Business and administrative organizations are constantly focused on positive outcomes. The outcomes vary across organizations but there exist some common threads. Business organizations look for growth with profitability. Administrative organizations look for development with equity. Executives delivering business activities and officers taking administrative actions depend on certain visions, strategies, plans, policies, systems and processes (collectively, the Organizational Processes) to achieve results. Many times, however, despite considerable academic and practical knowledge, executives are often at a loss to understand why all the Organizational Processes, or simply the Processes, do not deliver the intended outcomes. In fact, it is the differential performance on the Processes that determines why some organizations tend to be more competitive and successful than others.
In parallel to this, there is an oft held belief that if passion is injected into the Processes, the outcomes would be efficient and effective. This is, however, only partially true. In an organizational context, passion is a strong feeling of belief for, and enthusiasm on, something, mostly an outcome. People with passion are easily differentiated from those who lack passion. People with passion lead others while people without passion merely manage, at best. Passion, however, is not an all-inclusive mantra. Competency constitutes the basic platform for performance while passion provides the additional thrust. Even so, competency and passion, even if together, do not still explain the differential performance in firms possessing similar competency-passion profiles. The reason, probably, lies in passion itself. As we have seen, passion has a strong emotional component of belief and faith. In human endeavor, there exist some activities that are moved by faith and belief but there are quite a few others where passion is not required, and could even be counterproductive.
Passion with balance
Human traits are multifaceted. At the core of one’s performance lies competency. Competency is acquired over the years as a result of aptitude; an innate and natural preference to acquire certain specific types of knowledge and skills, and operate in certain specific domains. When passion is built on both aptitude and competency it becomes a tremendously positive force driving positive performance. If there is a lack of such alignment, for example passion without aptitude and competency or vice versa, the performance outcomes would be poorer. Passion to be a leader works but it would be even better if the leader has genuine aptitude for, and competency in, his or her field of performance. Similarly, high aptitude and competency may not be effectively translated into the full potential of performance without passion. Ability to introspect where one’s aptitude, competency and passion lie is an important component of one’s leadership journey.
In leadership journey, no leader can usually be successful unless he or she is truly passionate. At the same time, all passionate leaders need not necessarily be successful. The reason lies in the characteristic of passion itself, which is the determination to pursue an activity or execute a project till the desired outcome is achieved, and the willingness to undergo any personal or professional sacrifice in this pursuit. A mindless pursuit of passion can lead to an emotional overinvestment in causes that have outlived, much to the detriment of business. Passion requires the balance of logic and perspective to ensure that the business or administrative purpose is not lost sight of. If these filters are not applied in passionate pursuits, the changed reality may be lost sight of, or more dangerously reality itself may be viewed in a distorted manner. Healthy passion for one’s business or administration brings clarity of purpose and focus, and leads to sustainable growth. To understand how balance in passion could work, we have to dwell on the two core processes of the typical human mind: analysis and execution, which form the core pillars of all business and administrative action.
Analysis and execution
We have defined Organizational Processes as being visions, strategies, plans, policies, systems and processes. Of these, the first three require, and support, the faculty of analysis in a significant manner. The last three require, and enable, the faculty of execution. Analysis is the faculty of understanding the nature and structure of anything. Analysis involves the ability to grapple with multiple data points and develop patterns that aid decision making. Analysis is not only about quantitative parts of business or administration. Analysis also is relevant for intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects, including feelings and relationships. While conceptualization, the faculty of forming an idea or a construct, is an important faculty, it is the analytical faculty that develops rational pathways to achieve business or administrative objectives. Analysis is one of the critical faculties that continuously occur in human mind, even as all other faculties from conceptualization to execution keep working. Probably, only the level of analysis would vary across people; but some analysis is integral to every human being.
Execution is a faculty that enables people undertake a task in a structured and skilled manner. While analysis leads one to arrive at what could be appropriate decisions considering available inputs, execution enables implementation of the decisions. Vision without strategy, strategy without plan and plan without execution would remain as pipedreams. The way to outcomes is through execution. Execution requires all of the Processes that are mentioned herein. The better formed they are, the better would be the execution. Successful companies take their time in putting the Processes in place prior to execution. Probably the best model to describe this is the way a construction project gets done, from architectural vision through construction strategy to engineering plan that are executed as per construction policies, systems and processes. In construction projects it is understood that unless all the six elements of the Processes are in place, construction cannot be flagged off, except at the project’s or people’s peril. Unfortunately, the same does not seem to be the case in respect of ordinary business and administration projects.
Contrary to popular perception that analysis and execution are sequential, they are in fact integral to each other. Analysis would be unfocused if the desired outcomes and execution capabilities are not kept in perspective. Execution could lead to wrong results if contemporaneous realities are not taken into account. Analysis requires dispassion and execution requires passion, and both analysis and execution require each other. It is easy to get biased while undertaking analysis; bias that gets influenced by one’s own past successes and failures or others’ current successes or failures. As an example, if an airliner is passionate about being a leader in the Indian airlines industry, despite the inherent loss-making and consolidation, such an airliner, despite its losses, could still place multi-billion orders for new aircraft! If one is dispassionate about ensuring profitable growth in a bleeding industry, the same low-cost airliner would apportion just a minute fraction of the multi-billion capital investment to several on-ground and in-sky investments to improve user experience and win customer loyalty on considerations other than crash fares.
In perpetually evolving industries with fast changing technologies, yesterday’s execution passion could be today’s outcome liability while being dispassionately analytical could be an asset. Being dispassionate means a state that is not influenced by emotion and an ability to take a calm and impartial view of things. Nokia’s decision to embrace Android operating system (for low and mid range phones) despite its rejection earlier in favor of Windows (which continues all across the smart phone range) is an example of being dispassionate about the past, and objective about new decisions. Microsoft’s reported decision to license its Windows OS for free for select emerging markets is yet another example of dispassionate analysis. While some may dismiss such decisions as mere opportunistic plays or practical exigencies, the truth remains that such decisions have strategic import and cannot be taken without dispassionate analysis. Dispassionate analysis enables leaders in some cases steer clear of emotional overinvestment in strategy and execution that could have lost their utility, and in other cases compensate for the underinvestment in opportunities that emerge from time to time unanticipated.
Execution gains immensely from the Processes being in place in an organization. Passionate execution overcomes the limitations in the Processes. The high performance of entrepreneurial startups is driven by passionate execution. So is the completion, against odds, of complex construction and infrastructure projects. The successful execution of Delhi Metro Rail is attributed to the passion of its Chief, E Sreedharan. The successful development of India’s first indigenous car by Tata Motors is attributed to the shared passion of Ratan Tata, its Chairman, and V Sumatran, its Chief Designer. Yet, successful execution, however passionate, also requires continuous dispassionate analysis. Nothing illustrates this requirement more than the surgeon undertaking a surgery. Prior to commencing a surgery, the surgeon would have all the Processes laid out, and assimilated but when he or she opens up the abdomen or the chest in the conventional way or peeps inside the skull with robotic assistance, he or she could face a completely unexpected situation. Successful surgery under such a circumstance requires not only passion to save the patient but also dispassionate analysis that balances a new reality with the pre-formulated hypothesis.
Leadership journey would be truly rewarding for organizations and their leaders when their passion for execution is balanced by dispassion in analysis, and their relentless focus on execution is accompanied by a continuous update with analysis. Professionally, analysts and executors could be different specialists but in leadership they are one and the same. If leadership is one of managing paradoxes, the most challenging paradox is one of reconciling passion and dispassion in one’s own leadership personality. This does not come easy; requires a high degree of reflection and introspection on one hand and a healthy respect for value of alternatives and the value of time on the other. Certain leaders are able to manage the paradox by having leaders around them who have dominant streaks of these attributes, and collaboratively manage them for effectiveness. Whether a leader achieves such balance of passion and dispassion singularly or through the leadership team could be a matter of choice but to ensure an appreciation, across the organization, of the winning combination of passionate execution and dispassionate analysis for optimal outcomes is mandatory to ensure sustainable growth and profitability of business organizations as well as development with equity of social organizations.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 16, 2014