At the Happy Annual Conference a couple of weeks ago, a speaker shared his story of being on a call-in radio programme, when a business owner took issue with his vision of how to create a happy, thriving workplace.

“Do you think we all live in Disney Land”? The caller spluttered, going on to furiously list all the many ways our speaker was entirely wrong. Basically, people needed managing with a vice-like grip to get them to work hard.

I loved Nigel’s response.

“Imagine waking up every morning knowing you were the leader?!”*

Yes, imagine! Would you go to work with a song in your heart and do your very best if this man was your leader?

This was just one of the many thought-provoking moments from a hugely uplifting day at the Happy annual conference led by Henry Stewart, Happy’s founder and Chief Happiness Officer. Happy’s very reason for being is to encourage happy workplaces where everyone thrives and can make their best contribution.

It was inspiring, refreshing, practical – and most of all joyful.

So, how can you be a leader that people want to be led by?

1. Know that it’s okay to create a ‘happy’ workplace

All the evidence shows that when people are happy at work, when they enjoy what they do – they perform better, are more creative, more resilient and have better wellbeing.

Seriously, what is not to like?

This isn’t about toxic positivity. This is not about having to fake happiness every day – a happy workplace is a super inclusive one, where all feelings and ways of working are encouraged and welcome. What’s different is that it’s set up to facilitate everyone to achieve their very best work, rather than stifle it with the usual workplace practices.

Happy advocates some approaches which may or may not feel possible for you right now – pre-approval of decisions, for instance – but the basic premise for leaders is to create happy workplaces by ‘getting out of the way’ and letting people flourish.

I am so with them. This is how we’re going to change the world, folks!

2. Embrace Loving Leadership

I’ve long advocated for the concept of Loving Leadership and I was blown away by the brilliant talk of that name from Caron Bradshaw, CEO of the Charity Finance Group. Using the word ‘love’ might feel icky (“But I don’t actually love my team!”) but the concept is totally sound when you think of love as an action.

It’s about asking yourself what loving things can I do today to allow me and my team to thrive?

a meeting representing a leader not hitting the ground running

This isn’t about being all soft and fluffy. It isn’t loving to let someone flounder because you’re too ‘nice’ to give them constructive criticism. No. Loving Leadership includes strong boundaries and rigorous feedback, allowing you to support everyone and find ‘the diamonds in the dirt’.

Nor is it loving for you as a leader to grind yourself down with stress and overwork. It’s not loving to you, or to those who look to you as a role-model. “The act of self-love is the first step, says Caron “to achieving loving leadership.”

Do it by stealth if the word love makes you uncomfortable, she says. Call it something else if you need to, but get more loving and you will see results.

3. Happify your one-to-ones with a values approach

I hear from leaders I coach that one-to-ones can be low down their list of priorities. At busy times they’re postponed. For some they get forgotten for quite a while. (Apparently only 10% of employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers🙄 .) I encourage leaders to get back into the swing. Prioritising these is about building positive supportive relationships which is at the heart of happy workplaces.

At the Happy conference, Michelle Hill, CEO of Talk, Listen, Change, shared that one-to-ones are held every 6-8 weeks in her organisation and that “there are only two things that we talk about – values and wellbeing.”

Hang on. 🥺 What about…

  • That long list of actions you asked them to take last time?
  • Your need to be on top of what every single person is up to?
  • Checking in on whether this or that has been done?

Forget it, says Michelle. Get Out Of The Way! Set goals together and let people get on.

One-to-ones at TLC – which are just as likely to be in a café or on a walk as on Zoom –  are the time to ask this human being in front of you how they’re doing and how what’s going on for them is aligned with organisational values. That’s it. This encourages their best work which, after all, is your job as a leader.

The core values of ‘Safe’ ‘Authentic and ‘Person-Centered’, devised by the TLC staff team, underly absolutely everything that happens here. Consequently, there’s a lot of trust, openness, celebration, sharing of mistakes (including Michelle’s) and playfulness.

All of which leads to great results and some very happy people.


Over to you

How do-able do these three pointers feel for you? Can you picture how to implement them in your organisation to foster a happier, more engaged, and high-performing team?

What Next?

Are you a woman leader, ready to grow your leadership skills to empower your team to thrive (with peer-support from a warm group of leaders on the same journey). Let’s explore joining my Sweet Spot group coaching programme. Doors are open now and I’m inviting in 6 to 8 women leaders for the Autumn cohort. Book a call in here for a no-pressure chat .

*From the book Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.


*From the book Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? by Rob Gffee and Gareth Jones.-

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