Sprinkles For Leaders

Sprinkles for cupcakes have many features relevant for great leaders. Sprinkles make cupcakes special in a way that plain icing cannot. Sprinkles are colorful and fun. They add a charm to a cookie or cupcake that communicates to the recipient the cook or chef cared about the culinary outcome. And, unlike fancy icing, sprinkles have an air of presence—an authentic presentation that is random, spontaneous and real.

Happy employees are resilient in times of chaos, courageous in moments of conflict. While employees choose to be happy, those sourcing positive emotional strength are typically employees bolstered by a supportive, affirming environment. They are able to absorb tension turning their compassion laser gun onto arduous situations. They show pride in their work and respect for the colleagues. They toil for successful outcomes and take pleasure in winning relationships. Sprinkles help leaders help employees feel happy.

Leaders with sprinkles poke fun at themselves and seek ways to shake up the place with quirky events, silly signs, and celebrative occasions. They constantly look for the means, moments and methods to convey gratitude and encouragement for greatness. Thank and you are the two most important words in the English language. Thank you is not simply the expression of a statement but rather the conveyance of a feeling. It means communicating gratitude in a fashion that makes associates feel leaders’ authenticity.

Sprinkles Are Colorful and Fun

At the annual Southwest Airlines Halloween party, CEO Gary Kelly showed up dressed as KISS. The hilarious costume was a carry over from founder and now retired CEO Herb Kelleher who not only would come on his Harley as a Hell’s Angels lookalike but also would be known to hide in the overhead bin to say "boo" to passengers as they boarded the plane. A willingness to be colorful and fun is the confidence to be vulnerable - a word that means without a shield. Such realness and openness fosters a work atmosphere of trust.

Leaders too often associate their mantle of authority with a requirement for detachment. “I don’t care if my employees like me,” the swashbuckling ruler announces, “I just want them to respect me.”

Such a view is often a preamble to emotional distance and calculated encounters. The headlong pursuit of aloofness as the expression of authority invites employee evasiveness, not employee enthusiasm. It triggers reserve, not respect.

Sprinkles Show You Care

Sprinkles are not just antics and charm. Sprinkles reflect an expression of extra or generosity. When former Alfa Romeo CEO Luca de Meo came from Audi to head up marketing at Volkswagen AG, he realized the global function was filled with gossip and suspicion. A silo mentality fueled by an assembly line linear approach of "design to delivery" clearly prevented the cross-pollination of ideas. Without a culture laced with shared meaning, the path to excellence was unlikely.

According to authors Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback in their book Collective Genius, Italian born Luca first learned to speak German so he could converse with his associates directly and not through a translator. One of de Meo’s early steps was to travel the globe (154 countries in 24 time zones) to meet all employees. And, according to those in his countless meetings, he was not just present in the room; he was in the hearts of all those with whom he conversed. “He has a superior talent for making you feel like you are the most important person in the room.”

Sprinkles Create A Presence

Leaders with sprinkles are fans of being present. “You can pretend to care but you cannot pretend to be there,” wrote Tex Bender in his book Don’t Squat With Your Spurs On. It is Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh working in the call center on the phone when call volume is especially high. It is Harley-Davidson leaders riding with customers as a part of a Harley Owner’s Group (HOG) outing.

I once checked into the Biscayne Bay Marriott hotel and witnessed Bill Marriott working the front desk. Leaders who are present occasionally working on the front-line effectively show that these ambassadors matter deeply to the organization.

Managing by walking around is not about close inspection or superficial posturing. I once walked the plant floor with a manufacturing company GM who claimed he was an “open door” kind of leader. The first thing I noticed was how few names he could say. And, out of the corner of my eye, I watched a few employees display their middle finger or an “up yours” arm gesture as soon as they were out of the GM’s eyesight. It was blatantly clear this GM’s floor walks were rare and done only to impress a visitor. Presence only matters when leaders are there to learn, empathize, inspire and affirm, not to show off.

Psychologist William James wrote, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to feel valued.” Sprinkles help leaders show employees they are valued by the manner in which leaders reflect realness, not role-ness; by the ways they demonstrate they care; and by their presence both emotionally and physically. It is about being a gourmet leader, not just mechanically following a recipe. Add sprinkles to your leadership! It will delight your employees and they will delight your customers.

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