Monday 9 June 2014

Passion: When Capability isn't Enough

Arousing great desire
Passion can be defined in a number of ways. It is derived from late Latin 'pati' meaning to 'suffer' and was chiefly a term in Christian theology. Its modern meanings range from 'strong and barely controllable emotion', 'a state or outburst of strong emotion', 'intense sexual love', to 'an intense desire or enthusiasm for something' or 'a thing arousing great enthusiasm'.

With these in mind, Lucy Kellaway made some interesting observations in her FT column from Monday 9th June. She stated that the fashion for being 'passionate' about your work was actually undesirable and inappropriate. She explained that 'passion' was mere language inflation and, occasionally, an excuse for work place histrionics. Instead of passion, she suggests that employers should instead call for enthusiasm, conscientiousness and motivation. This state should be left for religious festivals and sexual activity, and most definitely out of the photocopy room.

Her article was timely. Due to my experiences on holiday I was thinking about job 'passion' and they overlap with some of the points she raises. My travel companion and I were discussing the respective merits of the excursions we had enjoyed. There were two which illustrate my point and argue for the necessity of passion. One was an archaeological/museum visit and the other was a tour of a volcano island whose explosion had been responsible for the downfall of civilisations.

We rated them both highly, that goes without saying. However we came to the conclusion that on a guided tour, the quality of the leader is essential. Are they engaged and knowledgeable? Are they helpful and 'fresh'; are you made to feel that you are the first group that they are taking, or are you the last of a very long season?

What separates the best and worst guides would, I maintain, encourage Ms Kellaway to reassess the word 'passion' in a work context. The museum guide was engaging from the moment she started talking about the history of the island and its Bronze Age inhabitants. She transformed a potentially academic outing into something memorable. She fielded questions unrelated to the tour with knowledgeable confidence, and inspired an 11 year old to debate Greek gods with her. There was no doubt Kellaway would say she liked and cared about her job; she was motivated and conscientious but it was her passion for her birthplace which shone through and brought the archaeological remains to life. For each and every tour group, day after day.

On the other hand, there was the guide who took us around Santorini. Despite the fascinating geological subject matter this woman sounded like she was reciting football scores. I have never listened to a more boring presentation, whilst yearning for someone to make it interesting. There was no evidence of passion. Though Kellaway might argue that she was good at her job, or at least capable of herding large groups and providing a basic service to the tourist, she failed us.

Therefore, although I agree with Kellaway's inherent dislike of management speak and over inflated jargon, the notion of having a genuine passion for something or someone is very important. A job can be done without it and the employee will do well and be happy. But ultimately the employer is better off employing someone who has a passionate interest in the role because the customer can always tell the difference between someone going through the motions, and someone who is emotionally engaged and intensely enthusiastic about what they do.

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