Joy – 3 Steps to Create More as a Leader

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I participated in a panel discussion around the ‘new normal’ in Michigan business that was sponsored by CORP! Magazine.  If there is one message everyone is sure of it is that the economic recovery will be slow and the main thing individuals look for to measure improvement (jobs / income) might not get back to normal depending on your profession.  Regardless of the speed of the rebound, there are things leaders can do to create more energy in the workplace.  This also applies to followers.  We need to create more JOY.

What is joy?  Joy is not a superficial adjective, it goes deeper than that.  The Joy I am talking about is a noun, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is a source or cause of delight.  Words are important, and the word source jumps out at me because it makes me think of a deep flowing spring that fills a lake or starts a river.  Something that we know is down there because we see it emerge and create something powerful and beautiful.  Thinking of that, as leaders we need to be a source for more joy in our workplace.  Here are three ways to make that happen.

1.  You first! Joy is a choice.  Being able to look at what we do, at whatever the situation is, and commit to being hopeful is the first step.  Jim Collins presented what he called the Stockdale Paradox in his book Good to Great, which was to “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.”  A first step, make it a habit to smile and greet people.  Another move is starting each speech by recognizing a couple of people for their attitude as well as a specific accomplishment in the past week.  

2.  Ask others to join: It has been a tough few years for workers.  At one point I saw a statistic that 69% of people had either taken a pay cut or lost their job. A simple first move for leaders, start every meeting with your executive team by asking people to share what they see is going right this week.  Cover the tough stuff, but start with the positive stuff.  For any name mentioned make a point to have people email them or call them after the meeting to congratulate them. 

3.  Allow space for the opposite – but get back to joy: I worked with someone who used to ask for what he called a “Carnegie free zone” every now and then.  It was a break from the great Dale Carnegie’s mantra to never engage in the 3 C’s (criticizing, condemning, complaining).  This zone was 5 minutes of unloading the thoughts and frustrations of the day.  At the end, the goal was to ask a simple question – “So what can I do about it?”  Choose a positive step, a potential solution to some nagging problem, and then get after it.  A second move is to purposefully create this space in your one on one time with each team member.  Accomplish this by inserting the following questions into the one on one agenda (that you should be doing at least monthly).

  • What is your biggest frustration right now?
  • What can I do to help make it go away?
  • What move can you do to help make it go away?

Remember that joy is not ignorance.  We need to face realities, both personally as leaders and in the presence of our teams.  Joy is more about attitude.  So Leader – you first!

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.