Can Leaders Be Too Passionate?

Passion is a characteristic often sought after by organizations, especially in leaders. Passion gives people drive and motivation, helps them focus on goals, and helps them attain high levels of productivity. But what happens when passion becomes obsession and good leaders engage in abusive behavior? Researchers (Astakhova & Ho, 2023) began to investigate this phenomenon by looking at different factors that may influence this transition.


In their first study, the researchers used data from 143 pairs of leaders and followers. They found that leaders who made their work performance a core part of their identity and self-esteem experienced much higher levels of obsessive passion. This obsessive passion led to much higher levels of abusive supervision.

Building on their preliminary findings, the second study involved 177 participants rating various attributes of their leaders. The study found that leaders who made their performance a core part of their identity and self-esteem had higher levels of obsessive passion for their work. That performance pressure and obsessive passion then led to the leaders burning out and experiencing exhaustion and disengagement. In turn, this led to even higher levels of abusive supervision.


Leaders having passion for their work is by no means a bad thing. But there are certain conditions under which passion becomes destructive. By identifying these conditions, organizations can better prepare themselves and their leaders to recognize and protect against potential negative outcomes. According to the authors, these are the steps that organizations can take:

  • Don’t adopt an overall view that passion is always a virtue. Learn to recognize the boundaries of when passion is helpful and when it is harmful; put boundaries in place for when passion starts to become destructive.
  • Encourage and help leaders to disentangle work performance from their identity and self-esteem. Redirect leaders to focus on self-growth and self-determination rather than pure performance; remind them that they are more than what they produce or how they perform.
  • Provide resources that allow passionate leaders to engage in their work without burning out. These can include self-monitoring strategies, team and trust building exercises, and designating times to build positive leader-follower relationships.


Astakhova, M. N., & Ho, V. T. (2023). Passionate leaders behaving badly: Why do leaders become obsessively passionate and engage in abusive supervision? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 28(1), 40–51.

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