The ‘Happy’ Leader: Want profit, high employee morale and loyal customers? Find a way to get happy!

The virtue of happiness is usually relegated to the self-help industry.  Yet, compelling research shows leaders need to get serious about their own happiness as the emotion greatly influences business.

Happy people earn larger incomes and are more productive at work. Yet happiness is not the byproduct but actually may be the cause for success, according to research conducted by Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California-Davis. A positive outlook on life and inner happiness appears to precede good fortune.

Happiness is an emotion and emotions are contagious. A leader’s emotions are like a stealth virus, infecting everyone they come into contact with and the results play out with employees and customers on a grand scale. A study of 3,871 executives and their direct reports shows that HOW a leader leads in terms of the emotional resonance they do or don’t generate matters for 2 reasons:

(1) A big part of the culture and “general feel” or “emotional tone” of what it is like to work in an organization is determined to a very large extent by the leader.

(2) The leader’s style determines about 70% of the emotional climate which in turns drives 20-30% of business performance.

Leadership is emotion

Emotional intelligence is at the core of great leadership.  Great leaders know that human beings—employees, customers, shareholders —are either motivated or demotivated via a pipeline of human emotion.  In today’s world where uncertainty and fear run rampant, becoming a ‘happy leader’ is no longer a soft skill but a strategic imperative.  Ask yourself, “who would you rather follow in an uncertain world: Debbie or Dan Downer who leads with fear, or the leader who sees opportunity in mayhem, a positive future in face of dire headlines?  Here are 5 ways to become a ‘happy leader.’

1. Build relationships instead of networks: In our connected world where networking has become the cornerstone to career success, the fundamental aspects of building a true relationship with a person has been traded for 140 word updates, Facebook likes and followers. Begin today to turn Internet connectivity into genuine relationships by learning more about the people in your network, their aspirations, their personal lives and less about how they can help you.

2. Begin a leader’s journal: The greatest leaders in the world— from Churchill to Gandhi,— Martin Luther King to Mother Teresa— kept journals—hand written entries where they revealed their struggles, triumphs, conflicts and what they were grateful for. Almost a forgotten art form, journaling can help bring about a happiness mindset and help build resilience. Journaling helps us realize how far we’ve come, how much we have accomplished and how much we have to be thankful for.

3. Choose your mindset: Concentration camp survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl demonstrated the power of choosing a mindset of optimism in his survival of the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl said that every human being had the power to choose and the choice rests in the space between stimulus and response. In that space and in our choice lie our growth, our freedom and our happiness. How do you manage that space?

4. Mentor or sponsor someone: The act of mentoring and sponsoring is not only good for a business; it is good for building the happiness quota in a leader. Decades of research shows that each time we move in the direction of helping another human being we actually help ourselves in the process. How many doors have you opened for another as a sponsor? How many people have you mentored?

5. Create a cause not a career: Abraham Maslow, the Dali Lama, Buddha and even Dr. Seuss share one commonality that counts in becoming a happy leader: people wish to commit themselves to something larger than themselves. The greatest leaders, whether manufacturing software or producing diapers create a cause, a personal mission that others can join. Simply put, causes bolster happiness and also create great careers. What will be your cause?


  1. Laura Spinella says

    What an insightful post! I look forward to reading more from you, Deborah!

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