Smile staff motivation startup

CEOs impact the productivity of the office with their attitude

I was watching Maleficent last night and the imagery made me think about being a CEO managing a large number of staff. Specifically how my mood really had an impact on the office.

I just got off a call with the CEO of a company I am founding and as we were discussing the effective management of staff I made an analogy from this Disney movie that is worth sharing.

Darkness descends on the Moors

The first thing you have to do is go watch the movie. Sure it is a kiddy film in some regards, but we all grew up on Cinderella and it is a great reframing.

In this retelling of the story, Maleficent is both a hero and a villain largely driven by circumstance, or how she chose to allow her personal circumstances affect those around her.

She begins the film as a spritely, wide-eyed fairy, much like Cinderella. The Moors (Forest) in which she inhabits and eventually becomes the guardian thereof, is a simply lovely place to live (Read work).  The creatures of the forest are playful and inquisitive, as are they engaging, interacting with Maleficent. The forest (office) truly is a bright, sunny, enviable place that makes the men from the neighboring castle jealous.

Then something happens. Maleficent has a pretty bad day personally (getting your wings sawn-off doesn’t help), and surely doesn’t keep it to herself. Darkness literally descends upon the forest. The magical animals of the forest lose their shine and ebullience, going into hiding in fear from whom now has bestowed herself as queen. The animals do not engage anymore, they ‘turn up’ but they aren’t truly present. This is not a place they want to be anymore.

It is only at the end of the film when Maleficent finds her happy place once again, that sunshine is beckoned out of hiding and the animals get back to having fun and slinging mud. This happens pretty fast, like walking into an office.

Hark the CEO, your mood sets the tone of the office

Neophytes to the CEO throne are not apt to truly comprehending quite how important they truly are. This is a place where you need an ego, you need to realize you are uniquely special in your startup and that everyone looks up to you.

I know this to be true as I was Maleficent, and being fairly mercurial, I know I still am. Knowing however is half the battle, so get smart.

At a company I founded and was CEO of I was lucky to get feedback from some of my C levels and a sales guy I am close with that my mood from the moment when I walked into the office set the tone for the entire office. So like Maleficent, when I was sunshine and roses all was well in the forest, but when I had pulled all-nighters for a week and was in a shitty mood, darkness fell upon our office and staff were on edge.

I really was ignorant of quite the effect I had on staff and how I interfaced with them. So please, take this from me, if you are a CEO or one in waiting, you have to hold yourself to far greater regard than from any of your staff and this extends all the way to your fake smile and body language.

I took this on board to new companies and made a huge effort on this point to successfully change the culture from a dark one to a light one. Faced with a crappy environment with unproductive staff, I knew the key thing that had to happen was for staff to actually enjoy turning up to work each day, particularly a Monday.

So what did I do differently? Every day I had 3 cigarettes and 2 cans of red bull (if things were particularly stressful) and convinced myself to put on a shit-eating-grin. Only when I could find a happy place did I walk into the office and start high-fiving people to get them pumped. When I got disturbed from my mountain of emails, I made myself put on another shit-eating-grin rather one of pure contempt. Whenever I was in a mood I would remove myself from the office. It’s my job to get people to want to work hard to achieve my objectives, that’s the job of a manager. Your mood is more important than your bloody emails, think about it, a few hundred people (Staff * salary * hours per day = major loss) may be stressed out because you are feeling miffed. Wow.

Key learnings

  • Become aware that you set the tone of the office. If the office feels dead and you aren’t enjoying yourself, fix it! Get off your ass and make a change, no one else is going to do so, and the staff expect you to (smile)
  • Fake it till you make it. Put on a smile and research shows you will convince yourself you are happy and hopefully the smile continues (there are health benefits)
  • Only walk into the office when you have found your happy place then pump yourself up by pumping everyone else up
  • Give your feelings a name. I am ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘depressed’ or ‘angry’. Again research shows that once you give your emotions a name you can control them better. Annoyed someone messed up something, say ‘angry’ and understand how you are feeling, then take control of the emotion and convert your response to something better
  • Look out for cues. Sometimes you notice a comment that sounds peculiar maybe petulant, and then a few more. Thing is, more often than not it could indicate a more deep-seated issue. When you notice these, realize you haven’t paid any attention to this blog regarding keeping people happy (but this also means other management issues I am not writing about now)

This is a key management learning for me and I hope it is profound for you.

What was something you messed up that your staff helped you get better on?

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