Excitable, Emotional, or Passionate
According to the input from my facebook page, being “unexcitable” isn’t the most admired leadership quality.
John Bell suggests, when excitable equals passionate, we admire Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, and Howard Shultz. All of which are famous or notorious for their passion.
Perhaps it’s a matter of definition and context?
“I think it’s because I was unexcitable,” Jim Moorhead replied when I asked, “Why do you think others looked to you when they were going through crisis?” They started coming to Jim, years ago, when he was in seventh grade.
I suppose my next question sounded like I thought Jim was boring. “What’s the difference between boring and unexcitable?” We both laughed. My question reflects the concerns of many.
Dale Shafter explained the up and down of unexcitable:
When unexcitable equals lack of passion, teams:
- Become passive.
- Lack urgency.
If by “unexcitable” you infer the ability to stay collected in crisis:
- Decisions are sound and methodical.
- Staff becomes less crisis-oriented.
Passionate leaders persistently drive and consistently focus on objectives higher than and outside themselves.
Emotional leaders are up one day and down the next. They sink inward rather than reaching outward. Think moody. We don’t respect them.
Excitable leaders, in the context of my conversation with Jim Moorhead, get sucked into drama. They lose their heads under pressure. Let’s face it, there’s always pressure.
The best leaders are passionate but unexcitable and most valued during crisis. “We look for leaders,” Moorhead commented, “Who are unexcitable yet transmit positive energy.”
How to be an unexcitable leader:
- Develop systems.
- Gather input from teams.
- Embrace short, medium, and long term thinking. Rise above day to day thinking.
- Focus most on the future.
- Create and illuminate positive trajectory, especially during crisis.
- Remain flexible.
How do you balance being unexcitable and passionate?
Thanks to Jim Moorhead for a great interview. Jim’s new book, “The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong,” is an enlightening and enjoyable read.
John Glenn was known for being absolutely unflappable, a model for the guy who is passionate but unexcitable and most valued during crisis and transmits positive energy.
Thanks for adding an illustration to the conversation.
I love the discussion about unexcitable and passionate leaders. I think unexcitable without effort leads to nowhere, but unexcitable with effort and direction lead to your purpose. I also think that the differentiating factor between emotional and passionate leader is curiosity. Passionate leaders are curious by nature. They love what they do and do what they love. Emotional leaders follow intuition which lacks logic and rationality. I think I am passionate about my goal and unexcitable during collecting data and information. So, leaders should be first unexcitable while connecting to bigger picture. I do agree that successful leaders are passionate. They also keep on changing their strategy to achieve bigger goal once one goal is achieved.
Thanks for adding curiosity to this conversation. Curiosity frightens emotional leaders. When I’m emotional, I’m making statements not asking questions.
Your point about being objective (unexcitable) while collecting information makes a lot of sense. Responding emotionally to research short circuits the process.
Thanks for adding value to this conversation.
It seems like this can also be a progression. For myself, the more experience I gain or maybe it is perspectove the less emotional or crisis mode I go into.
Yes, I think experience results in confidence and confidence creates calmness. Wonderfully said.
Dan, I think it’s critical for leaders to remain calm at two particular times: One, when there’s organizational pressure or crisis – in those cases your team needs to see that what looks like the world ending to them doesn’t seem like much to you. And second, when tempers flare – your calmness will dampen rather than fan the flames.
You can do that and still show excitement/passion when dicussing initiatives, or your core business, or the goodness in other people, or changing the world, or . . . you get the picture.
Thanks for your comment. It made me think again about passion.
I think passion is a forward facing emotion. It carries us into the future. On the other hand, emotional (yo-yo leaders) focus on the past.
Obviously it’s important to firmly grasp the gravity of the past but without clear forward momentum we’ll flounder.
Thanks for making me think.
I love the idea of passion as a forward-facing emotion. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes sense.
Hmmmm. More to chew on.
Leadership challenge, Dan.
Despite great passion there’ this little danger of “fragility identity’ where what’s left just when you thought was you it is not there anymore!
Love to hear more Juddy…
Sorry, Dan. You must have found me such un exciting follower of yours. Please forgive my dull plain self
Always your passionate follower,
I totally agree with your statement that the best leaders are passionate, but remain calm and exude confidence to the entire organization. I have had the “pleasure” of witnessing passionate, excitable and emotional leaders operate during a time of crisis and it is not a pretty sight. Remaining calm and focused when those around you are losing theirs is one of the true signs of a great leader.
Thanks for sharing your experience Casey. It’s such an interesting topic. Best, Dan
I wonder if your “unexcitable leader” is akin to the “non-anxious presence” we learn about in conflict management and systems work.
The leader who maintains a non-anxious presence is not just someone who is calm in a crisis, cool under fire, or whatever non-reactive metaphor you want to use. It’s someone who has truly cultivated his or her own sense of inner calm so that in the midst of others’ swirling anxiety and mess, he or she can stay detached from the generalized angst, but truly engaged in moving the action forward, however that’s defined in a given situation.
The unexcitable leader/non-anxious presence realizes that whatever is roiling around in the atmosphere is not about them, doesn’t take it personally, and thus is able to get up on the balcony, see the long and wide view, and help move on from there.
This isn’t natural to most of us and requires a willingness to do the daily work of reflection that leads to a centered, self-aware presence in the world. This may be the most important work a leader does, actually, because it prepares her/him to lead from a passion for the work/cause rather than from the excitability or emotion of the moment.
And this is what happens when I open a reply window and then get distracted: everyone makes all my points without me. You all sure are clever!
Thanks for a great contribution to the conversation. I love the expression “non-reactive.” You made me think about the value of being pro active.
YOu are right on the money. The only way to avoid reacting is to know who we are… nicely said.
Unexcitable is a negative word for me — unflappable is what I think I would use to describe calm during a crises. If you look up (Thesaurus) unflappable – it gives you unexcitable – go figure!
As a mother who raised 4 children, I was unflappable, but also excited and passionate. As an adult educator, these are truly transferable skills! As I form leaders, I nurture and nourish the passion and excitement they have when they discover their deepest desires.
I think balancing unexcited (unflappable) and passion would be an issue of identity. Back to philosophy class and Socrates – “know thyself “. Identity comes from our core. I find it essential to help my leaders to strengthen their core – the existential questions – who am I? who do I want to become? what am I passionate about? what gets me out of bed in the morning? what excites me? what/who are my loves?
YOu added a great word.. “Unflappable” nice!
You add weight to the importance of self-awareness. I wonder if those times when we are “flapped” are also times when we’ve lost sight of who we are??
Thanks for joining the conversation.
I really admire your firm statement/conclusion: ‘The best leaders are passionate but unexcitable and most valued during crisis’. Also liked the first two practical tips. It is the systems and solution-oriented approach of the team members which can boost the confidence level of leaders to succeed despite all odds. Excitement plays a secondary or no role if the leaders believe in their systems and people.
A real good learning post!
Dear Dr. Asher,
Thank you for the good word and for shining the light on “systems thinking.” A great system releases people to do their best.
Thank you for sharing your insights.
Dan, once again you hit upon characteristics that separate great leaders from the rest. I think spending time every once in a while running the absolute worse case scenario through your head and what you might do if it happens makes it easier to remain calm in the storm. Any other crisis will be better than worse case and if you have steeled yourself for that, everything else is downhill from there.
I hate thinking about things that could go wrong but wise leaders MUST do it. It helps us prepare and preparation keeps us steady.
I recently finished the Jobs biography and was interested to note that he tended to have one person on his team who was ‘unexcitable,’ who could work through the storm that was Steve Jobs and see solutions Jobs could not.
Love what you bring to the table. You point out something that has been valuable to me since my first leadership responsibilities… find someone who is steady if you tend toward the emotional side.
Nice article, but I would have liked to see some women included in the discussion about passion, emotion, and excitable leadership examples.
Thanks for joining in. You might be interested to know that I was just emailed with an invitation to interview a female leader who has studied the talents of women when it comes to these issues.
I’ll see what comes of it. Stay tuned.
I will stay tuned, and I’m happy to hear that you will be this interview. I hope it goes well.
Hi Dan. Ah passion and non-excitable, fervor and calm, committed and open, zealous and stable. When do I get excited: When I celebrate my people; when I orient a new staff member; when I discover the hidden talent no one knew you had; when team unity trumps failure; when the “team divides the tasks and multiplies successes;” When I show up for work and you are already there; When I realize how lucky I am to be here;
Times when un-excitable reigns: When mistakes bring you down; when you missed the deadline; when frustration led you astray; when the contract was not renewed; When you felt unworthy. The “steady” hand will soothe discomfort.
There is no crisis that weakens our resolve unless we let it. True trajedies make us stronger and remind us to stay focused on our vision. True Leadership is discerning when to get excited, when to stay calm, and when to ask for help. Humility will take the edge off any crisis and create stability.
The only true crisis that rattles me is when a team member is in distress and other than empathy I can provide little relief. Fortunately that is a rare occurrence and when all else fails I turn to Faith, the eternal healer. Cheers
There’s are more than two styles of leadership behavior. Passionate, unexcitable, or otherwise the job is communicate strategy, achievements, etc., in a way that works for staff.