The Pursuit of Happiness

How happy are you at work? How happy are those around you?

There was a recent article from the Associated Press about employee happiness suggesting that we are steadily becoming unhappy at work because we find our work uninteresting, our pay inadequate, and our benefits declining. Gone are the days when an employee works for one or even two companies during a career. Now, the grass always appears greener across the street. The immortal words of my father, and many others of his generation, tell us that we are lucky to have a job and he certainly would agree with Abraham Lincoln’s statement that

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

But is this enough for today’s generation of workers? Let’s explore this further.


What does happiness have to do with leadership?

In the article Leadership and the Science of Happiness, Charles Millick suggests the relationship between leadership and happiness is less about making people feel good and more influenced by collaboration, purpose, and worthwhile work. He suggests this may be the new definition of happiness in the workplace. This is not necessarily a new concept as author Jane Galloway Seiling suggested the idea of a new workplace community in her book The Membership Organization. Community is the idea of collaborating with a defined sense of purpose and experiencing the respect this can bring. She suggests

People seek to work in a community where they feel connected to the success and purpose of the organization. In such an organization, employees want to be top performers, participating deeply in the success of a workplace community in which they share ownership of mission and purpose.

But too many of us continue to look for the quick fix to happiness, both in ourselves and for our employees. A simple Google search of “employee happiness and leadership” brings up almost 1.5 million hits… too many to possibly be relevant.


So how is a leader to figure out this dilemma?

Imagine an environment whereby leaders and others work collaboratively, have a shared sense of purpose, and truly feel that what they do is worthwhile and important. Leaders have the responsibility within organizational communities to create just such an environment of collaboration and purpose. This idea was aptly described by Richard Teerlink, former chairman of Harley-Davidson when he said:

“As a leader your key purpose is to create an operating environment where others can do great things.”

How do leaders create this environment? I suggest three characteristics of leading for happiness in the workplace:

• Maintain Perspective •

You have undoubtedly heard the old adage that there are as many theories of leadership as there are leaders. All of us carry with us mental models of leadership whereby each of us has a unique definition of what leadership is and who is a leader. Too often individual definitions get in the way of our understanding and practice of leadership. The constructionist view of leadership suggests that members of a community “construct” their organizational world together and that leadership can happen in a broader capacity and not simply occurring in those who assume the leadership role. The point is that you need to keep yourself in perspective. Marshall Loeb, former managing editor of Fortune and Money magazines said it best:

“Look at any of the great leaders and examine their ascent to leadership, and, with rare exceptions, you can see that the events created the leader, not the other way around.”

• Lead with Humility •

The great philosopher “Dirty Harry” once exclaimed “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Understanding our strengths and limitations requires true humility. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses many characteristics that distinguish one company from another. One of these characteristics is the Level 5 leader. These leaders are more concerned with the success of the company than with personal success. Such leaders “blend an intense professional will with extreme personal humility.” An example of just such a great leader is Patrick Daniel, President and CEO of Enbridge, who said:

“I have learned through the lives of great leaders that greatness comes from humility and being, at times, self-effacing.”

• Maintain Good Character •

The most effective leaders are almost always the most authentic. The authenticity that comes from good character provides the basis for people to invest a high degree of trust in a leader. It is too easy for leaders to get caught in a trap of arrogance and ego. To manage the power that comes with leadership requires a clear understanding of personal responsibility. One of the fastest ways to undermine your leadership influence is to compromise your integrity. Peter Scotese, retired CEO of Springs Industries said it this way

“Integrity is not a 90 percent thing, not a 95 percent thing; either you have it or you don’t.”

So, how does leadership influence happiness? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Email to a friend

Dr. Hampton Hopkins consults, writes, speaks, and teaches about leadership and organizational development.
He can be reached at

Image Sources: (Micha Klein),


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s