Pockets of Joy

Winter young woman portrait. Beauty Joyful Model Girl raising ha

It may seem a bit surprising to talk about joy in a leadership blog. After all, leadership is hard work (true), it is serious business (yes), and not something that should be taken lightly (agreed). Neither is joy . . . and here’s why. Joy fuels us. It gives us more energy. And heaven knows leadership takes a lot of energy!

It is ideal when we can find joy in our work. No matter how passionate we are about our organizations, however, there will be times where joy is not the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking about our to-do lists. Here is the great part . . . joy gives us energy for the task at hand whether it is derived from that task or from something totally unrelated.

Leaders (or anyone!) can intentionally incorporate any number of “pockets of joy” to energize their days. For example:

• Driving to work earlier this week, I played a song that makes me happy. Simple as that. It took no extra time but was a much better way to start my morning than spending my drive time thinking about all the challenges the day would present. I was able to walk in the door with a spring in my step ready to hit the ground running.

• I have an electronic photo frame that is full of pictures of family vacations and my boys when they were little. I don’t have it on all the time, but occasionally taking a few minutes to scroll through the pictures lifts my spirit and provides just the burst of energy I need.

• Smile. Even if you have to “fake it until you make it.” Seriously, try it. Just the physical act of smiling somehow lightens the load. If you can smile at someone, even better because smiling is contagious and offers a shot in the arm to the recipient as well.

• Anticipate joy. Thinking about the happiness that will come from completing an important project can energize you through the tedious aspects of the journey. I’m not talking about daydreaming here, but rather the quick vicarious shot in the arm you can get from visualizing successfully reaching the end goal.

Yes, it sounds simple, and if you take a few moments I’m sure you could come up with dozens of other examples of how you could build bursts of happy energy into your day. But will you? When you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, stressed out or annoyed, will you stop and take a few moments to recharge your perspective? No, you are not too busy. You owe it to those you lead to bring your best to your role, and sometimes the best way to do that is to take a few minutes and soak in a pocket of joy.


You’re Right

Retro Car Ford T Model 1908

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. — Henry Ford

Ole’ Henry, and many other successful entrepreneurs, ultimately “made it” because they truly believed, deep down in their bones, that they could do it. Their conviction, their strength of will, propelled them forward when conventional wisdom would have told them to throw in the towel.

The lens you use makes all the difference. Two people can look at the exact same variables and one can come up with a laundry list of why it won’t work, another can focus on the things they are going to do so it will work. It is all about attitude.

I recently wrote about the power to choose. I’m talking about something slightly different, and more elusive here. Even when you face the brutal facts of your situation, and chart a course forward, you still have to deal with the day in, day out chatter going on in your head. You know what I’m talking about . . . the alternating whispers of “you got this!” and “who are you kidding?” One energizes you, and the other sucks the life out of you. Nope, it’s not just you hearing those voices. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. The one you feed in to the most gets louder.

How do you feed into the competing tensions that make up your attitude? “Who are you kidding” gets stronger when you are tired, or stressed out, or scared. It pulls the plug on your energy at the same time it pushes you down the slippery slope of “you can’t slow down or it will all fall apart.” The antidote? Stop, breathe, and get out of your own head. Spend time with can-do people, or get outside. Step away from the desk and move. It is surprising how little it takes to quiet that annoying buzz. The trick is to recognize how loud it has gotten.

The good news . . . not only is it fairly easy to quiet your inner cynic, it also doesn’t take much to give a power surge to “you got this.” An encouraging comment, a sunny day, a few minutes of grateful reflection can all unleash your inner cheerleader. The trick is, you have to be aware of your inner soundtrack and make a decision. Even if you choose to fake it until you make it (which really works, by the way!), you have the ability to determine your attitude. And it’s not a one-time decision. Those whispers will be hanging out in your head every day. Every day you have to decide if you think you can, or you think you can’t . . . because the bottom line is, you’re right.

Gift Wrapping

Female hands in winter gloves with christmas gift box

As much as I’m a fan of nicely wrapped Christmas presents, I also recognize that the outer wrapping has little bearing on the real gift inside. As noted in the children’s sermon at church last Sunday, what I consider to be the greatest gift ever — the Christ child — came wrapped in what could be compared to tattered brown paper. No flashy ribbons or bows. No indication of status and majesty. No special privileges or expectations.

It is easy to get caught up in the trappings of leadership, and how others think the “package” should look. I’m guessing we’ve all been guilty from time to time of wrapping ourselves in a shiny coat of “fake it till you make it,” while feeling we were totally in over our heads. And while that might get you through in the short term, that is no way to lead for the long haul . . . a phony wrapper will only drag you down and minimize the gifts you bring to the table.

Being authentic, when that doesn’t match someone else’s idea of what a leadership package should look like, can be a hard thing to do. But guess what? Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, with a variety of dispositions and styles, and trying to wrap yourself up to look like a “should” (you know . . . you should be more reserved . . . you should be more decisive . . . or analytical . . . or outgoing . . .) discounts your unique perspectives and abilities. You weren’t chosen for a leadership role because your package looked just like everyone else’s (how boring would that be?!?) You may complement other packages, sure, or maybe your gifts coordinate with an overall strategy, but here’s the bottom line: You will never reach your leadership potential by trying to be something you are not, and putting a pretty bow on the box isn’t going to fool anyone.

When I hear industry experts talk about the impending “leadership crisis,” with predictions that there just won’t be enough people willing to take on leadership roles, it occurs to me that maybe we need to be willing to accept a package that looks a little different that the one we have come to associate with “leadership.”   Does it really matter if the gift comes wrapped in rumpled newspaper or covered with glitter and curly ribbon? It is the gifts and graces inside the package that will make all the difference.

As we approach a new year, my challenge to you is to look past the color-coordinated shiny paper and bows. Maybe, just maybe, the present you need can be found inside a brown paper wrapper.

Tea Bags

I’ve always been a fan of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

Of course, you could easily replace the word “woman” with “leader.” A key tenet of leadership 101 is that, as a leader, it is not a matter of if you will find yourself in difficult, challenging situations — hot water — but when. And as much as you might think you know how you will react in such situations, you often don’t until you are in the midst of it.

Usually “hot water” entails a higher than average number of uncontrollable variables. For those leaders who like to be in control at all times (know any of those?!?), this can be extremely challenging. Add to this the fact that your staff will be watching how you respond to give them an indication of how they should respond. Remember, calm begets calm . . . even if you have to fake it till you make it!

So how do you steep the strongest leadership out of a hot water situation?

First, realize that no matter the situation, there are things you can control. You can choose to take a deep breath, which will help move you out of the reactive, fight/flight/freeze part of your brain and into the part of your brain where you can think rationally. This is the first step toward responding in (what at least appears to be) a thoughtful, decisive manner. In most cases, there aren’t nearly as many things that you “have to” do as some external source might want you to think. You might “have to” do them to get the response the external source is seeking, but it may or may not produce the outcome you want. In fact, your calm consideration is usually the best antidote to an external frenzy.

Stonewalling, acting like everything is okay, going “underground”, or looking for a scapegoat is much the same as ripping a hole in your tea bag. All your power seeps out, and in the end you will often end up having to swallow the bitter dregs . . . and deal with the lingering aftertaste for a long time to come.

It is also good to remember that a bit of hot water every now and then isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hot water mixed with a good tea bag can wake you up, keep you on your toes, and hone your focus on what is most important (. . . that would be your mission, your people, your long-term viability . . .)

As a tea drinker, I like my morning mug steaming, strong, and filled to the brim. Two or three of those, a deep breath for good measure, and I’m ready to face whatever comes my way.