Chief Joy Officer

Sheridan, Richard. (2018). Chief Joy Officer.  New York: Portfolio/Penguin

Published in 2018, the book outlines Sheridan’s approach to leadership and organizational culture. Here’s a summary of the key ideas in “Chief Joy Officer”:

“Your principal moral obligation as a leader is to develop the skill set, ‘soft’ and ‘hard,’ of every one of the people in your charge to the maximum extent of your abilities.” “Extreme people development” moves up from a “smart thing to do” to a first-order moral imperative that cannot or must not be evaded or avoided—starting this afternoon, not tomorrow morning or next week.

Joy as a Leadership Principle: Richard Sheridan argues that great leaders should prioritize joy in the workplace. He believes that a joyful work environment leads to increased productivity, creativity, and employee satisfaction.

Human-Centered Leadership: The book emphasizes the importance of human-centered leadership, where leaders focus on the well-being and fulfillment of their team members. Sheridan advocates for leaders who genuinely care about their employees and work to create a positive work culture.

Eliminating Fear: Sheridan discusses the detrimental effects of fear in the workplace, such as stifled creativity, lack of innovation, and employee disengagement. He encourages leaders to eliminate fear by creating a culture of trust, transparency, and open communication.

Organizational Culture: “Chief Joy Officer” delves into the importance of shaping and nurturing a positive organizational culture. Sheridan provides practical advice on how to foster a culture where people feel valued, empowered, and motivated to excel.

Building High-Performance Teams: The book offers insights into building teams that are not only high-performing but also enjoy their work. Sheridan shares his experiences at Menlo Innovations, where he has successfully implemented these principles to create a joyful and productive workplace.

Learning from Menlo Innovations: Throughout the book, Sheridan shares real-world examples and anecdotes from his own company, Menlo Innovations, to illustrate how these principles have been applied successfully.

“Chief Joy Officer” is a guide for leaders who want to create a workplace where employees find purpose, happiness, and a sense of belonging. It advocates for a shift in leadership mindset towards prioritizing human well-being and emphasizes the positive impact it can have on both individuals and organizations.

Our mission to “end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology”  Wouldn’t it be worthwhile for educational leaders to have a mission to end human suffering as it relates to schools and learning?

Sheridan uses the metaphor that leaders are like pilots.  See for a New Rule using this metaphor for schools.

Another major point is fighting fear by building trust.  We know from Bryk and Schneider’s book, Trust in Schools, based on over 250 schools, that trust will increase learning at a higher rate than the curriculum, strategies, professional development, or leadership models. “Trust is a necessary component of leadership.”

            Leaders choose to teach. And teaching is an inherently humble act—focusing first and foremost on the development of others. Leaders who are vulnerable enough to face thirty moving targets in a classroom and have sweaty palms model for staff.

The book uses a term “cultural custodian.”  Leaders are the initiators, modelers, and the maintenance of the culture.  As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.”  Very good advice.

A quote from the book that may keep leaders awake at night is, “Fear does not make bad news go way. Fear makes bad news go into hiding.” Do you, as a leader, get honest feedback?  When ignorance ends, responsibility begins.  Leaders can’t fix things that remain unknown.  So, how is your network of honest colleagues?  The sooner we know, corrective actions can address issues more quickly, and thereby do less damage.

If You “Want a Culture of Leaders, Build a Culture of Systems Thinkers.” Nothing exists by itself. W. Edwards Deming said, and I paraphrase, the system will get the results that it is designed to do.  If we are not getting the results we want, modify the system.  Sheridan, at Menlo has a motto:  Run the Experiment.  In other words, try something. We will learn something new or learn, ‘don’t do that.’  Another poster at Menlo is:  Make Mistakes Fastr. (not a typo).

In a conversation with Richard Sheridan I asked, ‘what do you look for in hiring?’  He said, “kindergarten skills – do they play well with others?” Menlo has a very extensive hiring and onboarding process to make sure there is a good fit.  In my experience, as a principal, I look for hiring what we don’t have in skills or expertise rather than more of the same. This can expand the diversity of thought, consider more options, and lead to creative approaches.

Again, from the book Our leaders and aspiring leaders must be active learners. We must continually adapt or will we also disappear.

One of my favorite quotes by Peter Senge: “In the long run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organization’s ability to learn faster than your competition.” Instead of complaining about the current state of affairs, compete.  Develop the intellectual horsepower, a collaborative culture, and keep focusing on learning that will keep pace with a changing landscape.

LEARNERS ARE READERS. James Goebel, co-founder of Menlo said, “we didn’t invent anything at Menlo; rather we stole every idea (legally) from a book.”  The more we read, we see more options, and the one with the most flexibility will have the most influence in the relationship to others and the organization. Use reading as a jumping-off point to engage more deeply with other leaders and thinkers.

Finally, as a leader, are you leaving the organization better as a result of being there. Walter Lippmann  is quoted, “The final test of a leader is that he or she leaves behind in others the conviction and the will to carry on.”