IPMA International Project Management Association
21 June 2018 / 10:59

Passion for Projects – the Beauty and the Beast

If someone is going the extra mile in projects, we characterize this as passion. But what is passion? In philosophy and religion passion may be defined as “the instinctive, emotional, primitive drives in a human being (including, for example, lust, anger, aggression and jealousy) which a human being must restrain, channel, develop and sublimate in order to be possessed of wisdom.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passions_(philosophy)]. It may also be seen emotional, as “a feeling of intense enthusiasm towards or compelling desire for someone or something. Passion can range from eager interest in or admiration for an idea, proposal, or cause; to enthusiastic enjoyment of an interest or activity; to strong attraction, excitement, or emotion towards a person.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passion_(emotion)].

In the United States, John Dewey celebrated the role of passions in people´s lives. He echoed the words of Jean-Jaques Rousseau in being dismissive of the role of reason in controlling passion. In his book “Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology” he stated: “The conclusion is not that the emotional, passionate phase of action can be or should be eliminated in behalf of bloodless reason. More passions, not fewer, is the answer… Rationality, once more, is not a force to evoke against impulse and habit. It´s the attainment of a working harmony among divers desires.” [https://www.amazon.de/Human-Nature-Conduct-Introduction-Psychology/dp/160206105X]

Robert J. Vallerand, stated in his book “The Psychology of Passion – A dualistic model” that passion “can be seen as a strong inclination toward a specific object, activity, concept or person that one loves (or at least strongly likes), highly values, invests time and energy in on a regular basis, and that is part of one´s identity. Furthermore, two forms of passion seems to exist. The first one can be seen as being in harmony with other aspects of the self and the person´s life and should mainly lead to adaptive outcomes. The second form of passion may conflict with aspects of the self and the person´s life and should mainly lead to less adaptive, and sometimes, even maladaptive outcomes.”

Thus, there are two faces of passion, a positive and a negative one, a beauty and a beast. Like with stress, too much of it can ruin yourself, have adverse effects like sickness and burnout, but without passion, less results can be achieved. On the one hand side, passionate people engaged in projects may feel happy, performant, satisfied, being in a flow, they also may see more opportunities, achievements and self-growth. On the other hand, they may be feel a frustration, stress, burn-out, they may ne dependent on what they do or follow those activities in a rigid persistence. Conflicts may arise together with negative emotions and suffering. The greek word “pati” means to suffer and it´s in many languages related to passion, but it addresses a non-balanced passion which could have several adverse effects.

Why is this relevant for project managers? The salary and career survey of GPM regularly shows that project managers are interested in taking over challenging tasks, getting recognition, development opportunities and responsibility. However, a burnout survey of the German Project Management Association (GPM) revealed, that project managers are significantly exposed to burnout risk. Burnout symptoms occur significantly more frequently among the project managers interviewed than among the employees of other professions. 35 % of those interviewed have reached the cut-off score for burnout, 40 % feel burned out by their work, and more than 50% feel worn out by their work at least once a month. Internal risk factors are: Perfectionism, too high performance demands, too high expectations of self, high need to control, difficulties with drawing a line and saying “no“, overestimating one‘s own resilience, ignoring or not responding to warning signals and work as (only) purpose in life. Compared to other industries and professions, as well as to the population in general, the examined sample of more than 1300 people engaged in projects clearly show that project employees and managers are in the upper third as concerns exhaustion and burnout.

What could be conclusions? We need to unleash the passion of people, thoroughly selecting (the right) people for a project as well as giving them space to manoeuvre. We need to clarify expectations (hard and soft) of stakeholders involved and provide purposeful work to people. Better build on diversity and overcome conformity, challenge and support the team and its members and cherish success and continue on the learning path [http://blog.ipma.world/need-new-leadership-approach-projects/]. On the other hand we need to take care that people engaged in projects find the right balance and avoid adverse effects of passionate behaviour.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.