BEING SERIOUS IS OVERRATED

I have found that many people, particularly as they become more senior in their corporate life (or just get older), start to take life and themselves much too seriously, supposedly in line with their elevated status. They therefore tend to create an environment that only has focus on the seriousness of the tasks involved, and the important role that they actually play in achieving them. I once had a software developer describe his supervisor as “… someone who could suck the joy out of the room just by saying good morning”.

I have always believed that while it is critical that you are serious about the role you perform in life, whether as an individual contributor, an executive or in the community, you should never take yourself too seriously.

In business, it is important to regularly remind yourself that the only difference between a manager and the people being managed is the job description. I understand that there are differences in salaries and other elements like office space, remuneration, status and visibility, but one should never grow to believe that these differences include self importance.

Portrait of a Group of Serious Businessmen

For me a sales manager has no more importance in a company than the 10 salesmen in his team who collectively generate $ 20-30 million in revenues each year. In reality the role of the sales manager is mainly to support and serve the sales force by ensuring that he makes their role as easy to execute as possible, and to facilitate their success. This means that the manager has to spend his time as a coach and mentor to his people, but also has to spend time and effort removing barriers to their success and protecting them from internal politics and bureaucracy so that they can focus on selling.

I have therefore always believed that the critical measure of a great sales manager is that the vast majority of his sales team individually earn more than he does.

Ultimately, the only role of any manager, at any level, is to create an environment where people can be unbelievably successful (see “I live to work or I work to live” posted 5 July, 2010). Amongst other things, this means that work needs to be enjoyable. I don’t mean “entertaining” which is an objective of the manager (Michael Scott in the US version) in the TV series “The Office” , who at one point says “I guess the atmosphere that I’ve tried to create here is that I’m a friend first and a boss second, and probably an entertainer third”.

I don’t believe that the objective of any manager is to be a friend to his people, and one should not confuse “friendly” with “friendship”. Neither should a manager see his role as being one of “entertaining the troops”, but I do believe that it should be an objective to make it fun, and that to ensure that the lighter sides of life (and there are many) are regularly celebrated.

I understand that people will define fun in many different ways but, in a work context, I see fun as being able to work in an environment where people can succeed and be suitably rewarded, where their skills can be utilised and developed, where they can be challenged, where they can work with people they can trust and from whom they can learn, where they feel safe and valued, and very importantly where they can laugh often and loudly. People need to want to be at work as an integral and worthwhile part of their life, not just as a place that they have to go to so that they can make enough money to pay their bills.

Back in the early 1980s DEC Australia had a very basic company car policy, particularly when compared to other IT companies. Irrespective of your role, if it justified a company car, you could have either a Toyota Corona or a Mitsubishi Sigma, neither being cars that would have excited the boys of “Top Gear”.

One year I ran a sales competition that involved mounting a Rolls Royce hubcap on a plaque and calling it the “DEC luxury car scheme award, phase 1”. It was a great success and sales reps worked hard to earn the right to have it sit on their desk for a month, as not only did it signify their personal success, but at the same time it had a minor dig at the company. Despite its success I was asked to drop my plans for phase 2 the following year, which was planned to be a Rolls Royce steering wheel … I guess that we were just having too much fun.

Creating an environment that is always serious, that does not see the humour in life’s situations, that believes that laughter should be reserved for private rather than work time and that does not understand that all of life is meant to be fun, can never achieve the balance that makes the work environment a serious way to work and a fun place in which to do it, and therefore will not create an opportunity where people can succeed.

As Oscar Wilde said “Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow”.

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6 Responses to BEING SERIOUS IS OVERRATED

  1. Frank says:

    Les, totally agree, and isn’t the “confusion with “friendly” and “friendship” ” a trap for young managers.
    Staff respond fantastically to laughter and humour from the heart. Pinpoint’s success was founded on their motto “profit with pleasure and fun”.
    rgds, Frank

  2. leshayman says:

    Hi Frank,
    I love the “Profit with pleasure and fun” motto … it says it all.
    Les

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  4. Clas Neumann says:

    I couldn´t agree more! The difficult point in today`s business environment is, that those colleagues who seemingly have fun at work or create that kind of “fun environement” around them, are often labled as “not taking things seriously”. But that`s a complete misjudgement – to say the least, or maybe even just jealousy about their own inability to laugh (specifically about oneself) and make others laugh with you.

    Too many people try to look clever by taking a “serious look” into something or giving a “serious speech”. To quote Mr. WIlde here again, who certainly was on the other side of the spectrum:
    “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

  5. leshayman says:

    Hi Clas,
    I have always found that measuring people on their results rather than their appearance and demeanor is always a more realistic view, and one of the results I have always considered critical is the loyalty and commitment of their people, Managers who don’t have an ability to make work serious in output, and fun in delivering it, will find it hard to to create the engagement in their people that is needed for success. I generally find that those who are not succeeding seek seriousness as a way of covering their tracks.

    Looking forward to catching up in India in january.
    Les

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