Can a Leader Be Too Enthusiastic at Work?

January 3, 2023

Enthusiastic Leader Excitement

Recently, I met with a group concerned about the enthusiastic behavior of some of their managers. They said, “We don’t need our managers to be cheerleaders! A leader who is too enthusiastic will lose credibility and influence here.”

I thought about some people I have met that have been over-the-top enthusiastic. Indeed, these people did not seem authentic or believable, but many OTHER factors caused their loss of credibility from my perspective.

The message from this organization was that it is okay to be positive, but too much enthusiastic behavior in a leader can be a negative trait. Since Zenger Folkman has lots of data on leaders and good measures of enthusiastic behavior, I looked at the data to see if I could find any negative impact from too much enthusiasm.

The Data on Enthusiastic Leaders

I looked at a dataset with assessments on 118,043 managers rated by their own managers, peers, direct reports, and others. On average, each manager was assessed by 13 raters. I created an enthusiastic behavior index with three items.

  • Brings to the group a high level of energy and enthusiastic behavior.
  • Energizes people to achieve exceptional results.
  • Is energized and excited to take on challenging goals for which they are held personally accountable.

One way to look at the impact of enthusiastic behavior is to analyze the level of engagement of their direct reports.

  • Would an unenthusiastic manager have low levels of engagement?
  • Would a highly enthusiastic manager have higher levels of engagement? As enthusiastic behavior increased to very high levels, would engagement go up or down?

The Enthusiasm Index

 In our data, we measured engagement with a five-item index asking direct reports if they agreed or disagreed with the following statements.

  1. Are they confident the organization they work for will achieve its goals?
  2. Is their work environment a place where people want to go the extra mile?
  3. Would they recommend the organization as a good place to work?
  4. Do they think about quitting their jobs and going to another organization?
  5. Are they satisfied with the organization as a place to work?

The graph below shows the manager’s enthusiastic behavior level by their direct reports’ engagement level. Note a steady increase in engagement as enthusiastic behavior increases. Leaders in the top 1% on enthusiasm had direct reports with 9 percentile points more than those at the 98th percentile. It does not appear from this analysis that being a highly enthusiastic leader has any negative impact.

Enthusiastic Leader Study

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The World Needs More Enthusiastic Leaders

We did a study where we measured the level of enthusiasm of top-level managers and their direct reports who were also managers. Matching up 6,524 cases, we found if a manager was in the bottom 10% on their level of enthusiasm, their direct reports tended to be rated below average on their effectiveness at enthusiasm. Those managers in the top 10% had direct reports at the 59th percentile on enthusiasm. It seems that leaders are passing along their enthusiasm or doom and gloom.

Enthusiastic Leader Study

The Passion Tax on Enthusiastic Leaders

In one popular Twitter rant, leading thinker Adam Grant expressed, “If you love your job, people are more willing to ask you to do extra work unpaid…managers: it’s time to stop taking advantage of enthusiasm. End the passion tax.” It seems that the exploitation of enthusiasm has people worried that if they show their passion, then they will be asked to do more. A workplace void of any passion, excitement, and enthusiasm is essentially a day prison.

Some leaders purposefully hide their enthusiastic behavior, believing the need to be calm, cool, and unemotional. They are hiding one of their potentially greatest strengths.

“When everything around us seems to be coming apart, a leader who has a passion for what he/she does is essential. Such a spirit fuels the engine of enthusiasm needed to spark the enterprise. More importantly, such passion is vital to convincing others that the work matters. It is easy to get discouraged by today’s market news, and so it is vital that someone, be it the CEO or another senior leader, serves as the organization’s designated cheerleader.” – Jon Baldoni

Showing enthusiastic behavior impacts their effectiveness as not only a leader but also the enthusiasm of their direct reports.

A Few Observations About Enthusiastic Leaders

  1. If you are enthusiastic, do not be afraid to show your enthusiasm to others. There is a statistically significant positive impact that comes from being enthusiastic.
  2. Being more enthusiastic builds higher levels of employee engagement.
  3. Enthusiastic behavior builds and leverages other leadership capabilities.
  4. Your enthusiastic behavior gets passed on to others in the organization.

This is a new year and a new start. Find a new way to stop holding back and start spreading your passion and enthusiasm in ways that uplift yourself and others.

-Joe Folkman,  CEO of Zenger Folkman


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Other Learning Resources on Energy and Enthusiasm