» Success and happiness: we have it backward. Success and happiness: we have it backward. – David Marquet

Success and happiness: we have it backward.

Traditional thinking is that if we are successful, we’ll be happy. In our organizations, leaders think that once the company has some success their people will be happy and morale will improve.

This is fundamentally backward.

Happiness comes first, and once we have happy people, the company will be successful. Once we are happy, we will be successful.

What makes us happy? Alexander Kjerulf in his book, Happy Hour is from 9 to 5 lists the following 6 things:

  1. Be positive.
  2. Learn.
  3. Be open.
  4. Participate.
  5. Find meaning.
  6. Love.

Kjerulf’s focus in mainly on your responsibility for your own happiness at work but as leaders we can have a big impact on the happiness of those around us. All you need to do is just order people to be happy, right? We all know that won’t work.

What can we do as an organization to invite people to happiness? Let’s look at Kjerulf’s list again.

Be positive. We can focus on success and what we achieve as opposed to avoiding errors. Michael Jordan said “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed.” If we just focused on errors, we would assess this basketball player as a failure.

Learn. Growth is key to happiness. Stagnation is lethal to happiness. Not only can we develop a learning culture with respect to our work, we can encourage, support, and pay for employees who want to learn new skills outside of work. Steve Jobs credited his study of calligraphy as a key part of his thinking on the design of the Mac.

Be open. Honesty and trust at work are critical and you have the biggest impact on this. When people feel they are constantly being judged with an eye toward documenting a case to getting fired, they won’t be honest. This hurts business. It is also bad for employees home lives. Since they can’t release the frustrations of work at work because of fear, they take them home and release the toxins there. Not good for relationships.

Participate. This is where I think leaders can have the greatest impact: give people control, don’t take control. this invites participation in a big way.

Find meaning. Whether it’s understanding your Why or establishing organizational clarity, ensure your company is first, honest about what they are trying to achieve, public about it, and practice it.

Love. Kjerulf’s interpretation of love is action oriented. In other words, love isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do. He gives examples of behaviors that will improve interpersonal relationships and improve the environment for love. For example, give full attention to the person you are talking with, simple and true.

And, as a bonus…happiness makes you healthier as well. Kjerulf cites a study where 21,900 nurses were monitored and the findings were that unhappiness and stress at work was as bad for your health as smoking.[1]

Let’s work on setting the conditions for our people to be happy, and success, and profits, will follow.

Kjerulf details the role of happiness in workplace, and life, success.

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