Coach’s Corner Blog

Managing Our Career: Part 3 – Engaging Our Passion for Our Work

January 31, 2014 by Leave a Comment

We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion. – Georg Wilhelm Frederich Hegel (1770 – 1831)

In our last post we spoke about how to stay confident about our competence for our work and how that can vary through all the stages of the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing team development model (FSNP). To maintain a level of excellence in all we do, we not only must be competent in our efforts, but must also have a passion for all, or at least a good portion, of the work as well.

Passion is defined as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm for something or about doing something”. Passion is the natural complement to our competence. If we are good at something and get excited about doing it as well, we are really on to something. Let’s examine how passion is defined further and how to nurture it in all the phases of the FSNP model.

The place to begin our discussion about passion actually leads us back to the concept of competence. There are four levels of competence and incompetence we need to consider:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: This is where we don’t know what we don’t know. This can happen to us if we are asked to participate in areas that we are completely unfamiliar with. It’s obvious that passion for anything in this area is impossible.
  2. Conscious Incompetence: This is where we know what we don’t know. For instance no one should ever ask me for advice about mechanical devices, singing on key or in rhythm and various other things that I know I should stay away from. Even though we may have an interest in various areas where we are knowingly incompetent, the fact that it is out of reach for us generally means that will never have much passion for it either. I like to sing, but I should NOT do that to anyone.
  3. Conscious Competence: This is where we know we are pretty good at something. That does not mean we are necessarily expert or very good at it, but we know enough to be dangerous and to get things done. Over time this competence is developed by combinations of study, practice, feedback and pattern recognition. If we work hard enough and have the physical and intellectual tools to be successful, we can often reach various levels of competence. Let’s be clear here that competence is not excellence, but we do have a confidence that good outcomes are probable when we apply ourselves. Passion really starts to bloom here because the positive feedback and recognition we receive for good performance reinforces our willingness to put forth the effort to make things happen.
  4. Unconscious Competence: This is where we don’t know why we are as good as we are at something, but we do know we are very good at it. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he introduced his 10,000 hour rule. He had multiple examples of world-renowned experts who put in over 10,000 hours worth of practice and work experience in various areas to develop their skills. This is true in athletics, music, and even computer science based on the example he described about Bill Gates. This is where passion truly blossoms because once we are involved in work that allows this unconscious competence to flourish the excitement can be really palpable. In some regards it’s like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography – they know it when they see it. With passion, you know it when you feel it.

It is not necessarily easy to identify what your passion at work might be, but it is worth the insight. If you are both competent and passionate about an aspect of your work, you can accomplish great things without the attendant weariness or burnout that come from work that is just a duty with no passion. It doesn’t mean that a passionate work focus makes the work effortless or not taxing, but it is usually easier than for tasks where you do not have a natural enthusiasm.

When we consider the impact of passion on our satisfaction with our work, let’s agree that:

Man is truly great when he acts from the passions. – Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

When the work allows you to jump out of bed and be fired up about what you are doing, when you speak with such enthusiasm that you attract others to your cause and when you are hungry for the next challenge, you are “acting from the passions”.

How can the FSNP Model help us understand where our passion may come from during each stage? Let’s explore each stage and how People, Process and Performance can again be our guide to possible sources of passion for us:


Here we are trying to bring a group or team together to focus on a particular task. The key elements in the forming stage are to welcome, integrate and focus to help this group or team get started in a strong fashion.

  • People – people can be very passionate about meeting new folks, understanding them and ensuring they get connected to the purpose and focus of the work. Ensuring that you “get the right people on the bus” is foundational to the success of any group or team. This can scare a lot of people but for some it’s that passion fuel we are looking for.
  • Process – how we go about either finding members for the team or learning about the interests and abilities of current members of the organization and how we might be able to utilize them are key process issues. How to get people engaged and keep them there is just as much about process as it is about being a good people reader.
  • Performance – as a leader of the team this stage is less about performing currently, but you have to have your eye on the ball about how you’re going to marshal these resources in performing in the right direction going forward. There are some people for whom this productive type of multitasking is a real source of interest and enthusiasm.


Here we are brainstorming ideas, debating direction and other organizational basics and trying to create a sense of community. This stage can get a little messy and it’s often the place where egos get bruised. This flurry of activity that can oftentimes be rather tense is very motivating to some people and for others it can be uncomfortable or draining. For some this can be a passion pit.

  • People – the natural tension that comes from debating various options and ideas has wildly different impacts on the people involved, including yourself as the leader. Patience, empathy and a willingness to deal with both ambiguity and the first signs of potentially unproductive behavior are critical here. This will fire some people up and for others who are not so comfortable with attention or conflict, it can be a passion pit.
  • Process – the process of identifying many of the key organizational variables that the group can influence and then providing the forum for those types of discussions is what this storming stage is all about. In this ADD world in which we live, the patience for this type of work is often hard to find. You will want to accelerate moving things forward but do you have the fortitude to take the time to do this right?
  • Performance – a critical factor for leaders here is to begin to focus the team on what the larger goal might be. You are creating a linkage of the foundation being built and the work to be done. On my first Habitat for Humanity trip we got out of our cars and looked at a concrete slab surrounded by piles of lumber. My first question was what the hell do we do now. Five days later we departed that site having assembled a three bedroom home.  My conscious incompetence was on full display that week.


In the Norming Phase you need to be able to clarify, communicate and reinforce the focus, the progress and the contributions of all that are involved. Again there is a tension here as different perspectives lead to different options. They call it “norming” because this is where we develop the tools and processes that will carry us forward. It can be very exciting but for some that have done things like this before it can seem like the same old same old.

  • People – a key part of your focus here is to ensure that people are starting to fit in and find ways to creatively participate in influencing the path that you are collectively developing. Trying to figure out how to connect with some of the unique skills and interests of all the members of the team can be very fulfilling for some and for other leaders, it can just wear them out.
  • Process – it’s extremely important that the leader pays close attention to documenting agreements and process decisions along the way and then ensuring that those thoughts are well communicated. This is not the time to assume that anybody gets it; you have to have a consistent focus on reinforcement during this time. This can be the passion pit for some leaders who are just very eager to keep moving the work forward and don’t want to take the time to summarize progress and communicate that.
  • Performance – this is where your team has really begun to execute on the task or project at hand. Knowing how to develop the right metrics and reporting them is critical right now. Your interest in these measurements is critical to their development and using them to create alignment within the organization. The passion pit risk here is if you are not able to allocate the time to reinforce the message of what the metrics are or why they matter, that impact will be lost.


We are focused on execution, reviewing and measuring performance and then repeating the process as we move towards accomplishing our goals. There’s a lot to be passionate about when an organization is growing and developing. It’s obviously much tougher to be a leader in a challenging environment but for some there’s a passion in that as well.

  • People – if you have passion for people, then ensuring that people are both challenged and fully engaged in their work is critical for everyone. Seeing people reach their full potential will fuel the passion in most leaders. There is often a certain amount of drama that goes along with the human condition and relationships at work can deteriorate into problems. A strong leader needs to keep the focus on the goals of the organization while in parallel creating an environment that allows people to prosper. The passion pit here can be the pettiness and insecurities that we all bring to the workplace.
  • Process – given the dynamic nature of our work world, you must consistently maintain a focus on continuous improvement. You cannot rest on your laurels and hope to maintain success. Documenting, reviewing and improving all work processes is a critical responsibility of any leader. For some this is very motivating and for others this diagnostic effort can really impact your enthusiasm.
  • Performance – it is critical for you to keep your team aware of their performance as well as its key connection to supporting the overall goals of the organization. I referred to this as raising the economic literacy of the whole team. You also need to ensure that you are “bringing the outside in” to understand how you stack up against the competition. One risk of being in any role for too long, especially if the market you operate in is neither dynamic nor growing, is that things can get a little stale and that’s a passion pit for anyone. The key challenge for you is always going to be how do you keep your energy and interest as fresh as possible.

In summary, here are a few things about your passion for your work I encourage you to consider:

  1. What are you passionate about in your work or career? We did not discuss passion in your personal life but if you are dependent on your work to enable your personal passion to flourish, I would suggest you try to understand your work passion better.
  2. This article takes a diagnostic approach to looking at what reinforces or supports your passion and also where the “passion pits” might be. Use it as a tool to reflect on where your passion is so you can exploit it for everyone’s benefit.
  3. If you can spend more of your time where you are competent and passionate, especially where you are unconsciously competent, everyone wins – you, your team and the organization. Learn how to delegate effectively to spend more time here.

I look forward to your thoughts in the comments section below.

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