Joy: Why It Should Matter to the CEO

I just finished reading Born To Run by Christopher McDougall.  I won’t give you a whole book report, but one part of the story is etched in my brain.  The story is based around a tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara and their amazing ability to run many miles (50 to 100 plus) at a time.  Legendary running coach Joe Vigil was watching two Tarahumara runners late in a 100 mile race they would eventually win, and it struck him that they were smiling.  Vigil had spent 50 years studying runners and attempting to define the physiological keys that would make people faster, only to discover the last piece to the puzzle for him was character.  As it is stated in the book “Vigil’s notion of character wasn’t toughness.  It was compassion.  Kindness. Love.”  The Tarahumara had never forgotten their love of running, and the joy they felt oozed out of them even after 50+ miles.

Joy is the  key ingredient in opening our hearts, minds, and bodies up for a whole new level of performance.  In Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind he makes a case for the presence of play and laughter in the workplace and the impact it has on innovation and engagement.  What happens when we lack joy in our work? Dr. Stuart Brown wrote in his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul that younger people suffer the same “crisis of the soul that comes from pouring every moment of your time and every ounce of your being into other’ expectations.”

As a leader, take a pulse of your organization by walking around.  Are people smiling?  Do they approach you to say hello or do they wait for you to say it?  Watch people in your lobby being greeted.  Is there any warmth?  At 5pm, how many cars are left in the parking lot?  How often do you hear laughter?  When you ask the question Why do you work? what kinds of answers do you hear?  How would you answer that question?

Imagine what a day at work would be like if we celebrated just being there.  What if we brought a little of the Tarahumara to work.  Imagine the difference it would make in everything that we do.  The best news for the bottom line – joy is free.  The best news for everyone – joy is a personal choice.