Leadership : happiness is the key to success
A CEO once remarked with surprising candour: ‘I don’t really care if our people are happy or not, as long as they perform.’ This rhetorical statement from a leader stridently driving business outcomes reminded me of the gentle advice of the Nobel laureate and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer: ‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.’ In the course of people transformation exercises I have been engaged in, we often discover the magic of intangibles that transcends rational realities. We have observed the stark difference between compliance and commitment, contract and trust, control and empowerment, vision and a shared destiny, performing one’s duty and going beyond, and the marked distinction between good and great teams.
The pursuit of happiness has been an eternal quest of mankind; scriptures and sciences, poets and philosophers have long extolled humanity’s endeavour in this direction. Jefferson even enshrined it in the American constitution: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ If happiness bears such importance in the lives of individuals, can the society they belong to or organizations they work for be unmindful of their responsibility? Can a leader build a truly great institution when self-interest prevails to the extent of excluding the subjective and psychological well-being of its employees? After all, leaders are responsible to people who spend a large and significant portion of their wakeful day at work.
People are the greatest asset and harnessing human capital is both an art and a science. Transactional quid pro quo relationships between the organization and employees severely limit possibilities to unlocking human potential. In a world perennially bereft of good talent, employers no longer hire employees; rather people are hiring organizations they wish to work for. It is evident to a great extent that compensation is the easiest competitive advantage to imitate. Attrition is a cancerous chasm between intent and reality, slowing the growth of enterprises. There surely is a good business case too! Happy people make happy organizations leading to happy customers.
The brilliant satire “Brave New World” penned by Aldous Huxley in 1931 depicts an England from which unhappiness has been completely eliminated. The conditioned citizens of this make-believe world, set in contemporary twentieth century, are subject to chilling attempts to engineer an artificial paradise and imbibe the utopian wonder drug soma for a chemically induced state of wellness: they declare that “one cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments.” Thankfully leaders, in today’s world, need not resort to social engineering. You can discover that the real life transforming elixir of happiness is well within your grasp.
It is imminent that leaders lend primacy to the human resources function and empower it to unravel individual needs and personal aspirations of employees and co-create the future. Social scientists provide empirical evidence that some of the key facets of a workplace including the quality of environment, sense of purpose, feeling of ownership, social embeddedness, empowerment and autonomy could be real sources of happiness. Reciprocally much as success is being able to achieve what we want, desiring what we get could lead to happiness. When our employees are happy, even hard work can be effortless, and in turn they would gladly commit themselves to making their leaders happy delivering desired outcomes.
Organizations have learnt to go beyond employee satisfaction to measuring employee engagement. I believe that the time has come to explore hitherto unexplored domains, and to go beyond employee engagement. Great leaders and progressive enterprises, in their own interest, would now seek to unravel the contours of what makes people happy at work. Perhaps, as Immanuel Kant suggested, ‘happiness is an ideal not of reason but of imagination’. If I may venture to ask, dear reader, are you happy at work?
(Joy to Behold_Nainital : This lovely flower blossomed just in time for me to capture its beauty and every time I see it, find it a real joy to behold. This picture of happiness that nature shares with us was taken in the scenic hill station of Nainital, nestling amidst the Kumaon hills, in Uttaranchal in the norther part of India. It reminds me of the eternal words of William Blake from his ‘Auguries of Innocence – to see a “heaven in a wild flower”. Can you name the flower ? )