Managers enable fear. In some cases it’s intentional, but more often than not it’s completely unintentional. Enabling fear is often a condition that happens when people and teams are focused on extrinsic values like targets, bonuses, and promotions. Focusing on things that are often out of our control creates bad habits and frustrating work conditions. Worse of all, fear is what keeps people from growing and learning. It’s fear that prevents us from sticking our necks out and doing big things. Its fear that keeps us from walking down untrodden paths to find new destinations or opportunities. I’m a lot more comfortable walking the streets of NYC then the deep trails of Colorado. But fear doesn’t stop me from loading my backpack and hitting the those trails–usually.
Leaders instill fun. They do intentionally and consciously the opposite of what managers do unintentionally and unconsciously. Leaders create environments for growth and experimentation by focusing on intrinsic values like purpose, mastery, and autonomy. Daniel Pink discusses this in his book called Drive, which I encourage you to read. Fun allows people do and try things that may or may not be normal. It’s what helps people get out of their boxes and try new things. It’s what makes people look at the unknown and try it. And it’s what bonds us into community and a culture rather than enemy and foe. Fun is a good thing. Have some.
Fun doesn’t mean you’re always laughing though–let’s be clear about that. I have fun doing CrossFit, but believe me there’s not much laughing going on when you’re pushing through a WOD (workout of the day). I bet many of the people working with Elon Musk at Tesla and SpaceX would consider what they’re doing fun despite the fact that Mr Musk is extremely difficult and highly demanding. In fact if you go on Quora.com and ask “what’s it like working with Elon Musk,” you’ll find roughly that answer. People working with Elon feel a sense of purpose. They are doing things to change the world for the better. They certainly have mastery because Elon is known for seeking out the best and brightest across trades, craft, and skills. I’d also bet they feel a strong sense of autonomy. If Elon were driven by targets, he would have given up after the third failed rocket attempt at SpaceX.
What is autonomy? Autonomy means you’re self-governed and self-determined. It doesn’t mean you have flex-time–that’s not autonomous. It also doesn’t mean you don’t have to show up–in fact it’s the quite the contrary. Autonomy means that when you show up you’re there, you’re into it, and you’re all in. It means you “show up” a lot. Autonomy means you’re driven by results and you’re excited to make shit happen. People who have autonomy don’t fill seats or waste time for the sake of being at work and getting paid. The truth is you can get a lot more done showing up for 4 hours a day 4 times a week then by wasting time 12 hours a day 5 days a week.
Have fun. Be fun. And more importantly–be a leader, not a manager.