Passion and enthusiasm: why they’re the key to strategic planning

Passion is more than fun. It’s more than just an interest. I think it’s something that speaks to your values and to your gut: something that really propels you forward. For myself, I’m passionate about all things career.’  

Carol Ceniza-Levine, Founder of Six-Figure Start.

For me, the key human skill you’ll need to create and develop quality plans; to find the right people to work with, and to maintain momentum and generativity, is passion. In my public sector career I was often criticised for being too enthusiastic and passionate about the work. Such views were seen as unprofessional. But if I reflect back on my working life, and think of the times I used those human skills, it was a time of my best work! Now I see it as a vital strength in planning my work… It’s what encourages other people to get motivated and get things done.

Culturally, the British have struggled historically with passion and enthusiasm. It’s seemingly non-British. But the passion and enthusiasm expressed by participants and the British public over the London Olympic Games last summer point to a very different view. So things might be changing! Here’s a couple of examples about the importance of such human skills…

The business adviser

Following an Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry and one of its tools, SOAR (strengths opportunities aspirations and results), a Liverpool business adviser and expert on social enterprises decided to drop the normal diagnostic SWOT-based client interaction, and replace it with questions around peoples’ strengths, and what motivated them to start a business. She noticed people begin to talk and share their passion and enthusiasm for the business venture, and the quality of both the interactions and business plans improved

The recruitment for non-executive directors for Liverpool Vision

Liverpool Vision is an urban regeneration company responsible for much of the co-ordination and delivery of regeneration in the city of Liverpool, UK, up until March 2013. It had a board with a number of non-executive directors recruited from the private sector, as well as local politicians. The non-executive roles were volunteers in the post and received no remuneration, giving their time and professional advice freely outside of board meeting responsibilities. It’s interesting to note that one of the criteria for selection was a passion for Liverpool the city and its people.


Henry Mintzberg, writing in the paper The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning in the Harvard Business Review*, identifies that: ‘One of the problems of much recent strategic planning is that it represents a calculating style of management, not a committing style. Managers with a committing style engage people in a journey. They lead in such a way that everyone on the journey helps shape its course. As a result, enthusiasm inevitably builds along the way. Those with a calculating style fix on a destination and calculate what the group must do to get there, with no concern for the members preferences. But calculated strategies have no value in and of themselves; to paraphrase the words of the sociologist Philip Selznick strategies take on value only as committed people enthuse them with energy.

That’s why passion and enthusiasm has an important place in quality planning.

Passion is just listening to your heart and not intellectualising too much. Go with what you really feel called to. Passion really comes from a deep part of your core of your heart: the motivation for who you are. It can range from being a world-class flutist to caring about keeping your plot of a garden organic and sustainable. To me, there’s nothing too small to be passionate about.’ 

Pamela Hawley, founder and CEO of Universal Giving(TM)

Why is it important and what does it do?

  • • Provides drive and focus
  • • Supports resilience when there are barriers
  • • Encourages creativity
  • • Provides heart and the capacity to lead
  • • Can be infectious and support people
  • • Makes you feel good and supports well being
  • • Fosters positivity and generativity


Exercise: Appreciative conversation protocol: identifying and supporting your passion

Here’s an Appreciative Inquiry protocol you might like to undertake with a colleague. In pairs, designate one person A and the other B, and then ask all the questions of each other. On completion of the conversation, have a dialogue about what you learnt and how’d you continue to apply these skills in your work.

  1. Think of a time or experience when you’ve been passionate and enthusiastic about a piece of work you undertook. Describe what happened; why it was successful; who was involved; what were the elements of its success and how did it make you feel?
  2. What are the things you are passionate and enthusiastic about and why are you? Please share examples…
  3. What have been the challenges in being passionate about your work and how did you overcome them?
  4. What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a colleague to help them to engage more with their passions and enthusiasms?

Have a go and see what happens!

Tim Slack

For more information about Appreciative Inquiry and especially AI conversation protocols, have a look and buy AI essentials – a practical guide to Appreciative Inquiry


* The fall and Rise of Strategic Planning, Henry Mintzberg: Harvard Business Review, January to February 1994