Why Leaders Should Stop Obsessing With Happiness

What does it mean to be happy? Evolution provided an easy recipe for happiness. It is about satisfying a specific need. Are you hungry? Get something to eat and you will feel happy. Are you afraid of drowning? Get out of water and breath some air and you will feel happy that you survived. In short, you get happy when you get what you want.

Happiness and meaning

However, according to this study things are a bit more complicated. The authors claim that based on their study, “happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.” Kathleen Vohs, one of the co-authors, mentioned, “happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.” This definitely puts a twist on things, especially considering the impact on workplace.

Will adding meaning to your life make you happy? It might, it might not. Daniel Gilbert in one of his TED talks notes that parenthood is a great example of this phenomenon. Having kids will bring a meaning to your life, but studies have shown that it won’t increase your happiness. In fact, it might be the other way around since it often means self-sacrifice. Taking care of the kids will probably make you feel less happy than having a nice meal in a good restaurant but you will be more fulfilled and feel true meaning of your life.

Additional aspect of your quest for happiness is a concept called the hedonic treadmill. A term originally coined by D. Campbell and P. Brickman describing a tendency of humans to return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events in life. For example, a person gets a promotion or gets a raise and their expectations and desires automatically raise with it so there is no long-term gain in happiness.

In the western civilization we believe that everyone has the right to be happy and we often pursue happiness as the ultimate life goal. Unfortunately, very often those who work hard on “being happy” never really achieve the happiness they seek. It is a moving target. You may say, “I will be happy when I get a promotion.” When the promotion comes you may feel a fleeting satisfaction but you won’t be really happy. The target has moved. Now you need to start working on the next promotion, or on a new car, or a bigger house. The hedonic treadmill keeps you running.

Truly happy people, or let’s rather call them people satisfied with their lives, are usually those who pursue something else and happiness is just a by-product of that effort. They have a mission. It might be something truly big that moves the civilization forward, like curing cancer or solving the world’s hunger. Or it might be more often something much more personal, like having a good family, or helping other people in general. You could say that they have high engagement in life and as a consequence they are happy.

Meaning and engagement

This brings us to the corporate world. There is a decent amount of research that says that happy employees are productive employees. It feels like a common sense, so no reason to argue with that. We see more and more companies creating roles of “Chief Happiness Officer” or similar in an effort to put bigger focus on making their employees happy. However, as with pursuing happiness in the other aspects of life, this seems to be a wrong approach. It may create a temporary good feeling in employees when you bring in a new benefit, have a party, or redecorate the office. But it will dissipate quickly and ultimately it won’t make anyone happy in long run unless you fix the other aspects of work life.

True engagement comes when employees understand their purpose in life, have their personal mission, and this mission is aligned with the mission of the company. Simon Sinek would say that “the start with WHY”. This is how cultures in many non-profit organizations that depend on work of volunteers are set up. Let’s say you are someone whose life mission is to help children. You derive your intrinsic motivation from seeing the happy faces of small kids, seeing them grow and be successful. If you see a kid who you helped, you feel proud, you feel like your life has a meaning, you satisfied your need to help them and you feel happy. If you work for an NGO organization that has the same mission, you won’t need any perks, fancy offices, or happiness officers. Your value system and your life mission will be aligned with the mission of the company and you will be fully engaged. If you go and work for a tobacco company, no amount of benefits or leadership effort will make you fully engaged and truly happy. That job clashes strongly with your values and your life mission.

Employees need to understand that they are having a meaningful impact in the lives of others. They also need to see that someone (ideally their boss) knows them and cares about them as human beings, not just as about workers.

“Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct of having a satisfaction of fulfilling your life’s mission and living according to your values.”

As Daniel Pink wrote in his bestselling book Drive, the intrinsic motivation comes from three sources: autonomy, mastery and purpose. I would combine it with the concept introduced by Patrick Lencioni in The Truth About Employee Engagement. He proposes that the keys to employee engagement come in the form of people understanding their relevance (how they impact lives of others), measurement (so they understand whether they do a good job), and the opposite of anonymity, let’s call it visibility (whether they feel that others know who they are).

Moreover, I would sprinkle in the concept by Cal Newport from his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport suggests that we generally enjoy doing things we are good at, again mastery. Many self-help books suggest that if you want to be happy you should do that what you are passionate about. That often doesn’t lead to success, since being passionate about something doesn’t automatically mean that you are good at it and someone is willing to pay for it so you can make a living. I fully agree with Newport that the concept is wrong and I would argue that whatever you do, if you are really great at it, and it is aligned with your values, you will gradually learn to enjoy it and even be passionate about it. And that means you will enjoy happiness.

Focus on engagement not happiness

So what can you, as a leader, do to increase engagement and ultimately happiness of your employees? This is an incredibly broad topic and there are many answers. But if I would to distill it into couple of key points. I would suggest that as a leader, a manager or an HR practitioner your role is quite simple:

  1. You need to set a clear mission for the company or the team and be able to paint a picture of what the organization is all about and where it is heading.
  2. You need to hire people whose life mission aligns with company’s mission and thus who will be excited by what the organization is doing.
  3. If you already were handed a team, you need to help them understand what their values are, and what their life mission is. Coaching is a good way to do it. And you may need to accept that some of them will select themselves out.
  4. If it is too abstract to link meaning of the work to the mission of the company then show them how their work affects the lives of other people. The most satisfying moments come from being able to point to a specific person you helped.
  5. You need to show that you care about them as a person. Don’t limit your conversation to work related topics but show a genuine interest about what’s going on in their lives in general.
  6. You need to provide them the right tools, training and opportunities so they can learn and be really good at what they do. The better they are at something the more they will enjoy doing it.
  7. You need to give them enough freedom to get the work done the way they want to do it, thus providing enough autonomy,
  8. You need to treat them with respect like adult human beings. Way too often companies hire smart individuals only to treat them like five years old kids.

All this sounds simple but it is definitely not easy. Even something like coming up with a good mission for the company or a team is a non-trivial exercise since you need to take into account all the various stakeholders and there must be something that your employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders identify with. Very often organizations have missions that focus solely on the needs of one or two stakeholders (often customers and/or shareholders), and that makes it ultimately difficult for the employees to identify with the company goals and thus engagement suffers. If you manage all these aspects, you will have an engaged and consequently happy employees who will move the organization forward.

And if you still don’t agree with my argument why it is better to focus on engagement rather than on happiness I would ask you to consider this. Imagine that you are dead and how people would remember you. Do you want to be remembered as “a person who lived an easy life and was happy,” or as “a person who was a great friend and mentor, and who always helped others live fulfilling lives”?

 

Are you happy? How did it happen? Do you believe the ultimate goal in life is being happy or is it something else?

Be A Leader Not A People Pleaser

When you look around you can divide managers into several categories. You find some who truly adhere to the definition of leaders, have the vision for the team, are business people, with clear understanding of what needs to be done and doing it even when it is unpopular. Then you have those who abuse the management position, the jerks, who go after their personal goals regardless the costs. Finally, you have the people pleasers. Managers and leaders who subscribe to the notion that their main task is to make their teams happy because that will produce results, and make the manager popular.

What’s wrong with pleasing people

Happy people are productive people. That is probably true. Various studies has shown that happy people are more likely to be more productive than unhappy people. However, happiness is not the only path to strong company culture and high performing teams. In fact, I would argue that there are better ways to achieve great results than focusing on keeping people happy.

Happy people won’t leave. That is to some extent also true. Until the moment they stop being happy. The problem is with keeping people in the company by trying to make them happy with various perks, fancy office space, or not telling them the hard truth. This approach leads to creating a culture of entitlement. You are building no resiliency. The moment business doesn’t go as planned, and you need to do something that will make people unhappy (being it cutting the perks, giving no bonuses, or even reducing number of employees) you are pretty much done. These things are difficult even in cultures with resilient people and they will destroy the productivity of the team and atmosphere in culture of entitlement for months or even years to come.

I’m not advocating that you should keep your team miserable. Far from it. Numerous studies has shown that positive emotions invigorate people and lead to higher productivity. What I’m questioning is how you elicit these positive emotions. It is not by trying to please people. With pleasing people and the culture of entitlement, you are only a step away from doing something that will displease them, elicit negative emotions, and the productivity plummets.

How to be a leader and not a people pleaser

So if trying to please your team is not the right strategy to leadership, what is? Well, it is not about keeping your team happy, it is about making them feel valuable, respected, engaged and energized. How do you do that? How do you build a high-performing team of resilient people who don’t need to be constantly pleased by the world around them? By following couple of simple practices:

  1. Show direction – one of the key expectations from any leader is providing a vision. You need to be able to clearly state where is the organization heading and outline steps how you expect that it gets there. The best way of showing direction is not just by talking, but by leading the way. Leading by example is a must if you expect others to follow.
  2. Explain “why” – not only you need to explain direction, you also need to be constantly reminding people “why”. Only if the team understands where you want to go and why, they can help you to get there. Only by understanding “why” people can make sound decisions, and if they run into obstacles, they can overcome them the right way that gets the organization closer to fulfilling the vision.
  3. Keep the focus – help the team to keep focused on what matters. Too often managers instead of focusing their team on the top goals, create more and more distractions just for the sake of doing something. Yes, you could do these twenty things, but your job as a manager is to distil it down to just a couple with the highest impact, and then guard it with your life.
  4. Say “no” – learn to say “no” to things that are either not aligned with the ultimate goal, the business model, the organizational culture, or that maybe are aligned, but are not a priority. Saying and owning the “no” is one of the most important things you as a manager can do since it builds your credibility, it grows your influence, and it helps your team to be focused on the right things.
  5. Build ownership – you don’t need to give people equity in the company to create a sense of ownership. In fact, chances are that won’t work anyway since the stake in the company will be negligible for each individual. What you can give them is psychological ownership. They need to “feel” they “own” something, regardless whether it is true in the legal sense of the word. You can increase psychological ownership in couple of ways. Invest time and effort in training your team so they have the capability to own a piece of work, explain how their work contributes to the vision, state who owns what so you create clear responsibility and accountability lines, and finally don’t direct people but rather provide guidance and suggestions without enforcing your way of doing things.
  6. Treat them like adults – way too often we tend to treat our people like 5 years old kids. We spend lots of effort hiring the best and the brightest and then micromanage them in every single thing they do, or try to shield them from unpleasant truths. Treating people with respect is one of the key skills you need to have as a leader.
  7. Provide feedback – provide a clear, candid, well-meant feedback. You as a manager have a moral responsibility to make sure your team knows where they stand. Every single individual on your team should understand when he is doing well, when not, and what they need to work on to get better and grow.
  8. Help them grow – and I don’t mean giving your team some professional training. The one thing you can do is to identify what skills your team needs to develop to be better at their current and more importantly at their next job. By providing feedback, stretch goals, and building up their confidence and interest in learning you are not only helping them to do a better job but you are helping them to be a better human beings as a side effect.
  9. Promote hardship – nothing worthwhile doing is easy. This might be a cliché but it still rings true. If you want your team to feel great, they need to work on something hard. Setting the bar high, giving the team challenges that stretch their skills and abilities, and expecting hard work will ultimately lead to huge feeling of accomplishment and pride once the work is done. If someone on the team is underutilized, either by not tapping their abilities or by not using all their time, these people will be dissatisfied, will focus on the nonsense, complain about every small unimportant thing, work on stuff that is not important and ultimately leave the company at best, or destroy the team morale at worst.
  10. Make them proud – celebrating successes is a great way to show to the team that their work has a meaning. I don’t necessarily mean giving a big party. It is much more important to stop regularly, look back at what was accomplished, what the results of the hardship are, and make it clear that it is the team that made it happen. It is the team that changed lives of other people through delivering a product or providing a service. By doing this you make your team proud, they will feel a sense of purpose and ultimately increase a sense of ownership and focus on continuing to do a great job.

That’s it. It says nothing about making the team happy, pleasing them, or fulfilling all their wishes. Simple right? Simple, but obviously not easy. It is much easier to please than to lead. A good manager and a leader is able to build a culture where happiness is a by-product of doing a great work. You don’t need fancy office space, you don’t need free meals, cars, or other perks. The only thing you need so to make your team feel valued, respected and proud of their accomplishments.

 

What is your take on the topic? Do you feel that keeping people happy is important for them to deliver great results? Or do you feel there is a more powerful state in which people perform.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Ignore Your Dream… Do What You Are Good At

Follow your dream. Do what you are passionate about. Have you ever heard advice like this? Have you ever tried to follow that advice? And have you ever seen someone who followed that advice to fail miserably? Do you have friends who are happy at their job? And if you are one of the lucky ones have you ever analyzed why you are happy when others just complain? Let me give you some answers and some more questions to think about.

I have recently finished reading an excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. It provides a rather controversial view on what makes people happy at work. Cal has done a research into the topic and some of the findings follow the work of Anders Ericsson The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance that was later on popularized by Daniel Pink in his book Drive. I immediately identified with the view Cal Newport pushes since it reflects well my own career.

Do what others are willing to pay for

Being passionate about something sounds like the best place to start when you are looking for a job. But frankly, what are the things you are passionate about and how many of them have any relation to a potential job at all? You might be passionate about collecting stamps, fishing, walking in forest and observing nature, or what about your passion for chocolate? All these sound great but you might be hard pressed to find a job where someone would be willing to pay for your passion. And if no one is willing to reward your enthusiasm then you don’t really have a job that you are passionate about and that can cover your basic needs.

Another thing to consider is that with many people you will find that their passions are their hobbies. The moment you would start rewarding them for their hobby, change the hobby to a job, they may actually lose passion. Their intrinsic motivation goes away as the external motivation (pay) increases.

Do what you are good at

So if no one is willing to pay for your passion then what do you do? Well, obviously, you need to do something that people are willing to pay for. You do what you are good at. And chances are that the better you are, the more value you bring, the more others are willing to pay in return.

This is of course rather tricky. Not only you need to figure out what you are good at, you also need some competitive advantage. Understanding the broader field you selected for your career is important first step. For example there are different ways how to become a great manager. Depending on your personality and your skills at the day of decision you can have a style more focused on numbers and metrics, you can be more focused on hard skills to get things done, more on the empathy side to mentor and coach others. There are numerous strategies that can help you to become truly great manager and you don’t need to pursue all of them. Just pick the one for which you have a competitive advantage and relentlessly work on it to hone it to a level of ultimate mastery.

Be patient and focused

Because, it is all about mastery. When you really examine the causality relationship between passion and skill you will discover that skill comes first. I urge you to consider some hobby you are really passionate about. Take running for example. I have seen this times and times again when people decided to do something for their health. Running seemed a good idea. Were they passionate about it? Not really. It was a boring, difficult and not at all enjoyable experience. They run a mile, and felt tired, miserable, out of breath. I wouldn’t describe passion this way.

But they were patient and persevered. With enough focus, energy and routine they were able to train their bodies to run longer and longer distances. They could see the improvements in their performance, their health, and that lead to more enjoyment. That fueled even more effort and dedication. They became truly passionate about running. Why? Because they became really good at it. It is not a tedious activity anymore, it is truly enjoyable and they love doing it.

Seek challenges and feedback

All humans have unlimited potential. At least that is what I chose to believe when I decided to use coaching and mentoring as my primary management style. However, most humans also have limits to what they are willing to sacrifice and how they measure greatness. We tend to do only as much as is really needed and very few of us are willing to go above and beyond.

Maybe that is why so few people become truly great at what they do. Most of us will be only “ok”. Once we get to a certain level of performance that is acceptable by others, and more importantly that satisfies us, we stop improving. We level off because we feel we are good enough. And it is good enough to be good enough. This mindset has one pitfall. Good enough today may not be good enough tomorrow. Today’s satisfaction with our performance and our job will turn to dissatisfaction, complains about lack of advancements, feeling that others are getting more opportunities, and that life is not fair.

The way to battle this and get into a loop of constant happiness and satisfaction with your professional life is to never stop learning, never accept good enough when looking at your performance and relentlessly seeks feedback on what you can improve.

And not only feedback. You need to constantly seek challenges and new tasks that are just a bit out of your comfort zone and you need to find ways to realistically gauge your performance on these tasks and improve next time. This will get you step by step to the mastery in the field of your choice.

Build a brand and goodwill

How do you build a brand? Have a mission. If you consistently, over long period of time, exhibit certain behavior, volunteer for certain type of tasks, spend time and energy on getting better at these tasks, talk about why these are important for you and find the unifying mission of your life then you will yourself into a powerful brand. You will be seen as really good at these topics and it will fuel further development. The same as with the hobbies you will become passionate about what you do and you will love it.

Keep in mind that this is not about a particular job or position. It is bigger and more lasting. For example, I could see myself as being operations or engineering manager and aspire to become a director. I could have development plans to focus more on strategic focus or leading bigger teams. But I would be in the pursuit of a title and not really in the pursuit of excellence of what I do.

So years ago I decided to have completely different paradigm. I have a mission in my professional life. “I’m the guy who builds teams, offices, and grows people.” I don’t care about what the job title is, even what the actual job description says because in whatever role I’m I will find or build the aspects aligned with my professional mission. It gives me opportunity to be better and better at what I do. That is seen by others so they give me opportunities for doing more of it. And ultimately that makes me love what I do.

Love what you do

So instead of endless jumping from job to job, from career to career, trying to find your passion. I would suggest you focus on doing whatever work you have really well. By doing a great job you will gain respect of others, more autonomy, satisfaction from job well done, and all this will feed back into the loop of excellence. And at the end people love to do what they are good at.

 

What is your recipe for being happy at work? What are you passionate about and do you follow your passions?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Introverts: How To Be Happy

I have already talked about the difference between extroverts and introverts Introverts: Who Are They?”, about how introverts can act more extroverted and why it might be worth a try Introverts: It Is All A Game and how to be a good introverted leader Introverts: How To Be A Leader. Today I want to focus on the most important aspect. How do you live a happy and satisfying life when you are introvert in a world that awards extroversion? I mean aside of the obvious answer: “Just ignore what others think,” since you are probably doing it anyway.

It’s all about your core values

Most of the people who are happy with their lives are those who have been able to align their purpose on this world with their core values and adjusted their expectations accordingly. You may do it naturally (without thinking about it) or you may try to give it a thought (or to approach a life coach) and dig deep into your conscious and subconscious mind to find out what your core values are and what is really important to you. If you come up with answer like “money” then you didn’t dig deep enough. It is very unlikely that your core value is to make money. Most likely you feel that you need money to satisfy some other need and core value. For example, you may discover that money are important to you because you want to be able to provide for your family and family is important to you because you want to belong somewhere and you want to belong somewhere because you want to be loved. By digging deeper you got from money to love. So again, don’t get satisfied with obvious answers and spend the time to find your real core values.

What is a mission of your life?

When having your core values you can then easily figure out what your life mission might be. Let’s say that one of your core values is to “be useful” (which is by the way one of mine). You can then figure out various means to satisfy this value. You may decide to spend as much time as possible with your family and provide all the help and care you can muster. Or you can join a non-profit organization and keep helping in third world countries. Or you can decide to work with people and help them grow and be successful in professional life (which is the path I follow). Often, it will be combination of more than one path. Since there are usually many ways how to live your life in harmony with your core values you may consider taking into account your dreams to pick the right path.

What are your dreams?

What are your dreams and what is behind them? One of my dreams since I was a child (very curious one) was to see the world. I would dream of visiting far-away places, see the natural wonders and humanity’s biggest achievements. Being introverted I was able to satisfy my hunger for visiting these places just by reading about them and seeing pictures but at some level I really wanted to experience it in real. To achieve that I could again select several paths. If I would look at where is the intersection between my dreams and my life mission I would have concluded that working for a global non-profit organization to travel and help in various places might be a good path. However, that would mean meeting constantly too many new people. The path in management I follow allows me the same while working with relatively limited number of people that I can get to know pretty well and seeing them grow and succeed brings me great satisfaction.

How can you achieve your goals and be yourself?

If you follow this approach it may help you to achieve your goals and be happy even when the path leads you to more extroverted type of life. Just make sure you keep a way how to put a break on things and resupply your energy in situations when your passion for the life mission takes you too far from who you are. This may happen when one of your core values takes control over your life and over the other values. It is very likely that there are more than one thing that are important to you and you need to make sure these are well integrated and whatever you do needs to be “mentally ecological”. Meaning, it shouldn’t be at odds with any of the core values.

And what if your core values and mission of your life go well with your introversion? Even better. Just focus on what you love being it science, programming, writing or painting and ignore the surroundings that may want you to become someone you don’t want to be. I still remember one of the best software developers I ever met who worked for a small start-up for quarter the salary he could make elsewhere without much chance for any upside. When we talked about why he doesn’t follow money and go to sell his services for the real market value he answered that he could do that but he just loves working on this particular project as it will be used in railways and he just loves trains.

Twitter type summary: “To live a happy life make sure that what you do aligns with your core values, dreams and mission of your life.”

What are your recipes for happy introverted life? What is the mission of your life?

Surprising Thoughts On What Makes Us Unhappy

I’m a big believer in open and honest exchange of information. I’m a big believer in total transparency and I always encourage others to experience as many new and unique things as possible to broaden their horizons and become better leaders and better human beings. I do this because I believe that only by following these principles you can lead by example and only these principles give you the credibility in the eyes of others. However, they will not make you happy. In fact, once you get on the path of constant learning and exploration you are getting into a vicious cycle of unfulfilled dreams and you need to work hard to bring a piece of happiness back to your life… unless you find solace in the journey itself.

Experiencing more

Experiencing new things and broadening our horizons is making us more educated, more perceptive to other cultures and way of lives but also more aware of what we have and what we are missing. Imagine you live your whole live in a small village in the middle of your country. You never get out and know nothing about the outside world. Your village is your world. You have your family, you have your farm and you have a happy life. Then one day a visitor comes and brings you pictures of ocean and beautiful islands. He just killed your happiness. Suddenly you feel that you want to go there, you are not satisfied with your life anymore and you feel like missing on something. And this happens to us every single day in one form or another. The more global the society, the more we watch TV, the more we travel, the more we see what are all the things that we are missing in our lives, and chances are we feel more miserable. And what happens when you get to the island one day?

I still remember the very first time I saw ocean. Being from center of Europe it was a very powerful and exciting experience. I was sitting for several hours on the shore just looking at the water. Unfortunately, then I walked along the shore to school every single day for half a year and now ocean is just an ocean and I will never experience that sort of happiness I felt when seeing it for the first time. I just pushed the bar of what makes me happy a bit higher so next time I needed to add sunset and beer to get the same level of happiness. As Daniel Gilbert said in his book Stumbling on Happiness: “Once we have an experience, we are thereafter unable to see the world as we did before.”

Having more information

I’m big into sharing information, but is having more information actually helps us to be more happy? Not really. In fact, it is not helpful at all. Let’s look at this situation. You are thinking about getting a new car. You start researching different models and collect a huge amount of information. And now you are sitting in your living room and trying to compare all the data and imagine how it would feel to drive that car in the future. Your brain picks a favorite (let’s say mustang convertible) and starts imagining how incredible it will be to drive that car. Then the day comes, you buy the car and drive it for a week. Suddenly all the small things are starting to pop up. It was raining the whole week so you couldn’t enjoy the no-roof experience, it feels quite bulky, the clutch feels weird. In the information overload your brain simply didn’t think about these daily aspects. It is still a fine car, but it doesn’t feel that great as you imagined based on the information you gathered.

Luckily, as I mentioned in this article your brain has an auto response system that will shield your feelings from anything negative so you will still feel ok. Numerous studies has shown that if you don’t supply your brain with enough information to imagine and instead provide it with experiences by people who are experiencing your future right now, it gets much better prediction on how you will actually feel. In our case, if instead of trying to imagine how great it would be driving your mustang convertible in the countryside you just went and asked someone who owns the car how does it feel today he would probably point out that it is raining often and once you try the free ride for once or twice it gets boring.

Deciding more

We all want to control our lives. It is one of the basic human desires to control our own destiny. The moment someone else starts controlling it we feel helpless and unhappy. That is the reason why we struggle so much for control, why we value freedom, why we want to decide everything even if the outcome will be worse than if we let someone else decide instead of us. The fact that we can decide just feels really good. Unfortunately, the price we pay is often pretty big. We all want to be in control because we believe that we can do better job of guiding our lives in the right direction than the next person would. Curiously enough, it is very rarely the case. Our mind is imagining future that is very different from the actual future.

Did it ever happen to you that you really wanted the next promotion or a new car or a purse and you imagined how great it will be and how different your life becomes? And then you got promoted, got the car or the purse and nothing really changed? What I experienced in professional environment is people saying things like “Yes, I’m busy this month, but once I finish the current project things will be different and I will have more time.” You are in control, you are doing what you are doing on purpose with a vision of better future. Well, guess what, that future will never come. In a month’s time the current task will be finished but other tasks will pop up and things will not feel the way we believe today that they will feel. Maybe if you listened to your boss or a spouse who is urging you to slow down today the final outcome could be much better and you would be happier… even though someone would make the decision for you.

So even if all those things are working in our disadvantage and are making it more difficult to be happy should we just sit in our homes, never go out, never learn and never try to decide anything? No! Just trick your brain into finding happiness in the process of learning and seeing more and not in the final results. The rest will follow automatically. As I wrote in “Human brain, the biggest liar of all times” our brain has one incredible power. A power to cook up the facts of our past memories to make us happy, power to deploy number of psychological tricks to lessen any negative experience we might have so if we let our mind delude us we can still live pretty happy lives.

Twitter type summary: “Constant learning and exploration gets you into a vicious cycle of unfulfilled dreams… unless you find solace in the journey itself.”

What makes you happy? And I mean truly happy? It is not that easy to come up with really reliable answer as your brain will be telling you all sorts of things.

Disclosure: The thoughts in this article are influenced by the ideas presented by Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness.

You’ve got the right guy… in the wrong job

It happens all the time. You hire the best and the brightest, you provide them the means to do a great job, to learn and to grow. Then the day comes you feel like your best individual contributor deserves a promotion. He has done such a great job in his current role, he is smart, dedicated and you feel he has a great potential so you promote him to a manager. That is when things go wrong, somehow he struggles in his new role, people in the team still respect him for his technical skills and ability to get things done, but they don’t respect him as a leader, they don’t follow him. He still feels like he needs to keep doing the work of individual contributor, creates a rift in the team, the motivation in the team is deteriorating and you struggle with retention. What went wrong?

It happens all the time. You take a great individual contributor, rip him out of his ideal job where he really contributes and put him to a role that is not suitable for him, that doesn’t bring him joy and that makes him fail… I used to work for a big global organization with half a million people worldwide. We had a very good training program for new managers, we had a detail development plans and everyone had a clear career path to follow. People were promoted based on the merit, on their contributions and sometimes on their tenure with the company. There was this joke going around that we promote people as long as they are able to handle the job. When they get to a position that is above their abilities their promotions stop. Unfortunately this eventually leads to organization where all the roles are filled by people who cannot handle them.

So what is the alternative? You don’t promote people based on how they are doing in their current job, but rather based on their abilities to handle the job that needs filling. So instead of promoting the best developer to development manager role you promote the one whose contributions in developer role were not particularly noteworthy but who has a great ability to communicate and is able to organize others for a common goal. As I wrote in The Broken Ladder there are different ways to look at career and you can have a very fulfilling professional life without moving up the ladder. You essentially want to find a sweet spot for everyone in your team and then make him work miracles.

What are the advantages of the sweet spot concept? What are the advantages for the organization, you as a leader and individual employees?

Everyone does what they are good at

You let everyone excel in what they are good at. You maximize their potential by focusing on their strengths and that brings maximal value for the company. If someone is a stellar developer, accountant or sales person why to make him a mediocre manager? You organization then suffers big loss on the individual contributor side that is difficult to fill and what you get back is a manager that will have a negative impact on the rest of the team thus lowering the productivity of everyone else.

Everyone does what makes them happy

It is all about passion. If you do job or tasks you are passionate about you feel great deal of personal satisfaction and you are happy. Having people in the right roles, where they bring the best of themselves allows them to be super successful and that brings a great deal of satisfaction with their jobs and happiness to their lives. If you love having things under control, you want to understand everything in the smallest detail and you love getting things done with your own hands and that is what makes you happy then being in a managerial position where you are required to work through other people will make your life pretty miserable. Why would you want that?

People can still grow

The danger of having everyone in their sweet spot is that they get really comfortable and will not strive for more. That mindset would be very dangerous for the organization as it would stifle future growth. So even when you give everyone a chance to be in their sweet spot you still need to challenge them, step by step increase the scope of their work so they learn more, expand their skill set and essentially expand their sweet spot to bigger and bigger role.

Twitter type summary: “Going for the sweet spot is the best strategy for building a high-performing organization where people do what they are passionate about.”

How do you promote people in your organization? What are the criteria you use to get people into management roles?

Looking at the world through the eyes of 5-years old

Have you ever wondered why some people walk through their lives always with a smile on their face and happy while others are constantly worrying and see only the problems and what can go wrong? Are you one of those who could use a little bit more optimism in your life?

Lots of that is given by genetics, our childhood, upbringing, life experiences and generally things in the past that cannot really be undone. I was a very serious child, always worried too much about everything and when I was growing up I always saw the glass as half empty, always had a plan B in case something goes wrong, and always had a rather pessimistic view of the world. And then something happened and I realized that I can change it all and I want to change it. Today, I’m the most optimistic person you could meet and I love it. So let me share with you some of the things that changed my mindset. I’m not saying they will work for you, but they can get you started. As I see it, these are the traits we are born with. These are the traits that every child has but somehow we forget them as we grow.

  • Be open – open to new ideas, open to new experiences, open with your thoughts, open with people around you.
  • Be curious – about things around you, about people you meet, about the world, and about yourself. Learn new things as much as you can and always try to experience something new.
  • Trust others – learn from past mistakes but don’t automatically assume bad intentions or ulterior motives. There is no reason to close down and hide everything from everyone and be on constant guard. It just focuses your mind on negatives. And remember your mind will provide you with more of the things you focus on.
  • Enjoy pushing your comfort zone and try new things – learn to constantly push the boundaries of what you can do and experience. It will prepare you for changes and surprises. Life is full of changes, challenges, and surprises so why not train to be able to deal with them with enthusiasm.
  • Enjoy what you haveDale Carnegie said “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” Learn to embrace life you’ve got. Learn to be happy with things you have and don’t be envious or jealous, it will just make your life miserable.
  • Don’t live in the past – why to keep your mind occupied by something that has happened in the past and cannot be changed? Reliving the past will just make you miserable and will steal precious minutes from living now.
  • Don’t live in the future – it is great to have a dream. So yes, dream, but then go and take the first step to make your dream a reality. If you just keep dreaming without working on getting to your dream you will never get there and ultimately will be disappointed and unhappy with your life.
  • Don’t blame others – you and only you are responsible for your life. There is no point in blaming your parents, teacher, spouse, boss, or fate. We are all responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and destiny.
  • Don’t watch TV – what’s the point? You would just waste an hour of your life watching stories about how other people (often imaginary) live. Just go and live yourself.

And as we are no children anymore let me add two more points for us adults

  • Manage your expectations – set your expectations in such a way that you won’t be disappointed whatever happens. In fact, you may want not to set expectations at all and just enjoy things as they come. The worst thing you can do is overthinking everything. My grandmother who lived through WWII in Europe would even at the end of 20th century still say things like “You shouldn’t waste that food what if there is a war.”
  • See things in perspective – if you are reading this it means you have access to a computer, internet, you have a nice home or an office. Do you know how many people in the world don’t have electricity or even drinkable water? Travelling to some poor countries (for example in Africa) can really open your eyes and change your worldview pretty dramatically.

When I look at myself today I can see someone who is becoming increasingly cynical as I grow older. I do understand that not everything in life can be the way I want and there are many things I cannot really influence. If I would continue in that train of thought I would become really miserable and unhappy person. Isn’t it better to remember back when you were the 5-years old naive kid with short attention span who just enjoyed every day, always tried new things and was able to quickly recover from any mistakes by simply not overthinking them?

Twitter type summary: “To form a more positive view of the world don’t over-analyze everything and try to be a bit more open, curious, trusting and naive.”

What is your recipe for living every day with positive and optimistic mindset? What are the things that helps you achieve that?