The Purist Trap: Why Your Enthusiasm May Be Off-Putting

“I’m not sure he really believes in this.”  The project manager was frustrated because he felt like his boss was just giving lip service to his initiative.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re passionate about something, yet you wonder if the people around you are just going through the motions?

You’re diligent about the project management system, but your boss only refers to it occasionally.  Perhaps you’re totally committed to clean healthy eating, yet your spouse continually brings up the cost of organic.

When you’re zealous about something it’s frustrating when other people don’t share your passion.

Recently, I was working with a group of executives to identify their organizational customer-driven Noble Purpose, and create a strategy behind it.  Members of the team were concerned that their boss wasn’t totally on board.  One said, “Our boss says he believes in this, he seems to care about customers.  But at the end of the day, I think he’s more focused on the money.”

It’s a common scenario.  People are excited to learn that organizations with a noble purpose bigger than money – companies who focus on customer-impact – create more engaged and profitable businesses than organizations that focus on internal financial metrics.  “What?  We don’t have to be a slave to these monthly financials? “

But it’s only a matter of time before the purists emerge.  They’re the ones who believe that any talk of financial goals detracts from the nobility of their cause.  Someone brings out a spreadsheet, and they shout, “We’re not about profits, we’re about customers!”  At which point the CEO’s head starts to spin around, and so does mine, as I remind them, “It’s both/and people, purpose and profit are linked.”

The problem with being a purist (about anything) is that blinds you to the holistic nature of things.  And it often causes you to ignore the very valid goals and agendas of others.

When you find yourself descending into the zealot role (Believe me, I’ve been there myself, and will surely visit that territory again) it’s helpful to remember these three truisms about human nature:

1. People can care about more than one thing.
Just because the other person doesn’t care as much as you do about the subject, doesn’t mean that they don’t care at all. The spouse who doesn’t share your zeal for organic may be trying to juggle financial priorities.  Not everyone has the luxury of being all in for one thing.

2. If they care enough to start, they care enough.
If your boss isn’t super excited about your new system, but is willing to try it, 47522439_sthat’s enough. Many of the people who supported the civil rights movement   weren’t willing to risk their lives marching or sitting at lunch counters.  But they supported it enough to make it happen.  If that level of support was good enough for MLK and his team to change the world, it’s good enough for you to ignite your own change.

3. You don’t know what’s in someone’s heart unless they tell you.
The team who wasn’t sure their boss believed in Noble Purpose had actually misinterpreted their boss’s quiet, engineering, spreadsheet-oriented methodical nature as an absence of passion. They were wrong.

4. If you want to get things done, you have to meet people where they are.  Purists may be filled with passion, but if you want to change the world, it takes all kinds.