To this day in workplaces all over the world, fear-based management practices remain the greatest enemy in the way of happy and productive employees. Do you work in an organization where 

  • Most decisions have to go through three layers of management approval?
  • Your employee handbook's dress policy is 10 pages long?
  • Management adds new rules or processes after a bad outcome?
  • People are belittled or interrupted in a meeting?

Guess what? Your company operates through fear.

When fear is present, it creates a debilitating culture. It strips people of their creativity and ability to perform at a high level.

And, according to Richard Sheridan, CEO and Chief Storyteller of Menlo Innovations and author of Chief Joy Officer, when joy is pumped into your culture, and fear is pumped out, the right conditions are set for your people and your company to thrive.

Joy in practice

So what does joy look like in practice? Let's dig in.

I got a chance to sit down with Sheridan and have a captivating conversation on the Love in Action podcast. Sheridan explained that if you're going to embark on a joyful journey as a leader, ask yourself two questions: Whom do you serve? And what would delight look like for your employees?

Sheridan invites leaders to imagine what they could accomplish if instead of only 30 percent of your employees were engaged, 70 percent of them were. (I'm alluding to Gallup's ongoing study of the dismal employee engagement status in the U.S.)

What if people came to work every day with a "spring in their step, a dedication in their energy, and they engaged in a fundamentally different way?" asks Sheridan. "Think about the value that would bring to your organization, how much more output you would get, the quality of the output they would produce, and how much better a reputation you would have, not just with your customers but with the others you're trying to recruit into your organization."

To that end, Sheridan offers up a plethora of joyful conditions and strategies from a leadership perspective in his book Chief Joy Officer. Here are four to consider:

1. Create systems, not bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy manifests itself as a lot of waiting: waiting for decisions to be made, or answers to be had, or a sign-off on an approval. All of this waiting weighs an organization down and robs the energy of your team. After a while, they disengage. One of the most important things we can do as joyful leaders is to think about the systems that keep chaos out of our world so we can lift the human energy of our team, and keep the weight of our human aircraft as light as possible and fly to heights and distances.

2. Bring your whole self to work.

"How many of us are one person at home and a completely different person at work?" asks Sheridan. Failure to be authentic and "share your masks" so that your team members can see and experience the real you "may be the biggest danger of the modern workplace." He says that the "living lie" of most workplaces is rooted in the idea that what is happening outside of work must be compartmentalized and denied in order to be seen as the perfect employee or boss. "Work then becomes the place to pretend that those other realities don't exist," explains Sheridan, thus stripping us of our joy.

3. Crush fear with a state of optimism.

It's inherent in the human design for people to want to know that things are going to be OK long term. Therefore, optimism is a "fundamental choice of leadership," says Sheridan, and that choosing optimism is about believing in two possibilities:

  • The good intent on the part of the people around you--your employees, your customers, your community 
  • The belief that if things don't go as well as you expect, you'll put yourself in a favorable position to make choices that can get things back on track

4. Don't back down from healthy fear.

Sheridan stresses the importance of allowing "healthy fear" to take place in our daily decisions as leaders in order to keep things grounded in reality. For example, he says, "I want [employees] to fear injuring a patient if we make a mistake when creating software for a medical device." Fear, he says, can be the best motivator under the right circumstances and conditions and within the right culture. It helps us--leaders and employees alike--to be good stewards of our work, our customers, our revenue, our profits, our team, and our reputation.