Leadership : happiness is the key to success 

· Happiness, Human Resources, Leadership
















Leadership : happiness is the key to success

NS Rajan

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 ? 🙂 )


Comments RSS
  1. Prasad Kurian

    Hello Rajan,

    Great to see you in blogosphere. I think that the distinction you have made between ‘vision and a shared destiny’ isvery important. Yes, I also agree that most of the ‘usual’ employee engagement initiatives are unlikely to lead to ‘happiness’ (or even to ‘discretionary effort’). However, I feel that happiness (including happiness at the workplace) might be a by-product of engagement (high degree of engagement with all aspects of life including worklife).

  2. Vaibhav

    Very well penned!

  3. Ashish Shoree

    Looks like a beautiful Rhododendron ….. 🙂

  4. shashank

    hi bapts how hv u bn? long time … and since when did u turn into such a good author


  5. Sripath

    Anna, Great view and analogies…YOU are the best…Love ya Sripu

  6. Biswajit Roy

    That leadership makes all the difference is now known universally. But what to do when the leader (by virtue of occupying the corner room) says, ” Take salary, have to work”, instead of listening to the feeble voices within the organization that have the potential to make or mar the organizational culture.

    Any thoughts on what to do in such situations?

  7. Suresh Tripathi

    Congrats Rajan for starting a multifaceted blog! And that is You…..

    For an organisation to evolve continuously and move from good to great, there is no doubt that the right kind of leadership is required. However, what I have experienced is that there is a difference in approach amongst successful leaders of today. Question is short term success or sustained success… .? More and more are looking at ‘Today’ because who knows what would happen tomorrow…. If one fails in short term, he is a failure but if one succeeds in short term, he is celebrity today and believes this is the only way and continues with short term focus as long one continues to succeed. He can always move out when there is a failure but the organisation suffers. I am not sure what creates ownership in such leaders. What makes one think long term instead of short term? Looking for your thoughts….


  8. pradeep sahay

    Hi Rajan

    very seminal insights….

    wanted to share some of my own thoughts on the happiness, success connect…

    One of the deepest needs of human existence is to know that our lives count for something. Our significance largely depends upon the fact that we were created by God.
    However most of us want to know, whether the gifts and talents bestowed on us is used to make a difference as we live our lives in a work – a – day world.
    Since work is so much a part of our lives, we want it to be meaningful. To know that our work counts for something important is to know that we count. That’s why mundane work sucks the life out of a set of people & leaves them feeling anonymous and alienated. There is however, a set of people who maybe, perform the same “mundane jobs” but with a difference. Their ability to engage the emotional dimension in their work is what makes the difference; They are emotionally charged because their work allows them to pursue something they deeply believe in. The result is .. passion. Tom Peters once quoted Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, “You must be able to see the beauty in a hamburger bun.” Most so called “sophisticated” professionals laugh when they hear this, but just a few moments of reflection would make it cleat that Mr Kroc was right. You cannot become the world leader in a business as a basic as hamburger (or any other) without truly caring, passionately, about what you do.

    The demands placed on every business in the dynamic times we live in will require that people bring all of what they are to the game. Actively engaged hearts and minds, unwavering commitment, laser focus & relentless determination are all motivated by passion: the key to success in any form and endeavor. Motivation and determination are crucial to success and passion is the force which fosters this motivation & determination.
    Believing passionately in what one does; being uncompromising on ones standards & values, aiming for excellence, are but the building blocks on which rests any successful endeavor, accomplishment and the ultimate purusit of happiness.

    To quote, Stephen Birmingham “What is known as success assumes nearly as many aliases as there are those who seek it. Like Love, it can come to commoners as well as courtiers. Like virtue, it is its own reward. Like the Holy Grail, it seldom appears to those who don’t pursue it.”

  9. chetankhosla

    Happiness is a state of mind. A leader perhaps can only create an environment where people can be happy; but the environment does not make people happy. It is what they choose to be.
    If happiness be the criteria for a leader, I think he should do the following:
    1) Hire people for jobs that they enjoy doing… in other words those who believe that that work is their calling in life. Then work becomes the reward in itself.
    2) Ensure that importance of the Work itself, to the organisation, to its customers, and to society at large is highlighted and recognised. This would allow people to develop pride in what they do!

    I think the rest will take care of itself.

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