Joy comes naturally to everyone at first. I remember the exclamation from a 5-year-old?”That was the most fun I ever had!”?after a visit to an amusement park, the joy so evident in his glowing face. A slightly more jaded 16-year-old’s cool statement that “This is the best present ever” on receiving his first car couldn’t mask the excitement he felt. Do we lose the childhood art of experiencing joy by the time we are eligible for leadership positions?
I am always surprised when people refuse to consider taking on leadership positions. “Too hard,” they say. “Too many conflicts, people issues, meetings, bureaucracy, hours.” Do we focus so much on the challenges that we miss the real joy that can be experienced in leadership? I love the whole subject of leadership and have truly felt joy in each of the leadership positions I have held.
I am not suggesting that everyone should aspire to leadership or would find the same joy in it, but surely the perceived negatives are overwhelming the positive aspects for some people. Let me share some of the aspects of leadership that I have found particularly rewarding.
Leadership is both a reward and a responsibility. Your role calls for decisions and actions that have a powerful impact on the people around you. Your influence on the careers of those in your organization can facilitate the achievement of their long-held goals. Your coaching and developmental actions are rewarded when you see an employee shine in a new situation. Those who depend on your leadership may see you as a role model. The words and actions you choose will influence outcomes you may never see or hear.
Occasionally, you meet someone or hear a story that brings joy to the surface. I once gave a speech to a group of women in my hometown. Years later, one of the women called me to tell me that speech had changed her life! She had completely changed career directions, was successful and, most of all, was happy. I felt the joy of that 5-year-old on hearing this.
The ability to affect the success of your company is great. Understanding the company objectives and how your actions affect the results is key to making a strong contribution. Sometimes it may seem that the objectives are far removed from your day-to-day efforts, but even the most mundane task eventually finds itself reflected in the company results. How you manage your budget, achieve diversity goals, add to the bench strength of the company through recruitment and development of employees, set and meet productivity goals, and act as a visible, professional representative of the company in external activities?these are all ways to positively impact the company.
In one company I worked for, one of the primary goals was return on assets (ROA). My team was able to structure a financial transaction on our computer assets that increased the company ROA by 0.25 percent. Initially, we thought this was a trivial contribution until the chairman singled it out as a unique contribution for a “technical” group. How proud we were of that achievement!
Don’t ignore the positive impact that leadership can have on you personally. Your ability to achieve your own goals strengthens as you build confidence through success. Even the occasional failures should not detract from your confidence. Enjoy the successes and learn from the failures.
Every leader has a sphere of influence. Within that sphere of influence, you have tremendous freedom. You set the tone for your organization. Sure, you have to live within corporate bounds, but that still leaves lots of room for innovation. For all the times you said, “If I were in charge…” you are now in a position to implement your ideas. Enjoy it!
Take freedom a step further and extend it to your organization. Free staffers from the “givens” that impede their creativity. Watch the organization bloom under fewer restrictions.
How many times have we all heard, “We don’t do that here”? Should that stop you? My response has always been, “I am here, and I am doing that, so we do do that here.” Sometimes it takes courage, daring and spirit to break through the miasma of corporate culture. You are free to set the tone.
Effective leadership requires the ability and desire for continuous learning. Leadership is a wonderful classroom for the study of people and their motivations. Helping your staffers demonstrate appropriate behavior?working as a team rather than at odds with one another?will lead to their success and yours. It’s a delightful feeling when your efforts reduce dysfunctional actions. Enjoy your growing understanding of what it takes to motivate the individuals in your group.
You may feel challenged to find joy when you are making the tough decisions so prevalent in today’s business world. But tough decisions build character. Learning to make them with the right perspective will help. Have empathy for those impacted, and realize this is just a business decision?not life-or-death decision making. Respect what you have learned. Feel the satisfaction of having completed a difficult task, if nothing else.
The joy of leadership can extend to your personal life. The daily grind of business can be debilitating to the spirit even in the best of times. Taking that home will only spread the pain. Learn to use the end-of-day commute to recalibrate your perspective and return home in good spirits. There are so many things to be thankful for in our lives that we tend to take them for granted. Take the time to enjoy the relationships, the material blessings, the opportunities we have for recreation and the life skills we have attained. Sure, there are challenges in everyone’s life?some of them quite significant. But joy can be found in even the most difficult lives. Look for it!
I’ve always been fond of Henry Ford’s aphorism, “Obstacles are those frightful things we see when we take our eyes off our goal.” Yet sometimes we become so focused on the objective that we lose sight of the joyous things in life. There is really only one obstacle to finding joy in leadership: ourselves. Joy is always there, but we may have blinded ourselves to it or not let ourselves pursue it. This should be a relatively easy obstacle to remove. Find that 5-year-old in yourself and experience unfettered enjoyment of even the simplest things.