Enthusiasm, Work and Responsibility

By: Robert White Friday September 13, 2013 comments

The World Business Academy estimates that 30% of workers report “no enthusiasm for their work.”  My direct experience of founding and running companies like Lifespring, ARC International and Extraordinary People – which includes working with over 1,300,000 people in our seminars – indicates a much higher number.  The 80% figure Dr. Mark Albion quotes from a Wilson Learning study is probably closer to being accurate.  

Why do so many people report no enthusiasm for their work?  

Answering this question is crucial if we want to be more effective leaders.  One approach to looking at the root causes of this malaise is to look through the lens of responsibility.  Certainly, being victimized by the lack of enthusiasm so many people feel about their vocation is not useful and won’t contribute to a positive solution. executive leadership coaching denver

I’ve spent the last thirty years studying the power of individual responsibility and how claiming responsibility is a key component of creating effective individuals and systems – including workplaces.  One of my prior entrepreneurial efforts was a  company named ARC -- an acronym for Awareness, Responsibility and Communication ….. so Responsibility was central to our name and to all that we taught through our experiential learning events and executive coaching. 

The responsibility for creating and maintaining this debilitating, expensive and sad reality of “no enthusiasm” is shared by 

  • the companies for whom these individuals work (and specifically their management – individually and collectively)

  • by our general culture of entitlement and passivity and, not least of all,

  • by the executive leaders themselves. 

My observation is that in most of the management literature and business reporting that addresses this issue, the company and its leadership are usually focused on as “the cause” and our greater societal culture and the individual are either completely ignored or their causal role is minimized. 

This word “enthusiasm”, is worthy of some attention.  Its origin is the Greek, en theos, or literally, with God.  My conclusion is that we are called enthusiastic when we are in a state of being “with God”, feeling one with spirit and connected to our essential self, our purpose, vision and values.  

Sharing that observation in an organizational context is a problem for some people; however, Fortune Magazine’s cover story about spirit in the workplace made it easier for all of us who share the belief that everything is spirit or energy or even spiritual, to come out from under our respective rocks. 

If you can accept the “with God” interpretation for the source and meaning of enthusiasm, and accept that responsibility for generating enthusiasm is shared, here’s my perspective on the three major responsibilities for spirit, thus enthusiasm, being missing in action in most workplaces:robert white denver leader

1. Organizations and Their Leadership … continue to be in denial about the power of culture to affect people and their bottom line results.  Thanks to the pioneering research done by Dr. Daniel Dennison at the University of Michigan and then expanded on by ARC’s former Vice President, Dr. Caroline Fisher, we now know that actualizing specific, measurable practices leading to a healthy, productive culture is the single most important responsibility of leadership that wants to create a high performance organization. 

 In other words, if leaders are not taking personal responsibility for the development and maintenance of a positive culture as a major priority, they are not doing their jobs.  In this regard, Harrison Owen said it so well about his role as an organizational consultant:  “My first question of leadership is always some version of ‘How’s the spirit around here?’”  

I would add to that question my judgment that if the spirit is not good, it is a major indictment of organizational leadership’s failure to liberate the spirit resident in all workers when they are clear on the purpose, vision, values and mission of their work. 

2. The Culture is unsupportive of enthusiasm.  We could write a book here and some great ones have already been written.  Our celebrity focused, outer (vs. inner) directed and “I’m entitled without earning it” culture has created an environment wherein enthusiasm is NOT COOL.  With all we don’t know about people and their motivations, one reality proven again and again is the power of group norms ….. and many of the norms about working are abysmally dysfunctional.

 Many people sit before television screens for hours soaking up powerful images of work as something to avoid or complain about or sabotage.  When was the last time you heard of a figure in popular culture exclaiming how excited they are about the privilege of working?  Or bragging about the contribution they are making to people through their work?  Or sharing how happy and satisfied their customers are and how proud they are of being in service to others? 

Most people reading these thoughts don’t watch much television and I highly recommend some channel surfing the wasteland of the afternoon talk shows.  Remember as you do that advertisers are paying big bucks for a huge audience watching these portrayals of victims as celebrities and heroes! 

I assert this message spills over into the general culture and affects workplaces unless strongly acted on by an outside force … and that takes us back to the first point about leadership and management’s responsibility to interrupt the culture and model responsibility. 

3.  The Individual is definitely not supported in being enthusiastic.  Going off to work with enthusiasm or sharing an enthusiastic personal experience of work or taking personal responsibility for your experience of work requires a truly clear, courageous and committed person … especially given our current culture and peer pressure.

 For several years I personally led a program titled, “The Aspen Experience” which focused on participants claiming their legacy, declaring what non-material qualities they will leave behind.  This is consistent with the Jewish practice of writing ethical wills. robert white

A true story we share in this seminar is titled “The Dancing Toll Taker” about a man who dances inside his tollbooth at the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay. When interviewed he acknowledged that his job was in a cramped space, it was repetitive and often customers were rude.  He went on to say the job also gave him the freedom to express himself through dance and that it brought him greater joy, thus a greater connection to spirit which he could then share with his commuter customers.

One message from his story is that even if the organization fails to communicate the deeper purpose and meaning of work, even if the culture is non-supportive of work and promotes a victim culture, every individual can still choose to find a deeper meaning in their work thus releasing spirit …. and enthusiasm.  And, wouldn’t you rather be in the presence of enthusiasm? 

Our Extraordinary Action Steps will speak to what you can do to generate more enthusiasm for yourself and your organization.  Read on!


Generating enthusiasm is challenging because God or spirit can only be experienced, not understood.  Leaders who are committed to improving the climate in their organizations can begin with 

  • Developing an awareness of the current reality and the personal and organizational costs resulting from the continued lack of enthusiasm.

  • Taking personal responsibility for acting to improve it.

  •  Communicate early, often and late about the organization’s deeper purpose, vision, values and mission.

I’m personally not recommending bringing “God” to the workplace, even with Fortune’s support.  Our increasingly diverse workforce would seem to argue against any set of spiritual practices working for everyone.  However, we can begin to address Harrison Owen’s question “How’s the spirit around here?”  We can begin to talk about how energy and spirit are the source of all results.  We can declare how our work is meaningful, how it contributes to people and society and that we all need to develop some connection to that deeper meaning. 

There are multiple reasons not to try generating more enthusiasm for work and the projected outcomes of such a strategy are clear – being less competitive, personal distress and a steadily declining experience of work.  

There are just as many reasons to “just do it” and the payoffs are legion – profitability, improved personal health and a future we will be proud to leave to our children. 

I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities!  How about you?


Robert White

About the Author: Robert White

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