Lead with Joy

Chances are if your company makes widgets, and you really excel at making widgets, then at some point you will probably find yourself in a position of management, leading a team of people. And then what happens is that we tend to think that our job is now to focus more on widgets, and how to make them bigger, better, faster, etc. We assume that we have more responsibility over the production of the widgets, since a management position, by nature, assumes a more responsible role within the company.

And this is perhaps one of the most fundamental misunderstandings of management and leadership. The irony is that when you move into a position of management or leadership, you are typically no longer directly responsible for either the goods or services that your company provides. You are responsible for people. Your job is not to directly build a better widget. Your job is to inspire people to build better widgets. This is not just a difference in semantics. This is a fundamental operational shift.

So, how do you inspire people in the workplace? If it had to come down to only one strategy, one technique, one simple solution, I would say – joy. Creating a workplace that encourages people to find their joy is the single best ingredient for a successful company.

We tend to often reward the opposite. Leaders, who typically seem very serious, very busy, and even therefore, very unavailable – we often view them as strong leaders because they seem so serious and we therefore equate that with – they must care. Even though as leaders, they are rarely available to their people, they rarely inspire, and they aren’t really very enjoyable to work with. We’ve come to accept a model of leadership that is long outdated. Without joy, a workplace cannot flourish.

Creating and encouraging joy in your workplace should not be confused with making people happy. Those are very different from one another. Happiness comes from external events and situations. Providing your staff with ice cream every Friday afternoon may make them very happy (at least on that Friday afternoon), but it may do absolutely nothing to create a joyful work environment. The key to joy is creativity. Joy does not necessarily emerge from creating fun activities and events. Joy will come from allowing people to take their own creativity, and integrate it into their jobs. Creativity doesn’t just belong to artists and writers. It’s about how we approach and live our lives. And as a leader, your key role is helping people to feel comfortable sharing and expressing their creativity at work. It will be to the benefit of everyone.

So, here are a few very easy and simple ideas that can help bring a sense of joy to the people you lead, transforming your environment into a creative, innovative, and incredibly productive force for your company:

- Encourage everyone on your team to participate. If you are truly a leader, then your job is to create a workspace where everyone feels that their ideas are valid, important, and can contribute to the success of the company. Encourage expression. No matter how “off-the-wall’ the thoughts may initially seem, great leadership provides a comfortable and supportive landing place for those ideas. And keep in mind, that historically, throughout human history, our best ideas originally seemed very off-the-wall. It’s called genius.

- Provide blank notebooks or note pads to those on your team to jot down ideas and inspirations whenever they arise. I would also encourage you to go as far as to provide inexpensive hand held tape recorders for people to have on them regularly. This can be particularly helpful on their rides to and from work. I know for myself that some of my best ideas or more inspiring moments often come when I’m driving, and the note pad is not quite as useful at those moments.

- Encourage conversation amongst your team. A quiet workforce is typically not a very joyful or creative workforce. Along with conversation, promote laughter. Humor not only inspires, but it’s one of the most responsive, creative acts human beings can engage in. Don’t discount what can emerge from a humorous exchange.

- Encourage your team to look outside the workplace for inspiration and ideas. Staring at a monitor or sitting in a cubicle is not a natural environment for creativity or inspiration. Take field trips. Visit stores; take your team for a hike in the woods. Whatever inspires – do it!

As a leader, be mindful that all eyes are upon you constantly. Your team will surely listen to your words, but they will most definitely notice your actions and observe who you are at your core. Make your essence a joyful one at work… and then, make it contagious. Everyone you work with will benefit… and you will find that you are leading a far more productive, innovative, and effective team than you could have ever imagined.

It’s always about the people. Widgets are just widgets.