Ice cream and leadership

Written by , in category Leadership & Management

26 April 2017

I came across this meme on my LinkedIn timeline. 

In the reactions, very classically schooled managers were tapping themselves on the back in a very manly fashion. How right this meme was! Harsh lessons to be learned here! So you want to be a leader ey?

A feeling of sadness arose in me, quickly followed by a sense of determination. Determination to write this post, for whoever might be interested in looking at this meme from a few different angles. So here are different things you might want to think about when coming across such a meme. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have more angles for me and other readers to contemplate.

1. There are no guarantees

The first thing that came to mind was that selling ice cream doesn’t ensure that you make people happy. How happy do you make people with your icecream parlour when the kid standing in front of the door is standing there with a sad face, because he has no penny to spend? You do not make or break anyone’s happiness when leading your life in a peaceful manner. There are so many variables in each person’s life, your choice in career will not influence that much. Selling ice cream, you might make people happy who have the money to buy some on a hot day. You might make people even happier when having a “free cone day”. But in the end, what was your influence in their overall happiness? There are no guarantees, even when selling icecream.

2. A leader should strive to nurture happiness, there’s nothing wrong with that

It’s scientifically proven that “happy” employees are more resilient, more creative problem solvers, and they are more productive during the work day. As a leader, there’s therefore nothing wrong with wanting to make the people around you happy! It should be your main goal! The term leader also means that people will voluntarily follow their example and learn. If you do not strive for your own happiness as well as the happiness of those around you, how could they ever follow in your footsteps and grow? People spend on average 10 hours per day away from home, at work. It’s most of their waking hours. As their leader, nurturing the environment that allows them to create their happiness is vital to your organisation’s health! Who wouldn’t want to see a 12% increase in productivity simply by trying to make people happy?

3. If all else fails

As Jurgen Appello says in Management 3.0: “If all else fails: manage.”. Sometimes life isn’t about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Sometimes a harsh decision needs to be taken. It’s in fact true that you cannot let happiness for yourself and others be your only guiding principle. Even though it might be a main one. But if you have to resort to this, it’s vital that you keep in mind that you’re working with human beings. You are not them, and you cannot read their minds, but you can imagine that these kinds of decisions will have an impact, and that’s where the most important part of being a leader comes in to play: how will you provide a safety net to allow people to rebound? How can you as al leader help them through the desert, or show them where an oasis might be?

4. Happiness is not a core value but could be a guiding principle

It’s hip to have your organisation or team’s “core values” nicely lined up on a poster. Trust, Communication, Employee Happiness, Customer Centricity, etc. But these are also the first ones out the door when a problem arises. I am indeed wary of companies who espouse “Employee Happiness” as a core value. It becomes a lot more interesting when you see the word happiness in a description of a company’s guiding principles. A guiding principle is what you use for a basis to take decisions. In this case for example, as a leader one of your guiding principles might be: “To nurture happiness within the organisation”. When taking a decision, your guiding principle reminds you to evaluate the impact on the overall happiness, and act accordingly, fully aware of the fact that you are now dealing with the impact of a decision on a complex adaptive system, that needs to find an overall state of happiness.

5. Learning is everywhere

I am grateful that I came across this meme. After I read it and got my initial emotions in check, it allowed me to formulate all of this and create my own learning path along the way to becoming a better leader day by day on this lifelong journey. Writing this blog post has allowed me clarity in other situations as well. So don’t shy away from these memes. They’re not evil. Learning is everywhere, as long as you try to look beyond the initial impression.

Learning happens anywhere, at anytime.

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