Joyous Effort

Joy is a great leadership tool. 

By Brent Filson - 9/2009

Twenty-five years ago, my career turned on a dime because of one man and, now that I look back on it, maybe on one thing he said.

And that turning is a great leadership lesson for you. 

The man was a marketing guru for a General Electric division.  I had met him when I was hired by GE as a leadership communication consultant.  

The company called it “speech writing.”  But I found out quickly it was much more.  I found out that speaking and leading were intertwined and that an executive who did not speak well usually did not lead well.

I found I had a knack — which I did not know I had, much like when my friend’s breaking his leg in a skiing inadvertently, after healing and back on the links, straightened out his slice — helping the executives with their leadership challenges. 

“Found out” is the operative word.  Up till then, I had written all kinds of books on subjects other than business.  I had no desire to get into business.  Business, I believed back then, was bland, boring, spiritually defunct.

But working with the marketing leader, I found business to be exciting.  And that’s why who he was and the thing he said changed my career path.

I worked with him and his lieutenants for some four years and saw them all under a great deal of stress; for Jack Welch was their boss, and Welch was a boss in the I don’t-get-ulcers-I-give-them mode. Yet despite the stress, the marketing leader brought enormous joy to his job.

One time, at a staff meeting I happened to attend, his secretary came into the room and said Welch was on the phone.  The faces of his staff went ashen.  (His team had recently missed important numbers, and that call, which they had been expecting, could portend their firing.) But the marketing leader didn’t look apprehensive. He looked downright happy.  He said: “Aren’t we having fun?  If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing marketing.”

That’s when I realized the power of joy in leadership. 

Having since then consulted with many leaders in many other companies world wide, I have come to realize that a leader who exudes joy in daily work can connect with people in profoundly motivational ways; and since the ability to motivate people is a key element of effective leadership, joy should be a necessary ingredient in your leadership activities. 

To understand this connection, and how it is manifested in leadership, let’s first look at joy’s opposite expression: fear. People can fear many things in their work: failure, job loss, looking ridiculous, career stagnation.

And fear can be a great motivator, getting people to do things they may not be able to do if they did not fear.

But fear, ultimately, is the crack-cocaine of leadership: powerful in its immediate effects but in the end addictive and destruction.

Joy, on the other hand, is an endless source of good will — if you express it appropriately. 

However, there right and wrong ways to express joy in order for it to be a bonding agent.

HOW DO YOU GET IT?  Joy doesn’t come from what happens to you.  It comes from what you do about what happens to you.

I’ve seen many joyous people who lived hard lives.  And I’ve seen many unhappy people who live easy lives.

Recognize the purpose of joy: It’s not to make fun of people or put them in a bad light.  Instead, it’s not only to feel good yourself but also to inspire them to want to be a committed participant of your cause.

Joy comes not from what you’re doing but what your purpose is.  To bring joy into your leadership activities, you must make a conscious choice to do so.

Whatever you face in your leadership activities, you can consciously see the joy that can be expressed then express it.


9/2009© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"