Start with Purpose
A growth–mind-set economy demands speed and distributed, near-the-work decision making. It demands adaptation. A flatter structure satisfies the need for increased speed by removing delays and lifting very smart workers out of the bureaucratic despair of endless meetings. This does not mean all standards are thrown out the window: a bright frontline staff still needs overall values-based guidance (aligned with a purpose and driven by vision), fenceposts (guiding principles), a broad behavioral compass (expectations for critical behaviors), instructive lessons (that inform and teach visible actions), and an easy-to-navigate process (systems thinking) so that small mistakes can be encouraged, caught early, and corrected while there is still time and money to recover.
This growth will feel as painful as a newly implemented personal fitness routine. You’ll be slow, winded, and sore, and you’ll frequently wonder why you are doing all this work. Legendary San Francisco 49ers football wide receiver Jerry Rice said it best about his own grueling workouts: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”
Leadership is the glue that brings it all together. The challenge you’ll have is that you won’t find a pool of talented leaders whom you can just plug into your culture of purpose and run with. You will need to create an environment and system for finding talented individuals, building them into leaders, and giving them space to flourish.
Value Leaders, Not Bosses
Bosses have a trump card that leaders do not have. Bosses can do the thing that our parents did that drove us crazy as kids. They can respond to “Why?” with “Because I said so!” People who influence positive and beneficial outcomes, without the hammer of “Because I said so!” at their disposal, are good leaders, whether they are bosses or not. Bosses who use a “Because I said so!” approach are not leaders. Bosses can have short, quick solutions to complex situations. Leaders are not afforded that luxury. A leader must leave openings for conversations.
A leader when asked “Why?” understands that the question deserves a thoughtful conversation. A team member asking why may be afraid, may be curious, or may want to contribute ideas. Or they might not even ask a direct question but instead just make a quizzical face or look crestfallen when an idea is shot down. A leader’s heart and mind must be open to all these possibilities and recognize that the person asking a question is a competent and caring team member and a peer, not a subordinate to be “managed.”
A leader also considers that these questions represent opportunities to grow new leaders. Imagine, just for a moment, that the person asking why has spent a lot of time on their own thinking about the situation at hand. Perhaps they have an inspiring thought, but they don’t know exactly how to express it because this leadership ground is new territory. They might have to muster the courage to bring their idea forward. They artfully waited for what they think is the right opening to raise a point, but they do it without finesse, as they are unpracticed in making persuasive arguments. This is a moment of great vulnerability. A leader empathizes and invites the conversation, both for the value of the conversation itself and the opportunity for growing a new leader.
Care for the Team
Michael Jordan was beyond any measure an A player in the world of pro basketball. Yet, between 1987 and 1990, the Chicago Bulls weren’t winning championships. They could not get by the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs. Phil Jackson was installed as head coach and, as a true developer of leaders, had to teach his A player to be part of the team rather than the hero. He needed Michael to lead. For Michael to lead, he had to start caring deeply about the development of the other members of the team. They needed to play a role in the success of the team and play a much bigger role in winning games, especially the tough ones. It would be important for the Bulls team to hear the cheers, not just Michael.
Watching hero Michael Jordan was fun, unless you were a Bulls fan who thought that championship rings were the true measure of success. Once Michael became part of the team, they started winning. Michael became a leader on the court, no longer the individual hero. He didn’t back off his skills, his contributions, his practice ethic; he added leadership to his talents, and they started winning.
If we speak of teamwork, yet reward individual heroes with praise and promotions, we implicitly develop a system of heroic leaders. That can work until the leader stumbles, and those around them silently cheer so that they can get their turn in the spotlight. We want our entire team to care deeply about their leaders and if they stumble to be right there to help them up.
Ari Weinzweig, CEO and cofounder at Zingerman’s, is an example of an excellent leader, learner, and teacher. Zingerman’s is a role model of an organization that creates great leaders as well. As teachers, Ari and his cofounder, Paul Saginaw, lead the “Welcome to Zingerman’s” seminar for every one of their new staff members. That is a big commitment but so important to their work. They choose not to delegate it to someone else.
Bob Chapman, CEO at Barry-Wehmiller, is also a teaching leader. The effect his teaching is having on the culture of his company and the world through his book Everybody Matters and his talks, and on students who travel to the Barry-Wehmiller University in Phillips, Wisconsin, is profound. In their own words: “Originally designed for Barry-Wehmiller associates only, BWU’s classes have proven to be so transformational for our team members that in 2011 we began offering our flagship course, Communications Skills Training, to people outside the organization. Since then, we have taught the course to leaders within health care, our military, private and public enterprise as well as nonprofits. By sharing what we’ve learned with like-minded organizations and individuals, we bring to life Barry-Wehmiller University’s vision of using the power of business to build a better world.”
They not only teach themselves, but typically share their lessons with the world. ZingTrain at Zingerman’s, Barry-Wehmiller University, Charlie Kim and Meghan Messenger at Next Jump, Richard Branson at Virgin, and the list goes on and on.
Ask yourself whether you can codify any of the insights you’ve gathered in your company and share them with others. Perhaps your team can host a Lunch and Learn for other companies in your area to share best practices on marketing or team building, for example.
The art of storytelling is as old as human history. Before books or schools, leaders would use an oral tradition to pass on the most important lessons of their families, their tribes, and their nations around campfires, at the foot of totems, or by singing anthems that had captured these tales of their history. Mankind has preserved and fostered the growth of civilization through story. Storytelling touches our hearts and minds in ways that policy manuals and fancy brochures never will.
As leaders trying to foster a culture of joyful leadership, we cannot ignore this time-honored tradition. Our mission, our vision, and our values must be ever present in these stories. We should also capture the stories of the mistakes we made and tell those stories too.
Storytelling itself is a skill that needs to be developed, honored, and nurtured. If you do not already have a storytelling culture, set out to build one. Find avenues to tell stories. You may use stories in new employee orientation to tell the history of the company to those just joining. If you like, set up your own internal TEDxOurCompany event and ask the presenters to bring stories of work to the event. Record them. Run the event every year.
There is no question that storytelling plays a big role in both fostering our culture and fostering the growth of our leaders. A team, who has chosen to work for a company wants to believe there is alignment among the leaders. If the stories that leaders tell with great passion produce a feeling of alignment within the team itself, they will feel safe and comforted instead of disconnected and on edge about what is expected. They will know what our most important stories are, and they will want to be part of them. They will continue to share stories and build new ones across all kind of teams, companies, communities, even nations.
Bigger Than Ourselves
As you consider your next steps on a joyful leadership journey and how you can both be inspired and be an inspiration to others, ask yourself whom you serve and what great and joyful service looks like for them.
In your business, you can always identify an opportunity to be of service to others. You may have your own version of human suffering that you are trying to end, and in doing so, bringing joy to the world and to those you serve, and ultimately joy to yourself knowing that you made a small improvement in the world around you.
We want to work on something much bigger than ourselves. We can only do that if we work in community with one another. We are energized by a lofty external goal in service to others.
This outward mind-set brings out the best version of us. If we, as leaders, can inspire those around us with a clear vision of serving others, working with pride, and delivering outstanding results to the world, most other things become far less important. We will hear less about “my office,” “my title,” and “my stuff.” It’s amazing what we will put up with and fight through when we have a worthy mission in front of us. This mind-set will inspire those around you to their own leadership journey.