Why are managers so afraid to show some happiness?

Billionaire Ingvar Kamprad hard at work

That day, the IKEA store in Gentofte, Denmark is a hive of activity. Not only is there a European executive meeting taking place, but the company founder, Ingvar Kamprad himself, is in the house. That’ll make most employees straighten up and put in a little extra effort.

The execs wrap up at 6 in the evening, and Ingvar takes a stroll through the store as if this was the most natural thing in the world, kindly greeting each and every employee. He encounters two female employees talking to each other and approaches them with a smile and the words: “And what are too such lovely ladies talking about?” – following up with huge hugs for both of them.

Ingvar Kamprad is not merely a multi-billionaire and the top guy of company employing well above 100,000 people worldwide – he’s is also a happy person, and he’s not afraid to show it.

The same goes for many other top executives like Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp of LEGO and Brin&Page of Google. Richard Branson of Virgin is perhaps the most famous example of a top exec who isn’t afraid of being happy, enthusiastic and funloving.

Would you dare to? Can people tell that you’re happy from looking at you? Are you walking the halls of your company with a smile on your face, a cheerful outlook and an unflagging faith in the future? Or have you, like so many other managers, bound yourself to an identity that requires a professional, cold, serious, disparaging and businesslike appearance?

Happiness pays off. Happiness at work is catching – and when the boss is happy, it’s downright infectious. If you, the person in charge, seem unhappy, you dampen the mood of everyone else in the company. This leads to more sick days, more stress, higher staff turnover and lower efficiency. On the other hand: When you radiate energy, curiosity and enthusiasm, you inevitably pass on your attitude to your employees. They grow happier and more creative, and they’ll ultimately end up providing better service to your customers.

Happy managers also gain a natural rapport with their employees, and people are much more eager to go the extra mile for a happy manager than for an unhappy one.

However, there’s one downside to being happy that you should be aware of: You may be regarded as less competent. In an exciting psychological study, participants were asked to read an article and subsequently assess the smartness of its author. Half the participants got an article with a negative, critical attitude towards a certain topic – the other half got an article on the exact same topic, but worded in a much more positive way. The study showed that the author of the negative article was perceived as the more intelligent of the two.

That’s frankly strange, because loads of studies prove that happy people do a much better job. But apparently, many people also think that happy people aren’t all that serious. They’re seen as kind of happy-go-lucky and maybe a bit gullible too.

On the whole, however, there’s no doubt that the advantages to being a happy manager far outstrip the disadvantages. So what can you do to bring some more happiness into your management style? Here are three concrete and dead simple suggestions.

1: Smile.
Look happy when you’re at work. Smiles are infectious and build good relationships. Don’t be fake, though. It has to be a genuine smile.

2: Look at the bright spots.
Many managers spend all their time on problems and all the stuff that doesn’t work. Change tack and spend much more of your time praising good work and finding and cherishing the heroes of your organization.

3: Cultivate optimism.
Some managers believe that a permanent atmosphere of impending crisis leads to good results, and they work hard to point out threats in order to create a burning platform. That’s a mistake. If you convey calm, optimism and faith in the future, you create a much more efficient and adaptable organization. Optimism is not an excuse to sit around doing nothing – it’s the most important driver of change there is.

The upshot

Studies show that managers on average are happier at work than employees but you wouldn’t usually think so to look at them, since many believe that leaders should be serious rather than happy. They forget that it’s possible to be both.

Smiling and being happy is no substitute for being good at your job of course. You still need to be professionally competent, efficient and a good manager. But the collective experience of some of the most capable and successful managers in the world shows that being happy makes you a better boss.

That is, if you’re not afraid to show it!

Your take

Are you a leader? If so, are you happy and not afraid to show it? Or do you adopt a more professional facade?

As an employee, have you tried working for happy boss? Or a very unhappy one? What was that like?

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6 thoughts on “Why are managers so afraid to show some happiness?”

  1. This is a great article, and totally agree. It is amazing how infectious happiness can be. Thank you for this.

  2. Hi Alex,

    Great post! We’ve been saying this for years so couldn’t agree more that:
    “On the whole, however, there

  3. Chip Conley talks about how he has built his hotel empire on creating a ‘happy’ atmosphere. To him, it is just as important that his staff are as happy as his customers

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