Which is more important for excellence – passion or perseverance?

Increasingly passion is being highlighted as a key ingredient for success at the individual, team and organisational levels. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies need passionate people who can drive outstanding and sustained performance improvement. According to recent research by Deloitte, up to 87.7% of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have passion for their work. The survey also found that less than 12.3% of America’s workforce possesses the attributes of worker passion. Although this survey is a US one, I would imagine the results would be very similar in the UK based on our own experience working across many different organisations.

Although it has been defined it different ways, passion is best defined as a “fire in the belly” or positive energy to achieve and outperform against one’s goals. Based on a lot of research over the last 2 decades, we know that when people are in jobs that enable them to play their strengths, they are far more likely to demonstrate higher levels of passion for what they are doing and go “above and beyond” to achieve exceptional results. Organizations today need passionate, strongly committed people in order to deal with rapid changes in the business environment, including the digitization of the economy which is transforming the nature of work and long-standing assumptions and requirements for success.

Passion is different from engagement in that engagement focuses mainly on employee happiness with work environment factors such as co-workers, management, working conditions, etc. Passion is about the individual – it focuses on how aligned and connected people are with the company’s vision and whether they believe they can use their strengths to help the company solve challenges and deliver value for customers/stakeholders. It provides intrinsic motivation that boosts a person’s performance between paydays.

Perseverance involves working hard to achieve goals and sticking with a task even in the face of immense pressure and setbacks. It ensures focus and discipline to establish the productive routines and habits necessary to excel and achieve excellent results. There are many factors influencing perseverance, however, the one that is cited as most important is being energised or passionate about the role and mission of the company. This means understanding and optimising people’s natural strengths or “energisers”. So if someone is energised by Developing Others” and “Empathy”, they are far more likely to persevere with coaching and other similar activities involving these strengths compared with others who lack these strengths.

So it seems that passion, strengths and perseverance are strongly and positively related. The research has recently been advanced by studies about “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, a psychology research and University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth defines Grit as the capacity to sustain both effort and interest in projects or tasks that take months or even longer to complete. She has found that people who are high in Grit don’t deviate from their goals, even in the absence of positive feedback and in the face of adversity. The Grit concept is essentially a combination of passion and perseverance. It suggests that we should be looking to identify and develop both in our staff, rather than one of the other.

James Brook

Suggested Reading:
1. Optimize Your Strengths Use Your Leadership Strengths to Get the Best Out of You and Your Team2016, James Brook & Dr Paul Brewerton, London: Wiley.
2. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, 2016, Angela Duckworth. London: Penguin