Jena is the CEO of a mid-sized IT company and given the current pandemic, all her teams are working from home. The team engagements since the pandemic have become less and the workload excessive. The conversations are relegated to the usual check-ins for job status or managing and thwarting any crises. It was not surprising that the team felt distant, demotivated and the work lacked the excellence of the past. When I prodded her to elaborate, she said, ‘I have done everything for my team. I reward them with special gifts when they outdo themselves. When they reach out to me with a problem, I resolve it for them. I step in when they need assistance, any time, sacrificing my own family time. I have done practically everything and yet I’m not certain they care enough or are involved the way I’d like them to be.’
We went through the list together and, yes, she was going above and beyond to support her team. So, what was off?
She had this compulsive need to make her team happy. ‘Happy teams make happy bosses, right?’, she questioned.
Did the team feel the same? As it turns out, no!
Interviews with them revealed that they didn’t quite care about the gifts, goodies or her problem-solving skills. Her attitude between those gifts and solutions ‘sucked’. She set meetings without a heads up. She encroached on their personal space with unnecessary ‘urgent’ calls and bit their head off for the slightest oversight. The gifts were no match to compensate for this behaviour. It was clear, their needs were deeper and emotional. In fact, they interpreted it differently. Her magnanimity was seen as a way to elevate her position as a generous leader.
The conversation with the team reminded me of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once said, “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money. It lies in the pursuit of creative effort, in the thrill of achievement.”
As a leader, what do you need to bring to the table to lead with happiness?
Unhappy people don’t make great leaders. Pay attention to your mood. Take time to gain a keener awareness of what is going in and around you. Being in the midst of a crisis, has the potential to trigger numerous stress-inducing responses. And, your moods have the power to affect the energy of the team. If you are walking into any discussion with a bad mood and offloading it on the team, you are paving the way for discontent. This impacts the quality and quantity of the teams’ productivity and performance. No matter how challenging a situation, your attitude can be the sun on a cloudy day or a dark cloud shrouding the day.
Building deep relationships
How well do you know your team? How strong is your bond with each member? Happy leaders show they care, and invest in deep relationships; to get to know the team on a personal and professional level. I know managers and CEOs who know not only their team members but their families and exactly what’s going on with their school-going child or the health of the member’s ailing grandfather! You don’t have to be best friends however, make it a point to harvest this information to demonstrate care and connection with your team. And, watch how most of them would be prepared to go the extra mile for you and the organisation.
Be true and transparent
When you are authentic and open with your team, you display trust and fairness. A happy leader is secure and displays no need to create verbal landmines. Your willingness to share information, the good and, especially the not-so-good will help you garner their respect. You are surrounded by a pool of talented people, who have wisdom and perspective, so give room to them to express themselves. As a happy leader, your candour can help inculcate the spirit of better team cohesion that leads to an involved and committed work environment.
Know the difference between important and urgent
Happy leaders don’t procrastinate decisions or get overwhelmed by the burden of tasks. Schedule things but don’t get anchored by a schedule. Support your team in facing and resolving any issue that hampers productivity. Your flexibility is equally imperative given that most people are juggling work and home responsibilities with some ailing members in their family. Your agility in tasking, clarity of the goal and eyes on the same goalpost are vital for the team. Happy leaders are not afraid to seek support, in case they find themselves in a bind.
Be an empathetic coach
Teams thrive when leaders are willing to take the time to share their experience and expertise. Be available for advice and timely feedback. Actively listen and read between the lines, to find out what does your team want. When they encounter any setback along the way or you find them struggling; provide the right kind of team support. Make sure they know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but day by day. Patience and communication go a long way in keeping the morale high.
Add some laughter
Light-hearted laughter goes a long way for an engaged, motivated, purposeful and optimistic team who are prepared to go the extra mile. Leaders who encourage laughter and lightness have a higher ability to make decisions, solve complex problems and think creatively. A chuckle in the office is known to reduce stress levels and encourage higher productivity. In fact, studies show that 91% of executives believe a sense of humour is important for career advancement and 84% feel that people with a good sense of humour do a better job. Happy leaders smile and laugh more often.
In fact, a study conducted by the University of Western Australia on this subject concluded that “happy people are more active, more productive and get less upset by the work’’.
Don’t lead with a title because people don’t care. Lead with your heart and show you care. The times we live in are stressful. People are worried for their health, family, job security and many, stretched thin with emotions hanging by a fragile thread.
Lead with what makes the world smile. As a leader, in finance, sales, admin, human resource, purchase or any other function, you are not just a manager of a specific function; you are in the business of people and, people vibe with emotions. While happy employees, is the holy grail of leadership; what organisations need most are numerous Chief Happiness Officers.
Leaders like Jena understand that it is not what you do, materially but what you offer, emotionally that binds a team. Happiness matters and leading with happiness, matters the most.