Passion with Prudence

Passion is exciting. People follow passionate leaders faster than somber managers. In “It’s Not About the Coffee,” former Starbucks president, Howard Behar explains he left the last company he worked for before Starbucks, because the CEO sought to restrain his passion. At Starbucks, Behar explains, his passion was an asset, not a liability. Obviously, passion worked well for Behar and Starbucks. Yet, the CEO seeking to restrain passion is a common theme in business. So how can we balance that prudence with the strength of  passion?

A Passionate Speaker Reaches Out to the CrowdPrudence defines prudence as “caution with regard to practical matters; discretion”. That’s a reasonable request for a leader in any organization. The problem is when executives assume caution requires the absence of personality, vision or passion. These attributes are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe great leadership demands both prudence and passion.


I once played football for a coach who had the most monotonous voice you can imagine. In critical moments of a game, when we all needed to dig deep for a burst of adrenaline, his pep talk sounded more like a nanny coaxing babies to sleep. In contrast, another coach was like a tea kettle, always about to burst. Which do you think motivated the team better?

Passion with Prudence

As a leader, you need both passion and prudence. Passion to inspire the team. The authentic, raw feeling for what you believe in. Yet, balance that with the tempered prudence that shows caution and restraint where needed. Prudence sets the example that wild risks, without concern for stakeholders, are unacceptable.

Prudent Questions

Here’s how you can balance your own passion with prudence. Ask yourself some key questions, like the following:

1. What are the risks in each available option?

2. How will each path impact each stakeholder group (consumers, employees, backers and more)?

3. How could my passion be misinterpreted?

4. What if I am wrong?

5. Who can offer me another perspective?

 So the next time you feel particularly passionate about a topic, don’t hide it – use it. Just be prudent about how you pursue that passion by asking some key questions. Then tailor your message accordingly.

Questions: How do you balance your passion with prudence?


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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

2 thoughts on “Passion with Prudence”

  1. This is an excellent article. I just had a discussion with a member of a group on linkedin and they said servant leaders are biased. Corporate America has to have practical (paraphrasing) leadership and there is no degree in leadership, only consultants. I am wondering if you can tell me if the desire to serve can be learned. This person says no. My research says it can be taught. What are your thoughts?

    1. Thanks for the response, Megan. I have two thoughts in response to your comment:

      1. Servant Leadership Bias: In fact, I find just the opposite is true for a servant leader focused on serving all stakeholders. This is a common misunderstanding about Servant Leadership. Many people believe servant leadership is about serving only those “beneath” the leader (think employees served by their boss). However, authentic Servant Leadership is about serving all your stakeholders. So a great servant leader considers the implications decisions have on employees, investors, consumers and more, equally. When practiced effectively, this negates any supposed bias.

      2. Learning Desire to Serve: Absolutely, it can be learned. When I graduated college, I wanted to be the next “Donald Trump”. I was almost exclusively self-focused. Then, as I progressed in my career and observed different leadership styles, I discovered Servant Leadership and my own perspective completely changed. Send anyone that believes it can not be learned my way and I’ll set them straight! (grin).

      Thanks for sharing Megan. Keep serving.

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