Former President Bill Clinton referred to Dennis Bakke’s book, “Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job,” as an “inspiring book that challenges us to rethink the purpose of business in society.” After previewing the book prior to its market debut, Clinton said, “Dennis Bakke’s personal life mirrors the principles he advocates.”
Bakke envisions those principals as benchmarks for how corporate America should operate. “They are basic principles of justice, fairness and fun, and fun is the unusual one,” he said. Through his book, which has been on the market three weeks, Bakke has shared how he applied the principals to The AES Corp., a global energy company that he co-founded in 1981. And now he is touring the United States talking about those principals. He is scheduled to be in Colorado Springs on April 8.
Justice and fairness are not novel ideals relative to ideal leadership models, but having fun at work is revolutionary, Bakke said. He decided to incorporate fun in the workplace when he realized five years after starting his company that many of his employees, some acquired through buy outs, were not having fun.
“More than 70 percent of people in the work force say they don’t have fun at their jobs, and one of the core values should be having fun,” he said.
“I learned that the problem wasn’t out there; it was with me – it started with me,” Bakke said. “I had to change. & I changed from a manager to a leader. Leadership is about people, not machines, resources or assets. I needed to change and take on the characteristics of a leader.”
Bakke said the two most important characteristics of a leader are humility and love. “Don’t put yourself in an arrogant position, like ‘I know everything’ or ‘I don’t make mistakes,'” he said. “You need to be in a spot where you are at the same level, in effect, and your primary responsibility is serving the people you lead.”
Loving people in the workplace means caring enough about the people “to restrain myself in the use of power,” Bakke said.
Fun in the workplace: reality or La-La-Land?
‘It’s not a perfect world, but we need to start with ideals and principals,” Bakke said. “We aren’t going to excuse you from trying this approach to joy in the work force. During the industrial revolution, management was all about the big guys and the little guys – the assumptions were that people didn’t want to work. & People want control; they want to go where they have control.”
It means that corporate America has to give up some control, too, and that means letting go of the idea that making a profit is the No. 1 goal, Bakke said.
According to his Top-10 list revolutionizing corporate thinking, redefining the purpose of business is No. 2. The purpose is “not to maximize profits for shareholders but should be to steward our resources to serve the world in an economically sustainable way.”
Bakke defined his idea of stewardship as he talked about the difference between his company, AES, and Enron. “Enron hired the best and brightest and sent them out to conquer the world,” he said. “At AES we sent our best and brightest out to serve the world. Our main social responsibility is to serve the world.”
What U.S. corporations operate on the principal of serving the world?
“If McDonald’s doesn’t come up with choices that will please the public, they will go out of business,” Bakke said. “It’s their social responsibility to try hard. & Freedom in the marketplace actually works well.”
Bakke said it’s “horrible” the way some companies treat their employees. “But when people try to fix something, they fix the wrong thing,” he said.
His pet peeve: the idea that one person’s job is really important to the world. “Offshoring has allowed 30 families in Indonesia to have a job,” he said. “It’s tremendous for the environment. Even though they are receiving low wages, it’s wages for the first time. We have to re-educate our people. It’s why New England doesn’t have textile mills anymore.”
What U.S. corporations operate on Bakke’s principles in general?
The percentages are low, he said. “There are pockets here and there where there are courageous people who will take this on,” Bakke said. “You have to be brave in a sense. You have to say ‘I am willing to lose my job.’ The boards don’t buy this very often. I am hoping this book encourages people to step out.”
Bakke has stepped out for now, touting his workplace principles, which reflect his Christian family values and a penchant for creating new businesses that “serve the world.” He also is the founder and co-chairman of the Mustard Seed Foundation, which provides grants and scholarships, and the president and chief executive officer of Imagine Schools, a system of public charter schools kindergarten through eighth grade that serve 20,000 students in 10 states.
Although the book is important to him, Bakke said his gift is operating his organizations. “I am not a writer,” he said. “People just suggested I do this.”
For not being a writer, Bakke has made a mark in business circles. On the day the Business Journal interviewed Bakke, he said his agent had just called him to report that the Wall Street Journal had included “Joy at Work” on the newspaper’s Top-10 bestseller list of business books.
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When: 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.
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