Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Years ago I had a strong disagreement with a member of staff. He was a longtime employee who sat several rungs below me in the organization chart. He was prone to strong opinions and heated feelings, but he was also a great organizational performer and someone I personally liked very much.
While he was generally right in his opinions, he sometimes lacked a strategic view of issues and didn’t always accept when he was wrong. This “heated discussion” resulted from one such “disagreement” which happened in a public place and was overheard by many other staff members. The talk was confrontationaland that clearly made some people around us a bit uncomfortable.
Afterwards, several staff members approached me and wondered if this moment of public insubordination meant that I would fire him. When I told them that there would be no disciplinary action but that he and I would discuss it later to find common ground, they looked confused. Why as CEO would I let a staff member argue with me and not fire them immediately? The answer is simple: it is easier to temper passion than to inspire it. If you want excellence, you need strong personalities!
Organizations are just a collection of people and things. Organizational success is the collective sum of individual successes. As a leader, it is our duty to harness 100% of the talent potential of each team member. We need to focus on building each team member individually to the best of their abilities, which requires them to feel safe to express their point of view, to be comfortable speaking the truth in power and that he be supported to exceed the limits of his competence from time to time. It doesn’t happen when we stifle people’s opinions or break their morale by forcing them to conform. Instead, it comes from individual responsibility, commitment to shared mission, and risk taking.
Simply put, in a business context, passion is an essential ingredient for greatness. It’s possible THE Essential ingredient. Yet passion is almost impossible to inspire; it must be born organically from the depths of people committed to their mission. Enthusiasts are often obsessed with small details; they are constantly looking for a better way; they are often frustrated with others and usually hurt their leaders’ butts. They are also the stars of the company and the centers of creation and excellence of the organization.
Unfortunately, many leaders see these traits as signs of a difficult personality and become frustrated. They find these people difficult to control, argumentative and sometimes even disrespectful or insubordinate. Unfortunately, in many business environments, these people are marginalized, disciplined, or even fired. Passion is canceled in favor of obedience. Leadership encourages conformity through words and deeds in order to produce an obedient and cohesive “team” where everyone plays nice and does as they are told. It’s like throwing away all the sharp knives in your kitchen to avoid hurting yourself or others. While you’ll be safer, you’ll also end up with a drawer full of spoons!
Exceptional people are creative, inventive and bright. They are different from the norm. They are extraordinary. Often they are exceptional because of their passion for what they do and their willingness to challenge authority. As a result, they usually stand out in a sea of mediocrity and are sometimes reluctant to follow the herd. This can obviously make them a little tricky. It’s important to realize, though, that this reluctance to do what everyone else does makes them great. They have no allegiance to tradition or authority for their own good. They will make you and your team better!
This does not mean that it is acceptable to be rude, insubordinate, or destructive to organizational morale. On the contrary, a good working environment and discipline are very important. It’s great to argue your points and challenge the thinking of others. But that said, it’s not All right being mean, rude or disrespectful in the process.
It’s a very fine line to walk and can be difficult to interpret. As a result, leaders must give their team the benefit of the doubt and adopt a “teach, don’t beat” mindset. We must encourage our enthusiasts. But, at the same time, we need to help them express their ideas and address their challenges in a way that will provoke thought, not anger.
Exceptional organizations are the result of extraordinary people. It is essential as leaders, we spend time nurturing the passion people have for their work. We need to encourage them to think outside the box, not be discouraged by failure and encourage them to take risks.
We have to pick them up and dust them off when they fall. Above all, we must understand that the fire that drives them will sometimes make them difficult to lead, and sometimes they will cross the line and need to be corrected. But we have to make sure we don’t break their spirit. Their strong personality will make them and the organization excellent!