Common sense says that when people are enjoying themselves they are more likely to do good work. CEOs know this and take fun very seriously. This doesn’t mean going around like cack-handed facilitators announcing fun moments (which never are) or partying continually. For leaders, fun is strategically important. As the CEO of a high street retailer says, ‘customers are more likely to buy from people with smiles on their faces.’ He moved from one major retailer to another after sixteen years because he had stopped having fun. ‘Having fun,’ he says, ‘is when you experiment and learn.’ The CEO of a technology company adds, ‘Fun takes away the barriers to energy finding its channels.’
The implication is clear: working environments mustbe fun, to promote continuous learning and creativity.
‘Humour builds confidence,’ says the leader of a national housing business, ‘what we do is endless bloody hard work and emotionally very draining. While it’s great to get to the point where your alleged prescience is acknowledged, you have to acknowledge it’s all a bit hilarious.’ The CEO of a charity for the homeless uses fun to attract donors and sponsors. ‘I say yes to as many things as I can, making sure I know how to exit the crap ones as fast as possible. Every interesting thing we have ever done is the result of an initial ‘yes’ to the opportunistic and bizarre.’ The MD of a food manufacturer ‘retired’ recently to run its specialist retail operation. ‘People come to buy our food and drink in situ, but what they are really buying is happiness,’ he says, ‘so that’s what I’m going to do: spread happiness. The numbers will follow.’
Consequently happiness, fun, laughter, enjoyment, pleasure, are all vital to being a good leader. In defining his personal leadership credo, a leading entrepreneur speaks for many when he says, ‘Good leadership is consistency, fairness, direction, being approachable by everybody, and the sheer fun of it. I make sure there’s lots of that.’
The flipside of this argument is illuminating: if there’s no fun in a business, either leadership is lacking, or it is failing – or both.