Is passion essential to being a CEO?

One reads a lot of start-up literature and interviews and they almost all talk a lot about ‘passion’ and ‘vision’. I am not sure either is very useful, unless you are one of that 10% who genuinely has an idea that will change the world. Most of us start businesses because we are not very good at taking orders and we also think we see an opportunity to do something a little better than the competition. There are very few truly original ideas and business success is generally about doing things just a little better than the others.

I think enthusiasm is a better word for what motivates us and what can be contagious for our teams. Enthusiasm is infectious but unlike passion or vision, it does not carry the risk of blindness to the market or to new ideas.

When it comes to growing and managing a business, being dispassionate is one of the most important traits a CEO can have. I spent 10 years in the stockbroking business, and one of our mantras was not to fall in love with yesterday’s decision. It was the fastest way to lose a shed load more money. In business, one needs to regularly ask oneself afresh, ‘Based upon what I know now, would I still make the same decision today that I made in the past?’

Being open to revising your view of the world based on new information, financial data or market feedback is an essential part of a CEO’s toolkit, which is ignored at your peril. Too much vision or passion and you quickly ignore feedback and just shape it into justification of your present strategy. By being slightly distanced from the day to day frontline, you should be open to seeing how these little variations from expectations maybe creating an alternative picture of reality to that of your current strategy, something a line manager can easily miss.

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  • As a copywriter, I completely agree about the overuse of the word ‘passion’ in business. In my view, it should be saved for the bedroom – or the kitchen table, or wherever…

  • Vision is fast becoming a cliche but passion, particularly, makes my skin crawl. It was interesting for a while and useful to describe the energy and commitment that some businesses take to make work. Then everyone started using it and people were pasionately building houses and probably flipping burgers with passion somewhere.

    Generally speaking the moment you start seeing any of these aspirational words used in mundane circumstances it’s time to ditch them.

    I predict a huge overuse of the phrase ‘Our 2020 Vision’ in about 8 years’ time. Then it will go the way of turning supertankers.