On Being Possessed

Enthusiasm comes from entheos “divinely inspired, possessed by a god.”

College football games are populated by the possessed. Fans paint their faces, wear bizarre costumes, and act like lunatics.


Enthusiasm seems frivolous. In the 1650’s “enthusiasm” acquired a derogatory sense, “excessive religious emotion.”

Smart people don’t shout like idiots. They speak in elongated tones like British nannies.

Reserve seems dignified. We don’t want erratic leaders, who paint their faces and wear football helmets. Power and dignity belong together.

You don’t have to be cuckoo to be possessed.


Give yourself fully to whatever you do.

Low-enthusiasm doesn’t serve you, your team, and your organization well. Don’t jump around like a knucklehead. But half-hearted commitments are fully dissatisfying.


Low-enthusiasm hides behind the faults of others.

Lousy leadership is a common excuse for low-enthusiasm. My boss doesn’t make decisions, for example. 

For some reason, a lousy manager, leader, or Board is an excuse for low-enthusiasm. I have a news flash.

You’ll never be enthusiastic if enthusiasm depends on others.

All managers, leaders, and Boards are lousy in some areas. They’re over-involved and give too much direction. They’re under-involved and seem detached.

Choose enthusiasm:

  1. Don’t show up with a painted face. Enthusiasm at work isn’t being an idiot.
  2. Agree that high-enthusiasm takes you further than half-heartedness.
  3. Notice that low-enthusiasm is cousin to unhappiness.
  4. Adapt to authority. If the Board changes direction, go all-in or get all out. (Don’t make snap decisions.) When your manager changes direction, explain the impact and start rowing.
  5. Aim high. Lofty goals require enthusiasm.

Bonus: Be enthusiastic because it’s who YOU aspire to be, even if you’re surrounded by downers.

Leadership choice:

Decide if low-enthusiasm takes you where you want to go. If it does, maybe you shouldn’t go there.

What blocks enthusiasm in leaders?

How might leaders develop and practice enthusiasm?