Chapter OneDennis Bakke's Top 10
1. When given the opportunity to use our ability to reason, make decisions, and take responsibility for our
actions, we experience joy at work.
2. The purpose of business is not to maximize profits for shareholders but should be to steward our
resources to serve the world in an economically sustainable way.
3. Attempt to create the most fun workplace in the history of the world.
4. Eliminate management, organization charts, job descriptions, and hourly wages.
5. Fairness means treating everybody differently.
6. Principles and values must guide all decisions.
7. Put other stakeholders (shareholders, customers, suppliers, etc.) equal to or above yourself.
8. Everyone must get advice before making a decision. If you don't seek advice, "you're fired."
9. A "good" decision should make all the stakeholders unhappy because no individual or group got all they
10. Lead with passion, humility, and love.
Leading to Workplace Joy
If the key to joy at work is the freedom to make decisions that matter to the organization, then the key to good
organizational leadership is restraint in making decisions of importance. This is easier in theory than in practice.
From my early childhood I was encouraged to be decisive. My mother helped me start little businesses that honed my
decision-making ability. When I was a quarterback in high school, my coach allowed me to call all my own plays. I held
numerous leadership roles during my school years. Then I attended Harvard Business School, where the case method
teaches students about decision making. I was good at making decisions, and this ability was affirmed many times at
school and at work. I enjoyed taking responsibility and living with the consequences.
Then came AES, an energy company with 40,000 employees in 31 countries and revenues of $8.6 billion, and the
realization that this enjoyment should be spread around. I came to understand that as co-founder and later as CEO, I
had to adopt a leadership style that left most of the important decisions to others. I tried to make my attitude
reflect Max De Pree's admonition that leaders should introduce employees as the "people I serve." I had to find a way
to remind myself daily that giving up many of my executive powers was essential to the goal of creating a fun
My objective is not to explain what it takes to lead people in a positive direction. Scores of books explain it better
than I can. My focus is to show how a leader can make principles and values, especially fun or joy, a significant part
of an organization's definition of success. My views may not get high marks from many top executives. Few embrace the
central organizational principles I advocate, especially giving up power.
One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn is that leadership is not about managing people. People are not
resources or assets to be managed. Nor is leadership about analyzing issues and making big decisions. Leadership is
about the leader's character, not his or her skills. Jerry Leachman, a former linebacker for Bear Bryant at Alabama and
leader of my men's Bible study group, says, "Good leadership starts with a person's character." The most important
character traits of a leader who embraces the principles and values championed in this book are humility; the
willingness to give up power; courage; integrity; and love and passion for the people, values, and mission of the
organization. Leaders must realize that character is transparent to those around us. People "catch" character, virtue,
and values by observing and practicing "right" behaviors and actions, and making them habits. The people who work for
us absorb our character in both positive and negative ways. They are not fooled even if we try to cover up our flaws.
We are an open book.
Humility and courage in a leader allows for the most important aspect of the leadership style introduced in Joy at
Work, letting subordinates make important decisions. The exercise of power validates big titles and high salaries.
When executives give power away, they often feel insecure, as if they are not doing their jobs. In fact, they are
meeting the highest requirements of their jobs when they delegate decisions to subordinates. Not only are decisions
being made by the people who are most familiar with the facts, but the act of making them gives more people a real
stake in the organization's performance. People then feel needed and valued because they are needed and valued. When
a leader acts in a manner that assumes he is the best decision maker-in other words, the most knowledgeable and
responsible member of a group-everyone else feels extraneous. It takes courage for a leader to delegate and free his
or her people to act, exercising their natural gifts and fulfilling their potential. These Leaders show passion for
their subordinates creating dynamic, rewarding, enjoyable workplaces, by loving people, love spending time with them,
and love affirming that they are worthy and important.
Integrity is another important characteristic in building joy at work. Integrity implies a reasonable consistency
between beliefs and actions. I once worked with a board member who was very bright, experienced, and dedicated. But he
was often dismissed by colleagues because he continually changed his position on important issues for no logically
articulated reason. For example, he would make a statement to one person and say something totally different to someone
else. Leaders who act in this manner are not trusted. They might be tolerated because of their position, but
subordinates will most likely follow out of necessity, not out of respect. It is not a fun way to work.
At AES, we chose "integrity" as one of the company's shared values, but not because it would get us ahead of the
competition or improve our image. We chose it simply because it has a moral consistency that carries over to the way we
treat our people and operate our businesses. The traits of good leaders-humility, courage, love, passion, and
integrity-are essential to the roles they play in the workplace. I believe that leaders have three main roles. They
are responsible for interpreting the organization's shared values and principles. They are senior advisers to everyone
in the organization. And they are the collective conscience, pushing the organization to reach its goals and live up to
The idea that top executives or financial experts should make key decisions is so ingrained in our corporate cultures
that it is nearly impossible for leaders to delegate important roles and decisions. Leaders who want to increase joy
and success in the workplace must learn to take most of their personal satisfaction from the achievements of the people
they lead, not from the power they exercise.