Passion, Relationships and Thought Leadership

Back in the bad old days of blogging, the way to get attention was simple. Flame someone long enough and hard enough and they would take notice and respond in comments, or otherwise. Bloggers realized their power for change and took their platforms seriously, calling into question media accounts in politics, public relations nightmares such as Edelman’s Walmart stunt and other such things.

On this blog, I’ve taken this tack in the past flaming my friend Duncan Riley and earning my place, for a time, in the Google hierarchy as #3 for “How to be a whore”.

Yes, I was ranked #3 for how to be a whore. Classy, as always.

With my platform, I took HP to task for jerking a customer around and turned around a PR disaster into an amazing demonstration of customer service in the social web world.

I took to Twitter and established a “personal brand”, whatever that is, for being a no-bullshit czar and calling people to task when they were presenting stories or thoughts in a way that I felt was disingenuous.

For whatever hard-nosed approaches I took to relationships in the web world, I also encouraged and linked to and cited those who I felt were thought leaders. I shared blog posts in Google Reader and FriendFeed and linked people prolifically on Twitter.

The world still operates in much the same way online as it does in any other area of life. Business, politics, technology, personal relationships – they are all the same. You will never agree with everyone else, nor should you. If everyone looked at the world the same way, we’d live in a very boring world.

When it comes to passion, it is the thing that drives people to be better than what they would otherwise be. It makes them thought leaders and brings about change. Always.

The things is, the change is sometimes good and bad and that’s where passion gets you into trouble. When passion drives you to be unbending and, for lack of a better word, bigoted or dogmatic, then passion runs the risk of getting in the way and interfering.

Truth is, particularly in the blogosphere where everyone has a voice and everyone can potentially affect dramatic change, is that passion often has to be tempered in favor of relationship. Passion may drive you to make sweeping accusations, or lump different groups of people into the same bucket with the premise that “you know what I mean”.

This is harmful. Very, very harmful. This destroys relationships, and relationships are the balance.

Relationships looks at the world and say, “what you and I are together is more important and more powerful than what you and I are apart.”

In the Great Depression (and by the way, I have a bunch of Great Depression stories coming soon), the United States entered what can only be described as a period of long winter. During that winter, people could not rely on their government, their businesses, their ways of life. All they had was each other. Families hunkered down with families. Friends built deeper relationships. All they had was each other, and those relationships formed a core foundation for the generation that would come. To this day, that generation is known as the Greatest Generation.

Passion fuels the fire, drive and ambition and is the catalyst for so many great things in history. Passion is also the catalyst for the greatest failures in history.

Thought leaders are the ones who know how to tap into passion to accelerate their goals, but know when to tap the brake and fall back on relationships to enhance their goals.

Be careful not to sacrifice relationships on the altar of passion.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

23 thoughts on “Passion, Relationships and Thought Leadership

  1. It is often difficult to ramp down passionate feelings enough to remember that the recipient is probably equally passionate and always human. The current election cycle is probably the most visceral example of that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Everyone is passionate, everyone is engaged. The engagement part is great; the passion can lead to all sorts of unintentional consequences.

    Great reminder.

  2. Great point, Aaron. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and have never been able to explain this quite as well as you did.

    I’ll be the first to admit that unchecked passion has given me some of the greatest successes of my life but, at the same time, some of the worst failures too. The problem is that in both cases, I damaged (or even destroyed) a few relationships along the way. Not good.

  3. Paul, seems the stock market is on everyones mind lately, a great analogy is what they call high-risk, high-yield investments (NASDAQ, tech stocks usually) vs. Low-risk, low-yield (Blue Chips). :)

  4. A beautiful articulation of the frustration I have been feeling during this political campaign. Entire groups of people are swept aside as irrelevant, unenlightened, closed-minded — you pick the adjective. While often I am at odds with the opinions of any of these given groups, sometimes I am not. In any case I can’t help but think, “Who’s next? When is it my turn to be marginalized by GroupThink?”

    Thanks for a thoughtful read,

    Laurie @ Foolery

  5. It’s not an easy balance. And the bigger problem, for me at least, is being stubborn in my passions. However I think these moments bring issues to the forefront that might otherwise not be discussed for what they are, or only in ‘nice’ terms.

    Not everything is nice, or calm, or happy. And then comes the fall out.

    For instance, as Karoli points out, this current election cycle has everyone screaming and namecalling. But once you scream and name call, then what happens? Do you reach out or do you sit in your corner while the other side sits in their’s?

    I’ve been called some very nasty things in the past 24-48 hours (not the mention the past 8 months) yet I continue to come out of my corner. And I think that’s where the real passion comes in. When level heads prevail and discussions are had, I can concede wrong and agree to disagree, because the passion also brings compassion.

    I think the bigger risk isn’t the passion, but those with passion who refuse to leave their corner.

  6. But after Nov 4, you still have to live with the people that your passion offends. So then what?

    But once you scream and name call, then what happens? Do you reach out or do you sit in your corner while the other side sits in their’s?

    I don’t know. Do you?

  7. Here’s another issue to chew on: Two people might be equally passionate, but the relationship may be inherently unequal.

    “Thought leaders are the ones who know how to tap into passion to accelerate their goals, but know when to tap the brake and fall back on relationships to enhance their goals.”

    See, that’s interesting. Because in the blogosphere or whatever you want to call this corner we’re in these days, the “leaders” don’t need the relationship with you. You may need it with them. Let me make a slight edit and tell me what y’all think of this proposition:

    “Thought leaders know how to harness the passion of others and forge relationships with them to accelerate a goal. But if they tap the brake on their own passion once the result is achieved, the other one may not be able to ‘fall back’ on the relationship because it was unequal at the core, though the shared passion may have been equal once.”

  8. Yea, I do. But I’m OUT of my corner. You still in yours?

    And seriously, sorry if my post offended. I don’t know what else to say other than I think dialogue is necessary but I can’t have it with a wall. And the ones I’m having with others i offended have been great.

  9. Erin, Your post was not dialogue. Your post was a bludgeon insulting anyone and everyone who dare disagree with you. That is not dialogue, Erin. That is you screaming like a banshee and hoping that everyone capitulates to your view of the world.

    Your passion is admirable. Destroy relationships in the process, if you’d like. I’m out of my corner as well.

    Obviously, you are only one target of this post so don’t take it too personally. You’re not the only one.

  10. That was a very well written post Aaron and it is what I think social media is about–not bragging rights to how many blog readers you have or how many followers on Twitter you have nor how many magazines quoted you as an “expert,” but more on the quality of relationships you have built that fits into your passion. I realize you aren’t talking about social media here (I would venture to say politics) but social media is what I am passionate about and maybe more so because I am passionate about people.

  11. I’ve never been a fan of people who achieve notoriety through shock tactics or being the “biggest bitch”. It’s a one-note melody that gets boring really, really fast… not to mention that it lacks consideration, complexity or originality. How hard is it to shovel hate onto something you don’t like?

    Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to like that tone and respect it as (dare I say it) “maverick”.

    I think the true innovators are the ones who build community, who earn respect for showing respect, who listen to opposing views without being ready to pounce at the slightest sign of weakness, and who get that “no nonsense” is far too simplistic a notion when you are dealing with people invested in their “nonsense.”

    I think people who can engage in thoughtful debate stand out far, far more than the “no BS” types.

  12. Unbelievable… I can’t believe people actually read this stuff.

    Just kidding, buddy… it was a nice post, actually, for examining, and kicking off, a bigger conversation. I think anything in which one engages really comes down to “what kind of result do I THINK I’m aiming for?” and comparing it to, “what kind of result did I actually get?” and then, if there’s a discrepency, “why do I keep getting A when I think I should be getting B”

    As for Erin, love conquers all, baby…

    Sam
    ps. Aaron, for your info, I found this post via Steve Garfield’s Twitter tweet and I’m subscribing… cheers!

  13. Online or Offline – passion has often damaged relationships. Great post Aaron.

    For me? I prefer not to be a “Thought Leader” – I actually find the term offensive… as it sort of reeks to me of gurus and sheeple. But I prefer the concept of “Action Leader” – showing people how to turn their thoughts, beliefs and passions into actions.

    This election has caused deep divisions amongst many people. But I’ve opted to look at it as solely part of the many faceted aspects we must deal with as friends.

    I will not let my relationships with my friends be impacted by it negatively. Because even though I might disagree with their conclusions or actions, I do understand that their passionate side is part of what I love about them… and will not hold that against them.

  14. I have a rule that I follow. It’s the golden rule. In general, I might say something negative about a company, a point of view or a city, but I make sure not to be specific about the people. If you wrong me, I don’t forget those kinds of things.

    About the election- I had felt that I could move on from all of this bitterness at the right after the general election, but if someone comes into office who has declared my point of view un-American, it will become difficult to continue to BE an American.

  15. Great post Aaron. We need passion to achieve goals, but we are probably going to need relationships too, in most instances. We may disagree passionately in one arena and yet in another our thoughts and goals may be in total alignment.We may never have the opportunity to find that out if disagreement in one area has driven us apart.
    I think is it always best to respect the other person, regardless of disagreement. Not always easy to do but if we remember there are different things that may be driving each person, and we cannot know what those drivers may be, we can at least respect that we all do the best we know how to do at any given time.Hopefully the hard times we are going through and that may be in our future will bring out the very best in all of us.

  16. I think we all use our blogs for different reasons. Apparently I use mine to scream like a banshee.

    My beliefs insult you. Your beliefs insult me. Wars start. For real. Actual wars of this stuff for millions upon millions of years.

    You’re right. My post was not dialogue. However the comments did turn into it. So out of my screams did come some good.

    Your posts sometimes are not dialogue. And you’ve admitted to that much in this post. Your words have insulted me more than once, yet I understand and attempt to listen to where your passion comes from. The entire relationship with you tends to trump that screaming banshee passion for me, but…that’s me.

    There’s work in keeping those relationships, to be sure. But I’ve found it to be worth it.

  17. In the Great Depression they also had entertainment. Things to keep your mind of the troubling times and maybe that argument you were having with your neighbor.

    No matter what happens after Nov. 4th, I still got a lot of things on my queue at Netflix and plenty to watch on my DVR.

    On a serious note, as someone who has spent more time working on her internal network of blogs and community building relationships, we have a small amount of flaming that does happen, but that is really rare. And I think I might have said this before, but I believe that is because I work in a world of transparency, where your name is your brand and your blog, your wiki contributions, are all connected to you.

    We want conversation and different points of view, but not to the sake of feelings getting hurt and trampling on people to get to the top. Your street cred, content, and contributions are what makes you.

    Since my presence on the “internet” was mostly all about music promotion in the past. I did seem to get insults and false accusations thrown on me in my industry circles, but all that fades when you consistently produce quality work and no one remembers the BS that bunches your panties for 5 minutes.

    Now that I am focusing on getting the information out about Government 2.0 and our use of Social Media, I haven’t found anyone who has made me riled up enough to get upset. Sure, I have seen erroneous information put out by someone I could even call a colleague. I would rather put out the corrections through other means (i.e. trusted media outlets), even if my name wasn’t attached.

    My personal opinion, if something makes you heated. Walk away from your computer, put down your blackberry. Its best to come back to it with no emotion and just put out the facts. I think people will trust you on the fact you are passionate, but not letting your emotions drip on your keyboard.

    I maybe naive, but I am just speaking from my experience.

  18. Weighing in one more time to include a comment relative to social media:

    I found your blog, Aaron, through Twitter, and I followed your link through Twitter. A fluke for this month, actually, because I am largely disengaging myself from Twitter during the election season. The atmosphere is toxic just before/during/after a presidential debate. It seems there is room for only one political opinion there, and, while I know there are people I follow of all political persuasions, the more conservative types are completely silent during debates.

    For full disclosure, I’m a lifelong California Republican who will soon re-register as an independent and supports Barack Obama. How’s that for covering most of the bases? And yet I feel totally alienated by the level of intolerance and unadulterated HATRED I find on Twitter during a Big Campaign Moment. Funny that I should take personally the viciousness that is only halfway aimed at me, but there you go.

    And when the election is over, will I make nice and have harmless Twitter (or blog) conversations with those Twitterers/bloggers? I’ll try. I guess that would be coming out of my corner.

    Thanks again for a very relevant and thought-provoking post,

    Laurie @ Foolery
    “Poking People With a Stick Since 1965″

  19. Aaron – I value your thinking. And what your remarks bring to mind is the impact of listening, especially as passion drives -or potentially threatens- relationships.

    It seems if active listening is apart of passionate exchange, then possibly the relating will continue to grow after a disagreement, political season, etc.

    And then again too, I wonder if another aspect of thought leadership is taking one’s passion for ideas seriously yet not necessarily one’s self.

  20. One of the few things I remember Obama saying early on during a speech was to “…seek what you have in common with the other person before you see what is different”.

    In my maturity, I can compartmentalize people and although I’m not a fan, that comment resonates with me almost daily in my interactions. Excellent post. glad we crossed paths.

  21. Excellent post Aaron. During this election, I’ve seen people who I thought I knew well, change right before my eyes into racist, mean individuals. I have also learned a few new things about how I feel regarding certain issues.

    It’s been a growing experience for me. In the past I admittedly have let my passion overrule my good sense and I’ve regretted it every time. This has mostly been work related. Not with friendships, thank goodness.

    It’s a time for passon AND patience.

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