Rich Sheridan, world-renowned entrepreneur and bestselling author of Joy, Inc. and Chief Joy Officer, is on a mission to inspire organizations to create joyful cultures. He is the CEO and Chief Storyteller at Menlo Innovations, recognized by Inc Magazine as the Most Joyful Company in America. People from all over the world have visited Menlo to see firsthand the unique culture and systems at the company. Barry O’Reilly welcomes Rich to this week’s Unlearn Podcast to talk about how leaders can inspire joy at work.

Listen to Your Intuition

Rich’s experience at “one of the highest-flying entrepreneurial tech firms” motivated him to listen to his instincts. He tells Barry that they were so far removed from what their customers wanted, that he knew instinctively they would not survive. His intuition proved correct. “They weren’t learning anything,” he remarks; “…they were only applying what they learned from years past.” He vowed to do things differently in his own company so that they didn’t make the same mistake. “All of us have that little place in our guts when something goes wrong… I just learned to pay attention to that signal,” he tells Barry. [Listen from 1:20]

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Look For the Opportunity

When things aren’t going well, that’s where the opportunity is. Many systems exist because they helped you get to where you are, but “there are bits that calcify”, Barry says; leaders need to be true to themselves and see where changes need to be made. Rich points out that when things are going wrong, the leader must become a student again. He recommends going to books first: read the first 30-40 pages, and if it resonates with you, keep reading. You may discover a new idea or an opportunity that will help your company grow. [Listen from 6:50]

Experiments Over Meetings

“Let’s try it before we defeat it.” This simple change of approach has inspired dramatic change in many organizations, Rich says. Ideas need a chance to be proven before being discarded, because only then would you really know if they work. “I think that word ‘try’ is probably one of the most underutilized but most important behaviors for companies to do innovation,” Barry argues. “Take an approach that says take action versus take a meeting,” Rich agrees. He and Barry discuss the benefits of doing small experiments. When you create a culture of experimentation, your systems will always evolve. The leader’s job is to foster that culture by driving out fear: “My role as a leader [is] to pump fear out of the room,” Rich emphasizes. He shares how his daughter inspired him to unlearn leading through fear. It takes self-awareness and a good dose of humility to acknowledge where you’re going wrong and to course correct, Barry comments. He tells Rich that he has learned to be more intentional about who he chooses as role models because our own leadership behavior is conditioned by our models. [Listen from 11:25]

Unlearning Through a Pandemic

Rich panicked for the first few weeks of the pandemic, fearing that he would lose the company he had worked so hard to grow over 19 years. A team member’s excited response to a new project made him realize his fear was unfounded. “She leans in [and says] ‘This will be so exciting to figure out how to do this!” and literally like a house of cards all of my fears just went away,” he tells Barry. He now understood that the culture of embracing uncertainty and trying new things they had nurtured over the years would get them through this time. “If there was a moment of unlearning and relearning that’s happened in my lifetime, I don’t think I’m ever gonna hit a bigger one than the last year,” he remarks. “…It turned out I didn’t need to do anything. We had already created the environment that allowed them to spring forth, and I just got out of the way.” Barry adds, “Uncertainty is an opportunity for people who are willing to grab it.” [Listen from 20:30]

Looking Ahead

The biggest challenge of the pandemic is loneliness and isolation, Rich says. However, coming back together will likely be as difficult as the separation was, and it will take a while to get over the anxiety. He believes we will continue to embrace the new ways of working we learned during the pandemic. He and Barry agree that we see each other as whole persons now, because of this experience. As such, we will continue to be more empathetic and see each other’s humanity, building deeper relationships and a stronger culture. The past year has also reinvigorated his entrepreneurial spirit, Rich says. [Listen from 28:00]