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COMPANY CULTURE

Channel Your Inner Idiot

An under-appreciated aspect of strong leadership is getting over stage-fright, acting silly, and creating laughter.
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I'm an introvert.  When I was growing up, among my two brothers and me, I was known as the serious one and the good student that didn't get in a lot of trouble.  I know—pretty boring. If I took one of those Myers Briggs tests I know how I'd score.

And for the most part, I haven't changed much. But I've found part of leadership is getting out of my comfort zone. 

Leadership means leaving my office and being present with employees rather than being on the phone making deals.  It means attending networking events when I'd rather be home on the couch watching a game.  It means engaging in more frequent casual chats with people even though I might prefer deeper conversations.

And often, it means lightening up the mood in otherwise serious business situations.  One of the traditions we have at the Beryl Companies is to produce an annual video.  We show it every year at our holiday party in December, where it has become highly anticipated. 

We happen to be blessed with a very talented creative director named Jason Armour.  He writes, shoots, produces, and directs the annual videos.  He writes a script that I hardly review before shooting because I trust his judgment and sense of humor.  He also builds a theme around something going on that year.

In each video, I am the main character, and I am in some sort of humorous or entertaining scenario. Perhaps the video is a parody of a TV show, movie, or music video. 

None of our nearly 350 employees gets to see the video until the night it is shown unless they are asked to "act" in it – and then they are sworn to secrecy. by giving them the opportunity to laugh at the expense of leadership.

I have found it wonderful avenue to challenge my introverted nature by trying to act, chronicle our journey as a company, and delight our staff.

Here are some sample videos we created over the last 10 years that may give you some ideas about how you can get out of your comfort zone and channel your inner idiot for the benefit of your employees.  There are a few inside jokes, but you'll get the picture.

2003:  Many of our prospective customers (hospital executives) come to visit our call center operation to learn about our wonderful culture.  So for our annual video we made a video of a Beryl tour gone wrong.  This was a year that The Osbournes and The Bachelor were hot reality TV shows, so we played off those themes, too.  (While I live in Texas, my brother and partner Barry in Los Angeles, he often stayed with my family when he was in town.) http://youtu.be/Ti8AezapZCY

2004:  Barry and I locate a phone book from 1985, the year we started our business.  We decide to make a few calls to people from our past, and invite them to come to our holiday party that night.  When we finally decide to get ready for the party, it looks like we've shown up at the wrong place.  http://youtu.be/BnZIfuuSLUc

2006:  After I've expanded our senior leadership team, I start to feel like no one really needs me anymore and begin to pursue other opportunities.  After a few failed job searches, I try to start up a little something of my own.  http://youtu.be/O4d_Bs6UFt4

2007:  We had never really memorialized how the company started and grew to what it is today.  So I did my best Forrest Gump imitation and here's what transpired.  http://youtu.be/b4ZaWBecrSc

2009:  I mentioned we conduct many tours of the Beryl facility, but I'm getting bored with the way we're handling them.  I complain to the team that we need to step it up and finally realize this would be best handled myself.  So I host the tour…in song. http://youtu.be/g4DuRI6vbds

What's the lesson here?  There is hope for introverts.  Find the creative talents in your organization, let them dress you up, let loose a little bit, and have some fun. Discover the right way to break out of your comfort zone and I'm sure you'll find--like I have--that laughter is a great leadership technique to have at your disposal.

Last updated: May 3, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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