Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Makes the Best CEOs: Passion or High Commitment?

For decades, we have heard the chants: find your passion and only do what you love. Yet, if you observe, there are many people who have a new passion every week, month and year. While they are passionate, their desire to constantly change passions rarely allows them to master what they love. On the other hand, the highly committed person masters their craft and experiences the joy of being the best.

While passion has its place, the desire for passion assumes the
reward is up front. It implies you have to love it before you do it well. There are many people who love the game of football. In fact, on Monday morning, they can tell you why one team lost and the other won. They are the passionate fans who fill the stands. The game would not be the same without them. However, would you hire them to be on the football team? Do the fans in the stands have the same commitment to train and develop themselves to be a professional on the field?

An example of a professional athlete with a passion would be Michael Jordan. He had a passion for baseball. While he played baseball well enough to make it to a minor league team, he never developed the mastery to play in the major league. To make that transition, he would have had to practice and train himself in a way that may have been counterintuitive for basketball players. Instead of going through the discomfort of counterintuitive drills, he returned to basketball where he was highly committed. 

If we move this conversation from sports to business, you will find the same. There are many people who want to be a leader, engineer, computer programmer, etc. and they have a passion for it. Except, they have not put in the time to be the best. They have not mastered their craft.

Furthermore, to master any profession may require serious training and preparation. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, his research showed that people who mastered their craft spent 10,000 hours practicing. If you could imagine, over the course of 10,000 hours, practice becomes increasingly more complex and difficult. Often times, people with passion will quit when it becomes too complex or difficult. They will say, ‘it just wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘this doesn’t feel right’. The highly committed person works through the difficulty until they master it.

For example, Tiger Woods changed his golf swing several times. Each time he changed it, his performance dropped. However, once he mastered the new swing, he became the top player once again.

In the case of CEOs, many of them moved up the ladder by taking the leadership role for difficult projects that no one else wanted. By taking on those projects, they developed the skill of producing results through others, even when the odds where against them. In most of those cases, there was no passion for the initiative. There was, however, a high commitment to be an empowering and effective leader. Difficult projects serve as a playground to prepare oneself for the position of CEO. As the saying goes, anyone can lead in good times. It is the best leaders who can stay focused and succeed in difficult times.

Perhaps high commitment and passion is the difference between observing in the stands and playing on the field. The passionate person wants the reward up front. They want the joy of feeling good before they start. The highly committed person masters their craft so they can experience the joy of winning the gold medal or breaking the world record. Highly committed people play for the end result. More importantly, they are able to produce great results in areas where they have no passion, expertise, experience or knowledge. They play to be a top performer. Their passion is derived from their love of being the best. If you want to be the best, it requires more than passion. It requires the kind of commitment that is able to work through thousands of hours of practice and the discomfort of mastering something new.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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