Chief Joy Officer : Book Summary

The path to joy-based leadership is anything but comfortable. It involves letting go of most of what you've learned or experienced. It means changing what you believe ABOUT the people who work for you and with you. It means getting back to your own personal definition of joy. One you'd be proud to have written on your gravestone.  

 I recently read the book, Chief Joy Officer by Richard Sheridan. It was an entertaining read and one that I couldn’t put down - which is saying a lot for a leadership development book! This book summary captures and shares my personal takeaways, with my own commentary added in italics.

Joy is not happiness. Joy can exist in the midst of hardship, difficulties, challenges, anger, and unhappiness.  Joy is about the profound change we are trying to make in the world.


Stop taking the scenic "road to work" - driving back roads because you can't face the idea of showing up at work for yet another day of disillusionment. Start consistently assessing yourself, and pledging to do better. Start promising to improve one another, so that together, you can build pockets of joy all around your workplace and communities you serve.


Note from Naomi: The key concepts in this book follow along the track of a co-founder asking team members: "If you were to leave and start your own company, who would you want to take along with you from this company (and then asked for the top three reasons why).  The company then developed guiding principles, critical behaviors and visible actions based on that exercise.

Too many leaders do this exercise and develop the core values, but then intrinsically fail to live them out - day in and day out. The problem is that most leaders don't tie in joy WITH said values. He encourages us to champion LEADERSHIP values ahead of core organizational values. Likening it to the difference between being a member of a family vs. a PARENT, the values and responsibilities are not the same. Why do we then think that an organization can have overarching values that apply to those being managed AND the leaders?



Authentic : 

Example shared - the white hard "theater" masks or those you would see at a costume party.  Imaging writing on the outside, the words that you'd want others to know about you: "I'm fine!" "I'm doing great", or "I am happy".  Then on the inside of the mask, words would be written for what was really going on:  "hurting", "exhausted", "scared" or "feeling lonely".  The reality about authenticity is that if we would all SIMPLY share the insides of our masks with each other, we'd find some major commonalities with each other.   


Perhaps for leaders, the outsides of the masks would be: strong, confident, goal oriented, ambitious, in charge ... while the insides would read worried, overwhelmed, stressed and unprepared.

Suggestion: Enlist a set of trusted colleagues and friends to write a couple of words of sentences describing you at your best. This can be either stories of you as the best friend you could be, or things you did at work that brought out the best in everyone else. Look for commonality and then create a "best self portrait". Take the inherent superpowers that others see in you and reflect on those. Build on them to stop focusing only on your deficiencies.



As leaders, we need to be ready to say "I'm sorry"  and then model the behavior for others to be able to say "I forgive you". Truly let it be that simple. We need to stop excusing the behavior of others, and also at the same time learn that we are fallible as well. Humble is not being a doormat. It simply means considering others. We should never push our way to the front of the veritable line ... because we've earned it via a title.

Suggestion: Leaders choose to teach - each and every day.  If you're not teaching, you're not a leader. View everyone on your team as someone's son or daughter.  Teach them in the way that you'd be most proud to answer to their parent. Humble strength requires the opposite of normal views of strength (over-powering, authoritative, etc.)



Love wins every time.

Note from Naomi ... love this one because I have the "real leaders lead with love" poster in my office... it has resonated with me for a long long time!

To be a loving leader simply means to not be mean, harsh, impatient or unkind.  It also means to simply NOT be vindictive, uncaring, sarcastic or hurtful. Doesn't that reframe it as something that is quite easy to do?

Kindness is free! Kindness is also the most valuable currency a leader has - kindness does not mean looking the other way. Rather it means the deepest form of caring (which can also be in the form of a tough conversation or a firing!). Kindness means having the wherewithall to say the words to someone that will stick with them for a lifetime (whether coaching, supportive or motivating words).


Also in the loving realm is saying "WE" and not "I" and being focused on not dishonoring others. Loving leaders do not stand for gossip, innuendo, backstabbing or personal gain / promotion efforts. Let our tombstones not say "Here lies _______.  She stepped on everyone so she could get to here."

Honor and thank to encourage good work. We never know the complete stories of those who work around us and for us. Even if it is THEIR JOB, say thank you. 

Pay it back by loving your co-workers enough to mentor and take time out for them. 

Note from Naomi: This was a LONG chapter!! He got into loving leadership meaning that we always protect, trust, hope and have perseverance - - this means for our culture, people, our vision and values.



Optimism is a fundamental choice of leadership. It's not sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. It's about believing in possibilities with as much wisdom as we can muster. Optimism requires COURAGE. 

The opposite of courage is not cowardice, but conformity.

Example: A life insurance company gave a helium filled balloon to each team member who had innovated and was inspired to run an experiment.  As other staff members noticed the balloons, the org was told to ask the staffer about their experiment.  The optimism that the balloons represented were infectious.

Suggestion: Be a joyful leader that steps into the danger and take chances, those who risk failure and setbacks. 



Not only must you be able to envision the future as a leader, but you must be able to articulate it in a way that is inspiring to others. It must be VERY personal and at the same time, shared by others. Think big, inclusive and motivating. Invite your teams to create your vision WITH you and alongside you instead of it being announced to them. 

Grounded in Reality:

Joyful leaders need to put in more time, but you also need to protect your personal time. Try to make a practice of either being the first to turn on the lights, or being the one to turn them off (you don't need to be BOTH). 

Note from Naomi: Act as a cultural custodian.  Thinking of the work Steve, our custodian, does in our office.  When he's NOT at work, it's noticeable.  The trash cans overflow, the sinks are full, the floors are messy.  As cultural custodians, our leadership should be responsible to manage the day-to-day space, schedule, maintenance and culture (i.e. meetings on time, no interruptions, behaviors, appropriate humor, etc.)

 A healthy and realistic leadership based organization must have conflict in order to achieve balance. Use an outward facing mindset to appeal to the deepest aspiration of the core mission and values: service to others.

Servant Leaders:

Ask your team what KIND OF JOY they wish to deliver to the world  It is basically asking WHO DO YOU SERVE?  At Habitat for Humanity, we need to go deeper than just our donors, homeowners, volunteers and the greater community.  If that's our only answer, then we risk chasing only profits, awards and recognition. What if we instead started looking at our service as being a legacy move. Serving the children and grandchildren of our donors ... the kiddos of our homeowners ... the family legacy of our volunteers ... the extended family of our ReStore / MidTown employees.

The ultimate test for a leader is not whether she makes smart decisions and takes decisive action, but whether she teachers others to be leaders and builds an organization that can sustain its success, even when she is not around. True leaders put ego aside and strive to create successors who go beyond them. --Lorin Woolfe


Lead With Purpose:

Note from Naomi: As I was reading this chapter, I wondered to myself what my children would say about my role at Habitat for Humanity if they spent a day in my office? Would they say I was "important" or "popular" or "had a quiet office" ? Would it be clear to them what kind of a leader I was? Would they be able to tell how my team felt about our communication and teamwork? 


Do Not Pursue Process, Plans or Practices WITHOUT PURPOSE.  Decide on your highest purpose and work down from there to develop process, plans and practices. 


Purpose-drive culture is hard, it will invoke mockery and people will take a long time to join you. Do it anyway. 

Be willing to answer "We don't know how we did this, but we know WHY."


Today I will do what other's won't, so tomorrow I can accomplish what other's cant. - Jerry Rice


Value Leaders Not Bosses:

Bosses command, leaders influence. Bosses have a trump card that says "because I said so."  Bosses are on the hook to get things done, and often require others to do the work. 


Leaders let others around them lead. They don't fan the flames of drama, but don't shy away from conflict. Leaders are not martyrs but are selfless.  Leaders don't view praise like an accounting ledger (always in balance) but call out good things when it happens.


Leaders are all varieties of introverted, cheery, sanguine, serious and confidence instilling. ALL good leaders nurture the growth of other good leaders. 


An environment of healthy leaders means you don't need HR approval, more senior titles or new furniture.


Leadership Beyond Hierarchy:

Consider "reporting to" the process, the project manager or the clients as opposed to internal hierarchy.  OR consider "reporting to" each other.  Nonhierarchical companies rarely set out to be that way. Boss-less doesn't mean leader-less.  (the author of this book champions four pay grades: associates, consultants, senior and principal).  

Note from Naomi: This lesson alone is probably worth the purchase of the book if it's an intriguing concept to you.


Pursue Systems:

How can we reduce our spinning wheels to simply DELIGHT the customer?

How can we introduce repeatable and simple processes to serve our customer?

We first need to identify our default cultures:

  1. Whom did we hire?

  2. What behaviors do we tolerate?

  3. What attitudes walk in each day?

  4. What actions or inactions subtly inform us of what is most important here?


INSANITY: Keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Curb the hallway project management and require "Can you schedule me for 10 minutes on this?"  (too often we place the burden of our to do list on others ... while in the hallway)


Look at the cost of not being on time for meetings (the beauty of getting home to your OWN family on time).  Let the team set the agenda, give those on time the power to start the meeting without you.



  • Pair up your team  - mandate that they always work to make the other look good.

  • Be better at onboarding. (most new hires say their first day felt like their presence was somehow unexpected)

  • Give (and expect) consistent feedback - insist on weekly, if not daily, feedback amongst team members. 

  • Tough love - when you are dealing with performance issues and an impending firing, switch your mindset from the employee with problems, and focus ONLY on the human, and what they need from you as you transition them out. If it's someone who has been around for awhile, allow them time to say goodbye to the team. Offer a transition period so they can leave on their own terms. 

  • Ask your team to EXPECT and DEMAND care from you as their leader ... it will trickle down.


Leaders often carry the burden brought on by low performers. Caring for our leaders then means being tough on obvious weaknesses and performance challenges.



Set the expectation that your team must be always learning. Whether through professional development, books, podcasts, community events, etc.  You will be hard pressed to find a great leader who isn't also a reader (or an audiobook listener!).  Always ask your team to feed back to the others what they've learned.


Consider implementing "learning passports" - explicit goals for reading, taking classes, and so on.  This can be a component to core competencies, merit increases, performance reviews, etc. - - however, the reward should be in the learning, not in the compensation FOR the learning.


Ask nearby professors to come and present their body of work to your team. Ask him/ her to bring their books for your team to purchase as a way to honor their time.


Encourage your team to seek out role models and mentors. Invite them to find guidance with skills they want to learn: speaking, networking, writing, email etiquette, etc. - and then ask them to promote that person FOR their skills and leadership (i.e. Susan asks John to help with networking tips ... and then shares publicly about John's skillset)



Tell the stories of:

  • Your own past

  • Past mistakes at the company

  • Why certain decisions were made prior

  • Why we work the way we do

  • Where we've been

  • What have we tried along the way?

ASK frequently OTHER members of your team to tell the stories.  People will get tired of you always talking ... bring in others to storytell. Intentionally craft a team of storytellers (and train them to professionally speak)




The final test of a leader is that he / she leaves behind in others the conviction and will to carry on. --Walter Lippmann

 Final note from Naomi: Joyful leadership dictates that we leave the campsite better than you found it. I’d encourage you to bookmark this page and come back to it often. Refer to it when you need a reminder about your own impact to be had when you lead from a place of joyful leadership! Chief Joy Officer by Richard Sherman is an important read whether you are running your own company, or leading a team of any size.