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How a Leader Balances Passion and Control: Being Tactical about Emotion

Author: S. B. Bacharach

Last night’s debate was another example of different proactive leadership styles.  The underlying issue, which seemed to be critical to last night’s drama, was the presentation of self, and specifically, the presentation of emotion. Leaders often walk the tightrope between control and passion.  An expression of passion is meant to convey commitment, sincerity, and a sense of vision.  A low-key expression of control is meant to convey a leader’s being on top of the game, being methodical and unflustered by chaos.

Passion, at its extreme, may convey anger.  Control, at its extreme, may convey a cool indifference.  A challenge for proactive leaders is to know how to balance both of these. In the debate last night, Obama was clearly concerned with presenting an image of low-key control.  McCain was more focused on presenting a sense of passion. The problem is that McCain’s passion, at times, slipped into projected anger, while Obama’s coolness never slipped into indifference.

Often in organizations, leaders are successful in getting people to rally around their causes by passionately expressing their positions.  The problem with passionate presentations is in the face of resistance they often degenerate into a self-righteous arrogance.  Leaders have to be smart about supplementing their passion with a sense of control and coolness, which can give people a feeling that not only are they committed to their positions, but they can calmly deliver.  Embedded in this is a leader’s ability to develop trust.  Passion instills in others a sense that a leader is committed.  Control instills in others a sense that a leader has the capacity to execute.

No matter what one’s political position, Obama was more successful in the dramaturgical presentation of passion and control.

Leaders need to keep in mind that there is a lot of drama and tone involved in what they do, and balance is the name of the game.



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