Be passionate not emotional

August 19, 2014

Why do companies fail? If emotions is not the number one answer, it is close. Think about all the different ways people lose track of what is really going on because they are wrapped up in some sort of feelings (a.k.a. emotions).  They pout, they refuse to help, they get mad, they want their way, they refuse to talk to someone, they cry, they scream, they walk out of meetings, they fall in love with some concept (or technology, or idea, or concept), they need to win, they are afraid of winning, they are scared, they are overly confident, they are too pessimistic, or whatever.  Yes, I call all of that emotions.


What you would like to see is people making good decisions for solid reasons with their teammates to drive forward in the current direction of the strategy. How refreshing it would be if we all had the ability to use our passions to add energy and drive to where we need to go and that passion was unencumbered.  Imagine the results we could attain with that kind of work ethic.


I know, we are human beings and what I seem to be asking for is impossible as humans are so fallible. We are beings that have needs and emotions and we are not capable of being devoid of them. We are not automatons.  I am not asking for anyone to be an automaton. I am asking people to be passionate, energetic, creative, and driven. I also want them to check these destructive emotions at the door.


I am not being theoretical, I have experienced these kinds of situations.  I have worked in environments where people were working hard and were passionate about getting the problem solved.  Early in my career I participated in the IETF groups that developed the TCP and IP protocols.  This was a large and heterogeneous group of researchers and programmers.  They recognized early on that discussions could go on forever and introduce too much emotion, so they developed a motto: “Rough consensus and working code.”  The working code was the emotion breaker.  If you could make a good case for what you had and you had it working in real code, then there was no point in arguing.


Another time I was with a start-up that had too much emotion in its work. Everyone had an agenda and was only interested in pushing that agenda.  I started a daily meeting that was run by strict Robert’s Rules of Order and everyone was forced to attend.  All issues were fair game, so there was never an issue the group could not consider.  The chairmanship of the meeting rotated every week, so everyone spent time trying to get the team to pay attention to the issue at hand.  Once about half the team experienced that role, things started to clear up. The realization that emotions were in the way came quickly and led to real progress.  My only regret was I did not keep the daily meetings going. 


Agile processes have a daily meeting that is more contained, but often results in building a team and driving out the aberrant emotions.  The team is focused on the work and the constant communications keeps people on track.  Good Agile teams have passion but minimize the damage of emotions.


But the process is not a guarantee that all will go well. How many of you have worked on products where the architect was a bully that drove everything in the wrong direction and everyone just went along, rather than stop the emotional bullying?  How many times have you seen people who just don't have any self-awareness?


Yes, this note speaks negatively of emotions and it does so because they are often so unchecked.  We are often too deferential to the people whose emotions are out of balance.


© 2011-18 Westerly Consulting LLC, all rights reserved


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© 2017-18 by Westerly Consulting, LLC

Westerly Consulting, LLC

All photographs by Fred Engel