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merit and passion

I’m reading a white paper on creativity by Hugh MacLeod.  Some you may know him as the guy who draws cartoons on the back of business cards (  In the paper, he shares his tips and advice on how to be creative.

One of those was this: “Merit can be bought.  Passion can’t.”

While MacLeod was talking on the creative level, I’d like to venture out into leadership issues.

If you’re the leader of an organization and need an accountant who can keep the dollars and cents straight, that’s about finding merit — or competence.  If you’re looking for an accountant who is competent AND believes in what you’re doing so much that he or she will work long hours and evangelize any vendor that comes within twenty feet … that’s about passion.

Passion is an intangible.  Passion is an internal fire in the belly that can’t be contained.

It’s not that having merit (or competence) is bad.  Not by any means.  As a leader, there are times when you need to fill a position based on merit without much consideration of passion.  If they have passion, it’s a bonus.  If not, they’re still competent.

However, there are other positions or assignments that must go to those with both merit and passion.  Those who are on the front lines working with customers should have merit (know what they’re talking about) and passion (believe in what they’re doing).  Anyone who becomes the public face of your organization — to vendors, clients, consumers, attenders, members — must have passion.

Why?  Merit without passion brings your credibility into question.  In other words, you may be technically correct and still leave your customer wondering, “Does she believe in what she’s doing?”

I can remember years ago (in the early 1990’s) sitting around the table with fellow pastors.  One of them asked, “How many of you would attend your church if you weren’t paid to go there?”  Nobody raised their hand.  It wasn’t surprising that none of our churches were going.  We were all very highly competent people — what we lacked was passion.  Due to the condition of our particular denomination, none of us were all that enthusiastic about our environment.  While we may have preached sermons with merit, our lack of passion unknowingly crept out into the people we served.

So, the next time you are filling a position, ask yourself: “Does this position require only merit or does it require merit and passion?”  And pick accordingly.