Let Them See You Sweat

If you’ve been lucky enough to hear Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft and new owner of the Clippers, speak in public, then you know it’s a wonderful experience you’ll never forget. If you haven’t, here is my advice: sit as far back as possible. I have never seen someone sweat more profusely and occasionally, unintentionally spit. Some have suggested that it’s orchestrated, but I doubt it. Ballmer cannot restrain his passion. If passion for business has a scent, you can smell it in any room with Steve Ballmer. And I’m not sure that’s 100% a good thing… I can’t wait to have Ballmer in LA cheering on the Clippers, as the Staples Center staff mops up the floor.

Richard Branson is a similar story. This guy doesn’t just build an airline; he jumps out of the airplane. He dresses like a pirate and occasionally shows up to act as a flight attendant. I can’t think of a greater example of someone who is passionate to the point of fanaticism. He doesn’t care what anyone else is thinking (and I’m sure there are plenty who consider him a nutcase). When you watch him, you get the feeling that he’s going to succeed by sheer force alone.

Mark Zuckerberg is almost the polar opposite but there is fire in him as well. He doesn’t dress the part of the CEO and instead aligns himself with the people who built his company, young developers. Zuckerberg singlehandedly reclaimed the word hacking and made it a positive in business and technology. He doesn’t scream, sweat, or spit and you won’t likely see him jump out of a plane but he embodies what it is to be part of Facebook.

Despite these and many more great examples, we get contrary advice all the time:

Dress like a professional.

Act more reserved.

Take a deep breath.

Look thoughtful.

Speak slowly.

Rehearse your pitch.

Polish your demeanor.

Be mature.

Don’t get overexcited.

This advice may work for corporate America, but I couldn’t disagree more with that advice as an entrepreneur, a manager, or a general employee in a startup.

Here are the reasons you should let them see you sweat:

1. Small Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, and (Especially) Aspiring Entrepreneurs

When you’re attempting to start or grow your business, passion is your number one asset. Your partners, bankers, and venture capitalists all know you’re new at this. There is no way they will be inspired by you with your legs crossed, nodding thoughtfully and speaking in carefully metered sentences (and if they do want to see that, they’re probably not the right partner for a fresh, hungry entrepreneur anyway). They want to know that you are so passionate and exuberant that there are no obstacles that you won’t charge through in pursuit of your goals.

2. Managers, Leaders, and Anyone Else Who Influences Others

Passion is contagious, and a leader’s passion quickly transfers to the rest of his or her team. Of course, indifference and boredom are contagious as well. Which do you want to project? The good news is that enthusiasm easily trumps negativity. It’s impossible not to feel engaged in a room with the Ballmers and Bransons of the world: become the kind of leader that transmits that kind of energy to your team.

3. Employees on an Upward Trajectory

People want to be around passionate people, and this includes your co-­‐workers, your boss, and maybe even higher ups. I guarantee that if you’re showing passion for your work, your boss’s boss can’t help but notice, and opportunities will unfold around you.

In addition to being enthusiastic about your role and your company, what else do you love?

Are you passionate about the environment? Throw yourself into organizing an office recycling campaign. At my office, we granted a request for Scotch aficionados to start a whiskey club, and allowed yoga enthusiasts to hire a part-­‐time yogi. Even though those things don’t have much to do with our core business, we believe that passion in any area translates into passion for work. And the potential payoff for even a small increase in passion in the workplace cannot be overstated.

How is passion demonstrated in your workplace?

Jeff Stibel
About the author: 

 Jeff Stibel is the Vice Chairman of Dun and Bradstreet.  He was the Chairman, President and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. before the company was sold to D&B.  Jeff serves on Boards at Autobytel, the University of Southern California, Tufts University and Brown University.  Before his current assignment, Mr. Stibel worked in President, CEO and Chairman roles at Web.com and true[X].  In addition to holding a Master’s Degree in Brain Sciences from Brown University, Jeff has been published by McMillan and Harvard Business Press. Follow him on Twitter.