A Reasoned Approach To Passion

“Reason is a slave to the passions.”

—David Hume

Many executives innately prefer thinking over feeling. It serves them well in many situations and fails them in others. Students of Carl Jung and users of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment know, however, that doesn’t mean they don’t have access to feelings as they make decisions.

My friend George, whom I highly respect, gave me a book from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, titled “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” As he handed it to me, he said, “This may be the most important book I’ve ever read!” It’s a fascinating book that identifies the scientific-based differences in intuition and morality that cause us to misinterpret others who are “callous conservatives” or “foolish liberals” (pick one). Most often we’re driven by intuition, and then our mind crafts a story to justify our position.

Read the book and you’ll realize that Haidt’s evidence might be applied to leaders in business as well as politics and religion. Several times early in my career I crafted rock-solid arguments for or against something only to have my audience ignore it. I was flummoxed (and pissed!). Why couldn’t they see the obvious answer? I’ve also observed many times, as I’m sure have you, people with spurious arguments win the day with passionate appeal.

Combine powerful reasoning with an appeal to morality (passion), and you have a killer app for your leaders’ toolkit. Oh, some business acumen might also help.

The longer I’m on this earth, the more I realize that thoughtful communication may be one of the greatest levers a leader has. As Archimedes said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.”

Next time you have a critical message for your team members, give them the reasons, but do it in a way that appeals to their passions. A solid argument is only the starting point.

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