By Stephen Graves, Chief Operations Officer

When you’re a senior leader, people expect you to act a certain way because you’re the boss. But I don’t “boss” people—I lead them – and sometimes that requires channeling Elvis.

Let me explain. It’s true that when you’re driving culture and leading people in an organization, you’ve got to project authority and seriousness because those around you take their cues from you. But that can also be a hurdle when you’re trying to get team members to see you as a real, relatable person. That was my challenge – I wanted my team members to think of me as approachable while also seeing me as a leader.

That’s why I now own an Elvis costume, a Grinch costume, a Buddy the Elf outfit and a bunch of other unlikely wardrobes. Why? Because when you step outside your serious role and let your team see your human side, then you become approachable— a real person, rather than the dreaded “boss.” Which is what prompted me to go full Elvis.

How Elvis Rocked Annual Company Meetings

About five years ago, the company I was working for was holding its annual company meetings – and they were just as much fun as annual meetings generally area. Picture a hotel conference room with hundred people watching eight hours of slide presentations of dry information. It was valuable material, but you wouldn’t know it because most of the attendees were mentally exhausted by the end of the day. The meetings needed a spark of life, and I had an idea of just how we could create it. I talked with the organizers, and my new side job of professional fun guy began.

The next annual meeting, which was always held in early December, began the same way – an introduction by a senior leader and a summary of the slide topics for the rest of the day. But after the first hour and a half, Buddy the Elf made a very unexpected appearance. Throughout the rest of the meeting, he continued to pop up after a set number of slides, telling his story just like it was in the movie, and at the end of the conference, he led a fun talk about Christmas and what it means to be together. The next year, the Grinch showed up. Then, it was the King’s turn.

Picture this—three hundred people in a room and this low stage mist starts to roll in. You hear the intro for “Santa Claus is Back In Town,” and suddenly the King of Rock is standing in the room in his classic rhinestone white jumpsuit, leading the room in Christmas carols as only Elvis can perform them.

Yes, it was incredibly off-the-wall, and I know I saw more than one set of eyes rolling as I strode in with bellbottoms glittering, but the result was exactly what I hoped it would be—no one was bored, engagement sky-rocketed, and attendance at annual meetings reached all-time highs.

Those successes made me think; why not come up with more ways to bring fun and engagement to work with me, and on a more frequent basis?

Next time, I’ll talk about ways to make ordinary days into small celebrations – the kinds that make people smile, share the story, and promote powerful team cohesion.

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