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The Best Leaders Have Fun

By Chris Brady

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” said Walt Disney.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing,” wrote Dale Carnegie.

“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun,” said Thomas Edison.

“If you watch a game, it’s fun. If you play it, it’s recreation. If you work at it, it’s golf,” quipped Bob Hope.

And finally, “Girls just want to have fun,” or so says the popular song (there is at least some justification for the suspicion that the proverbial jury is still out on this one).

This concept of fun seems prevalent in our thoughts and speech. Everyone seems to have some sort of attachment to it, some philosophy about it, and some amount of understanding of the term. We ‘make fun,’ ‘have fun,’ and are sometimes called ‘fun.’

But just what is this word all about? Could it be any fun at all to explore the various facets of fun itself?

Economists (who by reputation are likely far from experts on the subject) might be inclined to call ‘fun’ a ‘good.’ This is not a value judgment, as comparing something to ‘bad,’ but rather a term meant to describe the means to satisfy man’s wants.

Goods are anything that bring about satisfaction to the economic actor, or desirous man. See, it’s just no fun from this angle.

So let’s try another. Bohemians are famous for their worship of this word ‘fun,’ or rather, its realization in their lives. They chase it, pursue it, covet it, cherish it, and continually and shamelessly idolize it.

Then there are the legalistic whose highest value appears to be the absence of fun, or the non-fun, or the anti-fun. They’ve missed grace and found rules. Crinkled brows and stern faces seem to indicate that fun is bad mostly because it appears to be fun.

So some people worship fun while others prohibit it. Yet Disney, Carnegie, and Edison all seem to indicate that fun itself is a factor in productive living. Each of us, no doubt, carry fond memories of fun moments and fun times with fun people. In short, it’s fun to have fun.

Allow me to posit that fun is the by-product of a number of other correct factors all being in place at the same time. To illustrate this idea, let’s consider the negative. It is nearly impossible to ‘have fun’ when something important is amiss in our lives.

We cannot sincerely laugh and worry at the same time. We cannot really have fun while grieving, regretting, or hurting. Fun, then, won’t alight in our lives unless the conditions are correct.

It is at this point we might enjoy looking at the official definition (taken from Webster’s, definition #2)

Fun: a mood for finding or making amusement.

Aha! It’s a mood! Well that explains a lot! Our moods come and go, change and morph, in reaction to our environment, circumstances, and how we choose to perceive and react to those stimuli. So fun, in the manner in which we are considering it, is an enjoyable mood that amuses us.

So why have we ventured this far along what feels to be a philosophical journey, and a rather obvious one, at that? Simply to realize that fun is a mood to be induced under the correct conditions. And why is this helpful? Because, in such a light, fun can be seen as a tool.

Say what?

Yes, a tool. Fun is a condition, and according to Disney, Carnegie, and Edison at least, a productive one, in which people are amused, entertained, and for which they are grateful. In other words, it is a blessing in their lives.

What better tool could the would-be leader learn about and learn to utilize than one that blesses, enriches, entertains, and leads to productivity?

And this is the point of this meandering discussion: the best leaders understand how to have fun and how to invoke fun in the lives of their followers. The best leaders know when to lighten to mood and how to arrange circumstances in a way that is likely to produce fun.

They know how to make the shared tasks of their teams enjoyable.

This accomplishes several things:

  1. Better mental health of the participants
  2. A shared sense of mirth (and therefore belonging)
  3. A lack of heaviness which leads to bad attitudes and negative outlooks
  4. A relief of tension which prohibits productive action and creative thinking
  5. Relational challenges which result from too much seriousness or overblown perspectives on self-importance
  6. Quicker passing of time for more menial tasks
  7. Makes further work more attractive and minimizes ‘project dread’

I have witnessed leaders who understood the power of fun injected it into situations at just the right time. Tense moments were diffused, heaviness was lifted, and optimism was restored through simple gestures of fun.

Other leaders have established fun as a pervasive element in their very corporate culture (Southwest Airlines and Zappos come to mind).

The very best of leaders understand that working in the area of one’s natural gifts is often the most fun work that exists for that individual.  It is to this that the quotes at the beginning of this article were alluding.

When we are doing what we are built to do, called to do, and deeply motivated to do, we will enjoy it. We will have fun.

Therefore, as author and researcher Jim Collins put it, the best leaders will make sure their people are “in the correct seats on the bus.” However, it will often take a lot of work (that may not be much fun) to get to the point where the organization is correctly arranged and people have earned their way into positions of their gifting.

Learning, striving, and climbing are often arduous and difficult activities. It is through these stretches that the best leaders interject doses of fun along the way. Fun thus becomes like grease in a machine – it carries away heat and chips and minimizes friction.

Obviously, moderation is the key. Neither the Bohemians nor the legalists have it right. But properly utilized, fun can be a very effective implement in the leader’s toolbox. It will lead to greater productivity by happier people.

To close, let’s consider two more comments regarding this topic of fun.

“I cannot even imagine where I’d be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.” Charles Swindoll

“Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face.” Dave Barry

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Chris Brady co-authored the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Weekly, USA Today, and Money Magazine best-seller Launching a Leadership Revolution.

He is also in the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus and among the Top 100 Authors to Follow on Twitter. He has spoken to audiences of thousands around the world about leadership, freedom, and success.

Mr. Brady contributes regularly to Networking Times magazine, and has been featured in special publications of Success and Success at Home. He also blogs regularly at Chris Brady.

He is an avid motorized adventurer, pilot, world traveler, humorist, community builder, soccer fan, and dad.

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The Best Leaders Have Fun