There are moments in life when you hear wisdom that causes you to stop in your tracks and examine everything you ever knew about leadership. Well, that happened to me in Sioux City, Iowa, USA. 

Adam Baumgartner, VP of Demand Operations for Wells Enterprises, recently invited me to share my insights with sales leaders for all of their brands. This 109-year-old company is the largest producer of ice cream and home to the iconic brand Blue Bunny Ice Cream.  

Prior to me speaking, Mike Wells, CEO and grandson of the founder, shared what he has learned over the past 45 years.

  1. State the purpose so that everyone knows that it’s meaningful to the CEO and not just words that emerged from an off-site brand-strategy meeting. He stated that Wells Enterprises’ purpose is to Bring JOY to Everyday Life. I love that a company is focused on spreading happiness to all of its customers. It’s at the heart of every decision they make. Joy is not something that is manufactured like synthetic diamonds. Joy comes from the heart. It’s emotional. It’s real and it’s a vibe that lifts the heaviest heart on a sad day.    
  1. Mike said, “Do something that frightens you.” That’s what courageous leadership does. Go in the direction no one wants to go. For example, imagine what went through a potential voyager’s mind in 1914 when they read about this endurance expedition: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.  Ernest Shackleton – 4 Burlington St.”  
  1. Work with me vs. for me. The moment he made this statement, a joy bomb went off in my head. This is one of the best examples of emotional intelligence. A self-aware leader invites people to join him on the journey instead of telling others what to do. 
  1. Pay people WELL. Pun intended. In the USA where the average minimum wage is $15 an hour, Wells Enterprises pays its 3,500 production workers on average $21 an hour. Joy is not what it says, joy is what is done.   
  1. Surprise the third shift by showing up at 2 a.m. and asking these three important questions: What’s not working? What is working? What else do I need to know? 
  1. He shared that he was grateful for all of them and that the organization will continue to make smart investments into the operations. In a world of uncertainty with rising inflation, the Ukraine war, pandemic fatigue, and waiting for the other shoe to drop about the economy, leaders have to communicate. 
  1. Spark transformation through living values. Wells Enterprises’ values are transparency, respect, urgency, empowerment, and persistence — TRUE persistence. Values inform the actions, behaviors, and habits of an organization on a daily basis. Are you living your values in every interaction with your team and customers?  

Mike Wells is the epitome of leading with joy. As I listened to him and then talked to him afterward, I knew that he was the real deal. Everything he shared came from the heart and was rooted in Midwest kindness.

As you move from functional expertise into leadership, your focus shifts from working directly on tasks to overseeing the work of other people. Leaders who successfully make this jump most often do so by building effective relationships with individuals at multiple levels in their organization. In this course, Leading Through Relationships, Simon T. Bailey details how to lead through relationships, sharing strategies that can help you connect with your employees, manage team conflict, and establish buy-in with other leaders. Learn how to create a culture of insiders, lead others through change and conflict, encourage meaningful communication and collaboration, and more. Find out more about Simon at