Leaders Enable Happiness

I bet it took an extra second or two to grok that title.  You were expecting:

Leaders Enable…

  • Growth
  • Change
  • Results
  • (a bunch of other nice buzzwords)

But happiness?  Before you say “stop, I’m getting off this hippy love bus”, stick with me – I’ll keep this short and sweet.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the psychological research about motivation featured in Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”.  Or Susan Fowler’s book on the same subject “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work . . . and What Does” (I highly recommend the latter for consultants and coaches).  I’m not going to explain everything those books cover, but I want to touch on the central concept they both teach:

External motivation fails in all but the most trivial situations.  Intrinsic motivation is essential to consistently perform at high levels.  And intrinsic motivation requires three interrelated components.  Fowler coins the acronym ARC (Autonomy, Relatedness, Competency) and Pink has AMP (Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose) – same concepts, just different labels.  For my own convenience, let’s use AMP to dig a little further.  Autonomy and mastery should be straightforward – if someone can competently do something, get out of their way and let them do it.  But what about purpose?

Purpose is how leaders enable happiness

Correction – good leaders enable happiness.  We’ll unpack that more in just a bit.  But first, let’s connect the other dots.  Regardless of what nifty books, research, or opinions you’ve read about leadership, allow me to posit two very simple characteristics of leaders:

  • Leaders have followers. This is true by definition.  Don’t have any followers?  Pretty safe to say you’re not a leader (except in your own mind).
  • Leaders provide vision and direction. Again, this is true by definition.  How do you know someone is really following you?  They’re still following you even after you change direction.

So, by definition…

Leaders provide people with a shared vision worth following

That’s what Pink refers to as “purpose” and Fowler refers to as “relatedness” – a strong connection to something greater than oneself.  If you’re a good leader, you’re providing the part of intrinsic motivation that is most difficult for people to find in isolation.  At the same time, you are also part of that same greater cause, making this mutually beneficial.

Wait, let’s get back to my qualification about “good” leaders.  What I described above isn’t necessarily true for people who lead by relying on authority to instill fear.  You know, the old “boss” stereotype who expects people to shut up, do their jobs, or they’re fired?  Hopefully, it’s obvious why we should avoid that toxic approach.  But being a “good” leader requires more than just not being a “bad” leader.

Beware the mediocre leader who doesn’t instill fear but also doesn’t provide any vision beyond the comfort of the status quo.  Again, you’re not really a “leader” if you don’t get anyone to follow you anywhere but right here.

Good leaders don’t take people for granted

They show it by continually investing their time and effort.  This means continuous communication about vision so people buy-in and care enough to follow.  It also means continually investing in people to try and learn new things, so they maintain their autonomy and progress towards mastering new skills.

Quick homework for leaders

  • When is the last time you explained your vision face-to-face? How confident are you that people really believe in it?  How can you tell if they’re just nodding politely?
  • Are you expecting people to try and learn new things? If not, why not?  Beware mediocrity!  And if so, do people feel safe and supported to try new things?

If any of those questions made you pause, then you know you have some work to do.  And it’s not rocket science – 9 times out of 10, you know what you need to do, you just need to remind yourself how important it is to get it done.  Consider this your reminder :)

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