Passion in employees is a good thing to have, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to teach. Either your employees are passionate about what they do, or they are not. It is a feeling and an attitude that comes from within. The last firm in which I was a principal had a set of core values, and the first one was "A Passion for Excellence." Our product was reports for clients and they needed to be thoroughly and accurately prepared. Excellence was what we strived for, and we always sought to hire those people who appeared to share our core values.
The problem comes when passion is carried to an extreme, and becomes both toxic and counterproductive. The Seattle Seahawks had a couple of instances of this last season that you may have witnessed on TV.
Richard Sherman is a talented and passionate cornerback for the Seahawks and takes great pride in doing his job well. That pride has taken Sherman, a fifth-round draft pick, well beyond expectations. He has 30 career interceptions, has made the Pro Bowl four times, and been named first-team All-Pro three times. But as with any trait, his pride has a price and can sometimes carry him too far.
The first incident happened when Sherman erupted during a game when there was a defensive lapse that resulted in an Atlanta touchdown. He threw his helmet and blew up at defensive coordinator Kris Richard, the diatribe unfortunately recorded on TV. That was bad enough but he doubled down later in a game against the LA Rams when he lambasted offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for a play call that he did not agree with. A defensive player criticizing a defensive call is one thing, but criticizing the offense crosses into a whole different territory.
Coach Pete Carroll met with Sherman afterward in a private meeting and said that all was well. After that, however, Sherman blew up at a reporter in the locker room who had questioned him about the incidents, and told him that he was going to "ruin his career."
Coach Carroll has always been one to encourage his players to "be themselves" and rejoice in their excentricities, but Sherman crossed the line, not once but twice, in publicly criticizing his coaches. The worst part about both instances is that he was defensive and not the least sorry or contrite.
I have always believed that it is OK for opera singers to be "temperamental" as long as they can really sing, but there is a limit. It is up to the leadership in a company to walk the fine line between encouraging pride and passion, and not allowing angry outbursts that disrupt morale and performance.
"We push the limit because we're competitors." he said. "We know what it takes to get to the mountaintop. Since most people don't understand that, it's hard for them to comprehend what's going on here. But it's not hard for my teammates, because we see eye to eye on it." Maybe so, but what "went on" is that the Seahawks lost in the second round of the playoffs and did not go back to the Super Bowl.
We have probably all said or done something in the heat of the moment that we would like to retract. Passion for excellence is a very good thing. Maturity is knowing when and where to keep your mouth shut for the sake of the team.
A wise leader/mentor will sit someone like Sherman down and go over the basics of what behavior is OK and what is not OK, and make sure such outbursts are not going to happen again. I suspect that's exactly what Carroll did. Privately and not on TV.
We'll see next season how it goes, but these are the things that we can all observe and learn from that will make us better leaders of successful companies.