The Calm or the Passionate
October 30, 2017 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Fire-in-the-belly or ice-cold? That is the question.

This seems a weird question to me, when I ask it to myself, but wanted to see if you all great guys & gals have an independent perspective on it.

As a senior executive at my company (I would be mid-level in another large company), I am torn between being appearing passionate, "fire-in-the-belly" vs the cool, calm collected guy everyone looks up to in times of crisis.

Internally, I am a someone who brings passion to my work; I am brimming with ideas and eager to collaboratively work with people. While this attitude works sometimes, it does not go well with many colleagues, boss, clients etc. They want to see a senior execs appear the calm, stabilizing factor.

How do I "brand" myself, so to speak? Can I be both?
posted by theobserver to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is a great question. I am not sure how to respond except to say, company culture is probably the best indicator. In my experience, both type are recognized as valuable, but.. it depends.
- When you look around, who gets rewarded?
- Who seems to appear as the "hero"-type employee?
- Who is recognized as the "optimal" type of worker in the management stratum you occupy (or aspire to occupy)?
- Who do you see higher-ups praising? Who do you see them responding negatively to?
- Which type are you, naturally? (this is actually the one I'd say is most important, because over time you will not be able to sustain an image that is against your own nature. The center cannot hold).
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:53 AM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with Bananas that one should not try to sustain an image that is at odds with their nature. But I also think that someone can be both: you can be the passionate free-thinker who is cool and collected in a crisis. Eager to explore new potentials for as long as that is productive, but pragmatic in a fix and loyal to the business needs over the blue-sky delights.

Ultimately this probably means injecting pragmatism into all of your collaboration practices: "this is fun, but what business need does it serve?" In an organization like the one you describe, it is probably essential to make this something you're well-known for: the stabilizer of passions, the fins on the rocket.
posted by xueexueg at 6:38 AM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can be both. In sports, think of the term "clutch". It implies both a fierce competitive fire and a calm, results-oriented demeanor. Tom Brady is the classic example. He looks composed even in the toughest situations, but under the surface, he's probably the most passionate player on the field. It's not a straightforward translation to business, but that should be the goal.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:43 AM on October 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am brimming with ideas and eager to collaboratively work with people. While this attitude works sometimes, it does not go well with many colleagues, boss, clients etc.

Are you sure that you come across as eager to engage in actual collaboration with people? I think most people value colleagues who have ideas, but no one appreciates getting steamrolled or feeling like they've been left with the scut work. Maybe you can compromise between your two archetypes by pursuing your ideas a bit more deliberately and building in time for a lot more listening.
posted by AndrewInDC at 6:49 AM on October 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

You might want to check out John Kotter's book A Sense of Urgency (related video). It's about the combination of passion and energy with control and calm.
posted by neushoorn at 7:02 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That book title sparked another thought.

A lot depends on your superiors (or other key players) trusting you enough to not let your outward appearance seem at odds with your inner state. They have to know that you can come through in the clutch even if you seem cool and collected.

An executive I knew at a former job consistently punished lower-level managers for not responding with enough urgency (read: they did not display the markers HE expected, to indicate the "right" response levels), even though those managers were ON IT! and getting things done, no time was lost, etc.

They still had to perform "urgency theater" to that executive's expectations, in order for him to perceive/believe that they were actually doing something about the issues. Nothing else would do. So those guys had to learn how to game that process, else they were penalized and accused of being too lax, etc.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:24 AM on October 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Well,

Do you want to be a shining star that's shooting for the sky very quickly, headed for C-suite? Or do you want to be a middle level manager that people like, that's built up relationships with friends and employees and stays in the same job for 10+ years?

I always thought I wanted the first, but once I found a position I really like, now I don't want to be a hotshot anymore and just stay where I am!
posted by bbqturtle at 7:49 AM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Depends on your goals and company culture. I personally have far more respect for leaders who are calm and goal-oriented and stabilizing; but I have observed that in the high profile west coast tech companies I know, "passion" - which can amount to the appearance of having one's hair constantly be on fire with "urgent" problem-solving or new-agenda pushing - is often rewarded, and calm preparedness is perceived as not working hard enough.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:02 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you actually have access to both mindsets, I think the big money is in rendering firebelly ideas calmly. Cool and creative has a much stronger pedigree than either alone.
posted by rhizome at 11:49 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks folks. I guess trying to be different things to different people is not going to "Center" me as pointed out.

I don't come across as someone who forces ideas down people's throats, although I have been known to, very occasionally, argue strongly. But I do readily agree that others may have a different viewpoint, which may be equally valid (Not my words, but those of trusted colleagues in a 360 feedback).

As bbqturtle mentioned above, C-Suite is a real possibility in my current company, so I am trying to cultivate the thoughtful side of me, while making sure my ideas and opinions are carefully articulated.

Any other experiences that you have or familiar with? Necessarily not in the same context, but other contexts are welcome.
posted by theobserver at 9:12 AM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

One other thing I would say, is that a lot depends on the company. You can get a feel for a company by looking at how often c-suite and directors are moving, leaving, changing, reorganizing, for the speed that you can ascend. My last company (fortune 400) was constantly shifting and it was easy to jump to new positions / higher up, and the "jerk" c-suite types found their way to the top quickly (maybe not jerk, but the slightly more boisterous folk that didn't get to know you or slow down).

At my current company, slow and steady seems to be rewarded. My company is small (<1000) and nice. I like that there is less pressure on advancement. But I don't think a hotshot would make it here.
posted by bbqturtle at 5:42 AM on November 1, 2017

Response by poster: @bbqturtle - you are right in that it depends a lot on the company and perhaps on your boss. At different companies, I have received different feedback during annual performance reviews.

At once company, I received "Need to appear more thoughtful, calm and fact-oriented" from Boss A and in the next year came this gem "Does not demonstrate fire-in-the-belly go-getter attitude which is needed in today's business. Does not keep subordinates on their toes" from Boss B.

I know :D

But overall, I sense that the group that you are working with may dictate your behavior. As Bananas stated (very well, in fact), "urgency theatre" may be needed to manage expectations.
posted by theobserver at 11:14 PM on November 1, 2017

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