Leading with joy – A unique leadership strategy

November 11, 2019


One of our favourite TED talks is that by the Israeli conductor Itay Talgam. He analyses the style of various conductors to draw lessons about leadership and he has this to say about one of them “What can you say the conductor was doing, actually? Um, he was happy. And I often show this to senior management. People get annoyed. “You come to work. How come you’re so happy?” Something must be wrong there, yeah?”

This talk was in 2009 and in the last ten years, much has changed – people are less likely to be annoyed by the perception that happiness at work is an important thing. Annual offsites, team outings, titles such as Chief Fun Officer, bring your pet to work days are all par for the course these days. The idea that making the workplace more collegial, and engaging employees in interesting activities that will also result in higher productivity has certainly come of age.
But is that truly enough? As companies (read the HR departments of said companies) grasp for more and more entertaining ways to spend the annual day, perhaps the real question that leaders need to be asking themselves “What can I do to contribute to my own joy and the joy of others who work with me?”

There’s certainly enough of a business case for this

There’s the cost of inefficiency owing to disengagement

(Source: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/interactive-the-financial-cost-of-employee-disengagement)

The cost of replacing disengaged exits

(Source: https://www.madisonapproach.com/retaining-top-employees-reduces-cost-of-employee-turnover/)

And the cost of brand rebuilding in the post-glassdoor world

(Source: https://www.careerarc.com/blog/2017/11/employer-branding-study-infographic/)

At an individual level, the losses keep mounting. An unhappy team member will have other issues – they will give up on difficult-to-solve problems faster as they lose resilience, leading to you being more hands-on. They lose the ability to be there for their team members in their time of need and support their work. They lose confidence in their own ability to add value to the team and reach common goals. Clearly, this has to be a focus area for any leader.

So what does a leader need to do to promote a culture of joy?

In all our work with leaders, we’ve found that there are five key behaviors of a leader that contribute to joy and any leadership development program is incomplete without covering these.

  1. Provide true autonomy
  2. Appreciate genuinely
  3. Play freely
  4. Keep purpose alive
  5. Focus on strengths

Provide true autonomy: Autonomy is one of the three factors of intrinsic motivation. Most managers understand the importance of trusting their team to do complex tasks on their own; the challenge is in being able to do so even when every fibre of your being is anxious about the consequences of failure. Recognizing your own beliefs about control, perfection and success is vital to truly letting go.

Appreciate genuinely: In India, we are not typically big on appreciation. We’re taught to focus on our work and not the return it gets us. This sense of humility being a virtue is so deeply ingrained in us that it can difficult for managers to even recognize that recognition is a good thing. When you notice good work, tell people you have noticed it and share impact of their behavior on yourself or others. There, you have introduced a currency of kindness that will multiple by itself… as long as it is passed on.

Play freely “I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.” ~ Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Penguin Books, 2009. Playing at work can energize us, make us more creative and help us access our brain in its entirety. So consider starting your next team meeting with a game (write to us at sunitha@navgati.in if you’d like some suggestions)

Keep purpose alive: Another key factor of intrinsic motivation; that people need to know what larger goal they’re working towards. Most teams do, but it’s easy to get caught up in the mire of deadlines and inter-team conflicts and forget what their true North is. It’s an interesting exercise to ask your team members to write down what they think the purpose of your team is and read it out; you may be surprised at what we often take for granted.

Strengths. Strengths. Strengths: Think of a high school athlete with promise: They are outstanding at basketball and average at soccer. Would you ask them to focus on and bring up to scratch their skills at soccer and give them a list of dribble skills, footwork and more soccer based training? Or would you get them a special basketball coach to help them explore their potential? We’ve experienced many leaders and team members alike tending to focus overly on “development areas” It is good to keep an eye out for “deal breakers” but true, fulfilling growth happens when we play to our strengths.

We hope this fuels you towards seeking out more joy for yourself and for those you lead into success… and happiness.

Navgati runs a one-day workshop on Leading with Joy, where we spend the day with managers exploring in depth some of these concepts, sharing tools to strengthen their ability to lead with joy and setting them up for success in their quest. If you are interested in knowing more, reach out to deepa@navgati.in

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