Empowered by Laughter

“Laughter is fireworks for the soul”, they say. Enlightening this powerful resource at work, will make your day easier.

London. I am in a pub with colleagues. One of them just shares a hilarious story. Everybody laughs. A good laugh. A freeing one. Times flies, stories being shared and as soon as I am inhaling the rainy fresh air of the night, I am feeling energized and reloaded.

What a good laughter is capable of. Its amazing.

I should laugh more. Especially at work. This thought creeps slowly through my mind and I am realizing what has been missing the past weeks. A strengthening, energizing laugh. Running from meeting to meeting, creating tons of slides, squeezing in emails and calls just took too much attention and power.

But actually, when is it easy to laugh at work?

Recalling from experience it is easiest when I know “why” I am there. Working with purpose, knowing there is a goal I am heading to and I am enjoying the ride – with colleagues having a similar mindset.

Let’s take a closer look.

Laughing because you have purpose

I sit in a room full of inspiring motivated people. Everyone is sharing one’s story. Everyone is quite honest. Even with hopes and fears. One cite of a well-situated woman strucks me at heart. She seems to have everything. Being healthy, living in a wealthy environment in a spectacular scenery, having time and money for travelling … the whole package – but she admits the absence of meaningful work and purpose in her life leaves her desperate and empty. And hence, with less laughter than she’d like to have.

My life is nice. But nice isn’t enough.

A lady

Her statement resonates within me. I’m a big fan of living my life outside the comfort zone. Only in a stretch situation I am one step closer to my goal. Although this stretchy moment can cause some fear, the joy that rushes in when I have grown, mastered an obstacle and overcame fear leads to a massive smile and satisfaction.

Where are you just playing „nice“? Remember: you are missing out on a good hero’s laugh.

Laughing because you have people to laugh with

Is it just me or is a day easier when you are with the right pack!?

Luckily I get to work with great colleagues a lot – some becoming friends over time. And I see there is a certain dynamic when a good mix of people is together. Even if a task is hard to manage, a tight timeline needs to be met or a client is getting crazy – with the right team you can handle everything and feeling energized despite stress.

If you haven’t found your tribe yet, continue searching. Some people are meant to work together. In the meantime invest in your mindset and become the best colleague you want to work with. [You might get some inspiration in this classic book from Dale Carnegie (1936) which is used in all US elite universities in the general curriculum: How to win friends & influence people]

Colleagues are key. Make yours laugh today.

Thanks at this point to all my colleagues who are laughing with me. I feel blessed and privileged to have you in my life. 

Putting values on laptop screens is bullshit

Let’s take the challenge to define your very own set of values and how you want to act upon them. Then find a company you want to influence. And if this company writes the values on screens, be the one example that is living the words.

„Putting values on laptop screens is bullshit“, my colleague explodes. We are in the middle of a heated discussion whether a company should communicate its values or not. While he is convinced that managers do “business as usual” without considering values at all – and hence, values don’t need to be listed – , I am arguing that the transparency about values is needed in order to get into this valuable conversations. Especially when there is a discrepancy between words and action.

I guess, you have been part in such a discussion as well – or at least bystander. Let me share some thoughts with you.

Leaders need to act first

I am convinced that leaders need to take the first step. They are the ones forming and building the culture for the whole team. Therefore, if you are a leader already, be aware that you are an example. Accept it.

I have heard many bosses say that they don’t consider their behavior and opinion as important – but this is a wrong perception. As a boss – even if you haven’t chosen that position by yourself – you are watched by your team. And they will check on your values. If you model a law-and-order-mentality, they will use it on their subordinates. If it’s fine in your team to talk behind people’s backs, this behavior will spread. If you are leading by sarcasm, don’t be surprised if your team doesn’t take you seriously.

In turn, I have seen positive values spread as well. Integrity, honesty and appreciation are forceful values that will lead your team to success and prosperity.

Since we are all human beings, we will make mistakes. We are not perfect. And we don’t have to be. If you have failed, admit it. Be open and ask for forgiveness when needed. This will also model your team in a positive way.

Follow your leader

If your leaders act upon their values, follow them. Copy their behavior and see if it works for you as well. By doing so, you are modeled and you will find your own emphasizes and core principles.

Also get into discussion with them and your team mates. What should be part of your culture and what can be adjusted? Use your time as a team mate as a “leader-in-the-making”-phase and define gradually what should be part of your personal value card.

Act as a leader – even when your boss doesn’t

“My boss isn’t a good role model”, is an argument I love to discuss about. Let me ask you this: “Do you believe, that you are (or: will be) a leader?”

Do you believe, that you are (or: will be) a leader?

If so, find your own values and act upon them. You can model a culture around you even if no one else does. This is the very core of a leader: good self-leadership. And it is independent from your current position in the company. You have to find your own way to express your values.

Getting back to the argument with the colleague about putting values on screens. We found common ground in the inner longing for alignment of words and action. And this includes our very own behavior. Instead of complaining about other not following certain values, let us be the ones led by inner principles.

Therefore, let’s take the challenge to define your very own set of values and how you want to act upon them. Then find a company you want to influence. And if this company writes the values on screens, be the one example that is living the words.

Make appreciation stick

Giving a handwritten note to a colleague emphasis the content and creates a memory.

Recently I received a card saying “thanks for being my friend, it’s good to know you and have you in my life”. It feels good. What an honor if people value your friendship and enjoy spending time with you.

The other way around is also true: I love writing paper based notes to family, friends and also colleagues – letting them know what I appreciate about them, what makes them special and why I like spending time with them.

If you wince when reading “colleagues” I will share a few thoughts on why writing small notes of appreciation could actually be a good idea.

The format emphasizes the content

In our digital age we are not used to paper based communication anymore. Therefore, a real note of appreciation stands out – whether it is a sticky note on the screen or a well-chosen postcard. It can be touched and even smelled. The paper has a certain sound. All those elements create a more intense sensation and add to the value of the written content.

The writer learns to choose words precisely

A piece of paper limits the words, condensing the content to the mere core. Knowing that those words will last, they must be chosen well. It gives the writer the chance to think about the person who will receive the note and wrap the thoughts in words.

A physical note can be kept and re-read

The human brain tends to forget. Quickly. Even positive feedbacks only last a few days and are soon overwritten by stress, failure and bad self talk. But a written appreciation can be re-read, reminding the receiver of his/her strengths, positive impact and successes.

I will never forget the postcard I got from the client on my first project – a reorganization of a department with all the stress change brings along. Two ladies of the department wrote “it’s the people you meet you remember”. Despite an unpleasant project it was possible to connect on a human basis and touch people’s hearts. Over 10 years later I still have that card and like to think back.

Who gets your next card?

Revive your magic spell

Get inspired by Hermann Hesse to draw the most colourful hopes and dreams on your white canvas of unknowing

When was the last time you saw your life full of opportunities? Can you recall a day when the world seemed to lay to your feet ready to be conquered? Often this happens when we face a situation for the first time. We have no idea what could happen but inwardly we vibrantly seek the new opportunities incorporated.

On this white canvas of unknowing our imagination can draw the most colourful hopes and dreams.

For me, such a moment is the first day after moving to a new city. Every street is new, every sound unfamiliar, each walk an exploration. Discovering the cutest hideaway-café, exploring the mysterious parks and enjoying the cities’ architecture are adventures to be experienced.

Same is true for the first day in a new job, a freshborn relationship with the significant other and with a new year.

We pause. Step back. Take a look. And think.

What do I dream of? What do I hope for?

Often I get reminded of an old German poem by Hermann Hesse. It states “each new beginning enfolds a magic spell, which protects us and helps us to live“.

Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.

Hermann Hesse, Stufen

A new beginning is special for the human soul. Somehow we all long for this moment when we can start anew. We get fascinated by an untouched snowfield with its sparkling white cover. The first sunbeams in the morning that are tickling the waft of mist over dark ground.

These special first moments we remember easily. In Detail. And Slow-Motion. The magic spell is at work.

With the new year at hand let the magic spell be active in your life again and start dreaming for the upcoming months. What would you like to discover? Who do you want to meet? Where do you want to travel?

And last but not least:

When was the last time you experienced something for the first time?

Maybe it’s about time.

Will your tombstone inspire others?

Make sure your name is associated with positive attributes that people love to remember.

Lately I had a chat with a colleague coming from another continent – consequently having an unfamiliar name to an European ear. Immediately he was offering a German name as substitute. Since the name was so special – lets say old-school – I asked him laughing why he had chosen it. “Easy”, he said, “I went jogging on the graveyard regularly and I saw that particular name so often on tombstones that I got inspired to pick it for myself.” 

“Wow. Inspired by a tombstone”, I thought – not sure whether to be impressed or awkwardly moved. 

And then my thoughts began to wander… what will be written on my tombstone when the day of tombstone-necessity comes? Will it be inspiring? With what characteristics do I want to be remembered? 

While I continued thinking, I realized that positive remembrance is not limited to death – actually I can recall several leaders in my life whose major attributes I easily can determine and whose attitude impressed me in a way that I wanted to be like them in that particular behavior. If I had to sum up what made them special, most certainly I put on the list: authentic behavior, a trustworthy charisma and interest in people. 

Authentic Behavior 

Despite the fact that I didn’t like all facets of my leaders, I could always rely on their authenticity. The mixture of strengths and flaws made them unique, approachable and – simply put – human. They used to communicate when they were having a bad day. So it was easy to know that a more quiet behavior didn’t mean that there is a problem around. 

In addition, all of them had a basic set of behaviour you could rely on. They were approachable for team members, always open-minded and friendly. One leader put it this simple: don’t scream at people and don’t throw stuff. 

Don’t scream at people and don’t throw stuff. 

A Leader

Trustworthy Charisma 

People I can recall as influential leaders in my life all had a certain charisma. I don’t think of an unspecific atmosphere or esoteric type of feeling, but rather a respect that rose in people who have worked with these people over a longer period of time. Foremost this respect was fueled by a predictability of the leaders behaviour. Everyone knew how this person would react to a specific situation (mainly calm, well-thought-through but clear), and this predictability would allow team members to take decisions. Team members could predict whether they will have the backing of their boss – and this led to freedom, respect and trust. 

Interest in people

Last but not least, leaders I recall as inspiring always had an interest in me. And in others. They “saw” their team and spoke to people on an individual level. It’s probably one of the hardest parts – having an intense job with extreme responsibilities and still take time to show interest in people. To stop at the coffee kitchen for 30 seconds just to ask how it is going or to pad someone shoulder for great work the day before. 

But if you think back – you remember the names of exactly those people. People who saw you. People who were interested in you and your well-being. 

And even when their names will be written on a tombstone, they will be remembered.

How to … appreciate people

Appreciation needs to be precise, immediate and honest in order to motivate and touch a person’s heart.

When I lived in the US the term “Appreciated” was used around me daily. Whenever I did something helpful, I got an “I appreciate your help” or when I hold a door for someone, a mumbled “appreciated” found its way to my ear. It only took a few days and I was so used to the term – even used it myself – that it quickly turned into an empty phrase. 

It reminds me of a chat I had the other day with a colleague, who actually got a positive comment from his project-lead but it seemed so hollow that it wasn’t perceived as honest appreciation.

So, if positive words themselves are not enough to be perceived as real appreciation what is needed? When does a person feel appreciated? 

The questions in combination highlight: there is a sender and a receiver of appreciation. Both people might perceive “appreciation” quite differently. Gary Chapman describes 5 types of how people express and receive appreciation differently [that is: receiving gifts, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and words of affirmation]. Feel free to dig deeper into these 5 types and discover how you actually receive appreciation.

In this article I will only focus on words of affirmation as a way to express and receive appreciation.

When is a positive feedback perceived as true appreciation? 

Preciseness

When you want to appreciate your team member, tell them precisely what you liked and what you want to honor. I recall team meetings after which I got a “well done” and nothing more. “Well done” is so easily said that the receiver cannot even be sure whether you mean it or not. Rather tell someone “I like how you prepared and designed the agenda”, “Thank you for investing your time to prepare for the meeting” or “I was impressed how you handled the critical client question. Well done.” The thought of a precise sentence requires much more thought of yourself and it ensures that you do not slip in a half-heartedly “appreciated”. 

Immediateness

Whenever you see a noteworthy performance, give positive feedback instantly. First of all this will ensure that you can be precise, but you also eliminate the danger of forgetting. Personally, I have decided to appreciate and encourage colleagues always, when I see something cool. Be it a good call moderation, a thought-through newsletter, a well-designed slide or just a beautiful outfit. And the result is always the same: a happy smile. Even more, if you are working with the appreciated people on a regular basis, you build a track record of trust which you will need when you have to give critical feedback at some point. Therefore: appreciate whenever possible and invest in the relationship with your team member. 

Honesty 

This might be the most crucial one. It leads to the underlying motivation of your positive words: Why do you express words of affirmation? Sadly I have met a lot of people who have learned appreciation as a “leadership tool” or even worse as a manipulation-technique. But I am convinced that this attitude backfires because you will “try” to appreciate people and won’t get any result. If you want your team member to feel appreciated, you have to be honest in your motives towards that person. To create this “feeling” of appreciation, your words must be surrounded with an acceptance of your team member or the one you are appreciating. 

I want to encourage you: Start today with uplifting, precise, immediate and honest appreciation! Invest thereby in your relationships and build up the colleagues, team members and even friends around you. I know, it needs a lot of training and thought to nail these precious appreciation moments. But the result is worth the effort. 

What do you think? What else is needed for a positive feedback to be felt as true appreciation? I am eager to get your response. 

Spread the Passion

“Wer keine Leidenschaft versprüht, sollte nicht leiten, denn beide, Freude und Frustration, stecken andere an” [Tomas Härry | Von der Kunst, andere zu führen]

> Who doesn’t spread passion, shouldn’t lead, because both, joy and frustration, infect others <

“What made your week?” is a classical opening question to my team’s weekly 30min call on Fridays. Each one shares highlights, moments of victory and situations to be thankful for.

Even after a long week I tend to leave the teamcall uplifted and strengthened because I have heard so many positive reports that my passion for my team and job is fueled again.

One Friday I thought it might be helpful to also talk about the downtimes of a week – just to lead in a balanced way.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened…

After the first person shared his/her frustration the atmosphere already shifted to the bad. It became more intense when more people shared their bad moments… until everybody was quiet and depressed within 10minutes. Uff!

I am a skilled moderator – but this team dynamic that I started was hard to handle. I always try to end the call positive – but in this case I hardly made it to sealevel before ending.

Sharing my view with a colleague, we both agreed that the question for frustration didn’t do any good at all. And will never be asked again!

When leading people, we need to be aware and conscious of what we want to achieve. As leaders we are in charge of the topics shared and the atmosphere created – including handling our very own frustrations.

So – what are we doing with the downtimes of our weeks?

For sure there need to be sessions with a team where frustrations can be adressed openly. But we must be aware that we need to be one place, talking face2face and have enough time to sort things out. We need to have time to recover from the bad emotion and work through it, so that we can leave the meeting in a good mood.

As leaders we need to work through our emotion in advance – being a good example and not crashing a whole team with our negativity. Harder done than said. But worth it when having a highly motivated team at the end.

I want to challenge and encourage to stop talking about your frustrations and instead start lifting others up, celebrate successes and bring a positive atmosphere to your team.