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.


Defiant Joy

I am a naturally upbeat person who brings my whole self — my faith, values, life experience and unique way of seeing the world — to the work at hand. After studying a wide range to styles, I simply believe that is the best way to lead. Some might think it is easier to lead this way when you work at a faith-based and/or human service organization as I do, but I know many great leaders who find a way to authentically express their values and perspectives where ever they work. They seem to have taken to heart St. Francis of Assisi’s challenge to “Preach the gospel every day . . . when necessary, use words.”

Of course, some days, that’s easier than others. Regardless of your approach, leadership is hard work. And the fact that a leader may be optimistic/encouraging/enthusiastic . . . pick your adjective . . . doesn’t mean they are a “Polly Anna”, or that they don’t realize the gravity, or possible down sides, of the issues before them. I believe the most effective leaders are aware of the weight of their decisions AND believe a positive outcome is possible. Jim Collins calls this the “Stockdale Paradox” . . . good story behind it, but not a very catchy or self-evident phrase. I ran across a term recently that basically captures the same idea, but made me sit up and instantly know I wanted to steal the phrase.

Defiant Joy. I want to lead with that.

Giving credit where credit is due, the phrase came from the book Fight Back With Joy, where Margaret Feinberg wrote about her journey with breast cancer and the chemotherapy treatments that almost killed her. While keenly aware of the grim odds and torturous journey before her, Ms. Feinberg fought back with joy. Sure, she felt like she had been run over by a truck, had friends disappoint her, despaired about why her/why now, and acknowledged that some days it would have been easier to just give up . . . and still she chose to draw strength, not from an unrealistic optimism, but from a defiant joy. An “in spite of” joy, a “take that” joy, a conscious declaration that she had a choice even the longest odds couldn’t take from her. She could maintain her joy.

What would happen if we led that way? Sure there are external variables impacting our organizations that we will never be able to fully control . . . and sometimes the only option is to choose the lesser of the evils . . . and there will days where you want to pull your hair out and ring someone’s neck all at the same time. Are you tenacious enough to find the joy, the possibilities, in the midst of all of that? Can you step back and say “Here is the ugly/annoying/painful truth, and here is what we are going to do to move beyond that, right here, right now.” Call it a positive re-frame, a proactive action, or defiant joy. There is an energy, and maybe even a sly grin, that comes from knowing the choice is yours.