In praise of the ebullient worker

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Ozzie Smith doing his thing at the 1985 World Series (source: Sports Illustrated)

Have you ever worked with someone like Ozzie Smith?

Before really big games, the Hall of Fame shortstop delighted his fans and teammates by doing backflips on the field. In every game he played, his gestures and body language made it clear that he was enjoying himself. His joy spread to everyone who watched him — except, maybe, fans of the opposing team.

Have you ever worked with someone who delights in their work and spreads joy through the workplace? If so, you’re lucky. There are far too few people like that. I call them the ebullient workers.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about:

  • The clowns, who love jokes and pranks but never take anything seriously and can’t be counted on to pull their weight. A clown’s act might be appealing at first, but before long it becomes stale — no matter how good the jokes are.
  • The showoffs, who take delight in their work but at the expense of rival workers or even teammates. The showoff’s delight isn’t really in their work — it’s in proving that they’re better than everyone else. Instead of sowing unity, showoffs sow division.

If you’re an ebullient worker

Good for you. Keep it up. You might ask “Keep what up?” because your ebullience just comes naturally. You have a rare gift of bringing light and life to the workplace. Don’t let anybody or anything — frowning colleagues, disapproving bosses, a stifling corporate culture — extinguish it.

Sometimes, unfortunately, that means that you’ll need to find another place to work. That’s a steep price to pay, but it beats losing the passion you bring to your job every day.

If you want to become an ebullient worker

Find work that you love to do, something you find meaningful and exciting. Don’t be afraid to give it everything you’ve got. Remember that work and fun can go hand in hand. Train the spotlight on your customers and your colleagues, never on yourself.

You won’t need to hang a shingle that says I’m an Ebullient Worker. People will know. And your work will become that much more fun.

If you’re a manager

If you’re lucky enough to have an ebullient worker on your team, encourage them and do whatever you can to remove obstacles from their path. (Of course that applies to everyone else on the team as well.) When you need to sell the team on a new tool or process — on any kind of change — an ebullient worker can be your most valuable ally. But don’t take their support for granted, and don’t rely on them to provide the leadership that ought to be coming from you.

If the ebullient worker has a few years of experience, look for ways they can mentor the younger team members. If the ebullient worker is younger, they might need some coaching to ensure that their positive energy stays positive — a wrong turn or two can turn an ebullient worker into a clown or a showoff.

Finally, do whatever you can to recruit and nurture ebullient workers. It can be hard to find them when you’re filling an opening. But by creating the right atmosphere you might be able to develop them. Tell your team (and show them by example) that while we take our work seriously, there’s always room for positive emotion, for fun, and even for silliness.

The type of workplace doesn’t matter

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Roy Campanella

Why are sports so popular? There are lots of reasons, but surely one of them is that you get to watch ebullient workers. Besides Ozzie Smith, baseball fans will recognize names like Willie Stargell, Kirby Puckett, and Ken Griffey Jr. But ebullient workers can be anywhere, not just in stadiums or arenas.

Another ebullient worker, Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella, said “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.”

I don’t think he’d mind if I extended that to include all of us: You need to be a professional to earn a living, but you need to have a lot of little kid in you too. Maybe you don’t need to, but it sure helps.

What about you? Tell me about your experiences with ebullient workers. If you’re an ebullient worker — or aspire to be one — what other insights can you add?

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