• March 2010

Why is it important for leaders to be joyful?

By Angela Sontheimer
Managing Director
Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg

As the managing director of the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, I spend a lot of time thinking about how leaders can be more effective. Lately, I’ve been pondering the concept of how joy plays into success in the workplace — especially this year, when so many organizations have struggled with our challenging economy.

According to a recent Gallup Healthways survey of 100,000 Americans, joy has everything to do with happiness in the workplace, for business owners outrank 10 other occupations in overall well-being. Leaders, in fact, say they have lower stress levels and better physical health than those in other occupations.

One possible explanation, according to Harvard professor and blogger Rosabeth Moss Kanter, is that “autonomy, influence, and a sense of meaning” are key ingredients in helping us to find joy at work.

She explains that “supervisors are better-off than the supervised, and entrepreneurs are the best-off of all.” While we can’t all be entrepreneurs, she suggests we can all act as leaders and project “autonomy, influence and a sense of meaning.”

Rosabeth explains: “In researching my ‘SuperCorp’ book, I saw joy during what I call ‘Rubik’s Cube moments,’ when everything clicks into place for an uplifting accomplishment. [These] moments might come after pulling off a complicated food drive for the homeless; collaborating across functions for a creative presentation that wins a big client; flying technology experts to the rescue after a natural disaster to manage relief supplies; convincing bosses to try job-sharing instead of a layoff; or seeing a product prototype work for the first time.”

I couldn’t agree more! I’m a big believer in the idea that exhibiting leadership skills is the surest route to joy at work. What a concept: Good leaders can actually make their workplaces more joyful!

Below is Rosabeth’s useful list. Why not give one or all of these ideas a try? I’d love to hear the results. (Do drop me a line at angela@lincolnleadershipinstitue.com.) And for more ideas, check out Rosabeth’s book, SuperCorp.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s Top 10 Ways to Find Joy at Work.

10. Identify long-term personal purpose. Write a personal mission statement and review often.

9. Be an entrepreneur from anywhere. Even if you don’t start a business (now), imagine starting a project that will improve your current job, workplace, or community.

8. Discuss the idea informally to find others feeling the same way. Enlist them in the quest. Now they’re counting on you not to let them down. Describe it as an experiment that will benefit others. Incorporate feedback so that others hear their ideas in yours.

7. Get a Big Name to endorse giving it a try.

6. Negotiate out demands that don’t contribute to the goal. Keep doing what you must to keep your job, but simplify.

5. Find every supporter a task, however small. Show that you’re working for their goals, too.

4. Widen the circle of the informed. Involve people not usually included.

3. Remain positive. Smiling takes fewer muscles than frowning and is contagious. Ignore skeptics unless easily converted.

2. As the bits of the cube start moving, keep communicating and coordinating.

1. Celebrate each “Rubik’s Cube” moment of accomplishment. Share the joy to multiply it.


About Angela Sontheimer

Angela is managing director of Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, where she is responsible for overseeing operations, marketing and curriculum design. She is a graduate of Gettysburg College and holds a masters degree in leadership and liberal studies from Duquesne University.

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