bad leadership. You have the employees passionate about fixing real structural problems, and dispassionate ‘management’ who is actually narrowly serving themselves and views those problems as their personal solutions. So employees receive the message that being passionate about improvements, and creating superior work flows, is pointless because your leadership doesn’t share those interests. You want to foster a culture of always continuing improvement, a culture that values well considered improvement proposals, but this is ONLY possible when management actually has those interests. Leadership tends to attract a large amount of egoists, ejecting those elements is an absolute must, but that carries high risk for other leaders.

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