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Happiness As A Leadership Priority – A Critical Examination

Lars Friedrich, a seasoned expert in personal and professional leadership development, brings a unique 'Touch of Zen' to his approach. This distinctive method, honed over a proven track record of over three decades, sets him apart in the field and piques his curiosity.

Executive Contributor Lars Friedrich

Recognising that satisfied and happy employees are the backbone of positive outcomes. Nevertheless, happiness should be 'A' priority, but not 'The' priority of leadership.


Group of business leaders smiling at camera

Executives, leaders and entrepreneurs in dynamic business environments know happiness is vital to business success!


This statement applies to individuals, teams, companies, organisations, and businesses because a joyful workforce brings immense value.


When employees are content, they devote twice the time to tasks, are 12% more productive, produce 23% higher profits, score 10% higher in customer ratings and generate 18% more sales.


Companies, organisations and businesses that desire happy, satisfied employees are more likely to invest in continuous improvement strategies! Also, efforts to foster a happy work environment yield significant benefits. Such environments are 39% more likely to attract top talent and 44% more likely to retain it.


By investing in their people and their needs, these companies, organisations, and businesses can outperform competitors at a 24% higher rate, leading to a more prosperous and fulfilling work environment.


Happiness as a leadership responsibility

Happiness has become so important to the workforce that a published survey by Indeed-Forrester, a reputable research firm, found that 90% of employees believe that 'how they feel at work matters'.


Interestingly, most employees also believe it's the responsibility of executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs to create a happy work environment.


This underscores the crucial role of leadership in shaping the workplace atmosphere and employee satisfaction!


Unfortunately, employees who solely rely on external sources for their happiness will likely be disappointed, and it's imperative for individuals to take responsibility for their own happiness and well-being.

The happiness dilemma

The resulting 'Happiness Dilemma' for executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs when prioritising happiness in teams, companies, organisations, or businesses is the challenge of balancing individual happiness with the collective happiness of the group.


Such as all other very personal and unique preferences, likes and tastes... What one person needs for happiness is usually not what another wants!

Therefore, when happiness is demanded and even required from employees as an external source of leadership and can't be delivered, the results can be tragic.


Because when unrealistic expectations are unmet, adverse outcomes may include frustration, distrust, jealousy, toxic work environments, and more.


“Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.” – Japanese Zen Proverb

This is obviously the complete opposite of all the positive factors of happiness mentioned at the beginning of this article, highlighting the potential pitfalls of making happiness the sole priority of leadership.


As a result, while desiring positive outcomes for satisfied employees, executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs must balance work environment ideals against the demands often expected of employees who desire fun workplaces.


Making everybody happy and making it ‘The’ priority of leadership is a sheer mission impossible!


Prioritising happiness gone wrong

As one practical example of making happiness ‘The' priority of leadership…


In their book, 'Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh', authors Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre explore what happens when the quest for happiness in a company culture and making it not A but The priority for leadership becomes too big.


Apart from describing Hsieh’s obsession with happiness and making it a leadership priority, the Wall Street Journal writers also explore his visions of promoting a workplace where bosses treated employees like family members, where stress was replaced by playfulness and hierarchies with equality and collaboration.


Grind and Sayre conclude that apart from his personal tragedy, Hsieh's legacy should teach executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs that instead of prioritising happiness, workforce satisfaction of individuals comes from focusing on more impactful ideals, which is almost a Zen-like approach.


Specifically the ideals of commitment, courage, and well-being!


This is powerful food for thought, raising the question of how executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs can strengthen commitment, courage, and well- being in teams, companies, organisations, or businesses, which can translate into employee self-generated happiness.



Happy employees are committed to the company, organisation, or business and love their work. This commitment refers to their dedication, loyalty, and willingness to go the extra mile for their employer.


However, not all employees are passionate about their employer or their work!


This can translate to individual workers who are highly satisfied with their work but have low workplace loyalty because something about the company, organisation, or business that employs them has left them with negative feelings.


Alternatively, employees could dislike their work and have low job satisfaction but high workplace commitment because of the respect, value, and appreciation displayed for them by the companies, organisations, or businesses.


The following strategies can help to foster workforce commitment practically…


Improving communication and transparency

Trust is about authenticity and communicating what's expected of each employee. When a team, company, organisation, or business functions as a well-oiled machine, everyone understands their role, feels they have a voice, and knows that their contribution matters.

This sense of purpose and shared values is crucial for fostering commitment among employees!


Implementing recognition

Recognition plays a significant role in making employees feel appreciated and motivated. It can take various forms, from acknowledging longevity and loyalty to praising high achievers and top performers to encouraging innovation and bold ideas.


Building stronger teams, recognising accomplishments, and saying 'Thank you!' regularly are all powerful ways for executives, leaders and entrepreneurs to foster a sense of pride and loyalty among the workforce.


Offering learning and development opportunities

Empowerment comes from having the correct information, skills, training, and connections. Leadership has the clear responsibility to provide these resources and help employees succeed and progress on their unique personal success path.


By doing so, executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs not only make employees feel capable and confident in their roles but also foster a sense of growth and progress within the team, company, organisation, or business.


Providing training and support resources

Individuals in the workforce generally value constructive feedback, but when nothing helps them learn or grow, this can hinder success.


Therefore, providing them with the individual support they need to develop skills, knowledge, and experience through mentorship, training, coaching, and other personal development opportunities is essential.


Evaluating compensation structure

No matter how happy employees may be, they will only stick around if paid accordingly. 25% of employees changed jobs because they were offered higher pay elsewhere.


As an attractive and competitive advantage, companies, organisations or businesses should know the industry's pay range, including benefit options, based on the job title, duties, and requirements.



Courage is often one of those words that conjure a scene from a movie where someone finally stands up to a bully, declaring enough is enough!


However, smaller moments of life, including those in the workplace, often offer equal opportunities for courageous actions.


For instance, speaking up in a meeting when we have a different perspective or taking on a challenging project that others are hesitant to lead are both acts of courage in the professional setting!


Happiness is linked to courage because standing up for what we believe is right, especially when others support it, leads to a sense of fulfilment.


Being brave isn't always easy, but developing values that we are willing to stand behind and that we can get others to believe in is vital to motivation.


When we act with courage, we uphold our values and inspire others, creating a positive and fulfilling work environment!


The following strategies enhance courage practically…


Doing the right thing

As the saying goes, integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. It's also a measure of courage!


But courage is not just about standing up for what's right.


It’s also about understanding others, having empathy, being open to new perspectives, seeking out information, training, or new experiences, learning how to articulate our views without engaging in an 'I'm right, you're wrong' mentality, not engaging in gossip or negativity and being honest and humble.


Seeking compromise

Disruption is often the path to innovation; however, it isn't always the path to winning the hearts of others with opposing opinions.


Discernment is a form of bravery, and rather than belabouring points where an agreement can't be reached, looking for compromise is vital.


When a compromise can't be made, it's wise to be prepared to walk away from a battle that isn't worth fighting!

This approach not only fosters a more harmonious work environment but also encourages diverse perspectives and innovative solutions.


Speaking up

The bystander effect is a social psychological theory proposed in the mid-1960s and suggests that individuals are less likely to help someone when others are present.


In the context of dynamic corporate and entrepreneurial business environments, this can manifest as a reluctance to speak up about issues or concerns, even when it's the right thing to do!


In 2009, a study published by the International Ombudsman Association in the 'Journal of the International Ombudsman Association' suggested that people don't come forward in the workplace because they fear losing important relationships in and out of the workplace and fear bad consequences.


Therefore, courage can occur by speaking up for a co-worker, acknowledging a job well done if nobody else did, not letting others dismiss or belittle other colleagues, reporting behaviours that shouldn't be overlooked, and offering help or seeking help when someone needs it.


By understanding and overcoming the bystander effect, a more supportive and courageous work environment can be created.


Being authentic

Courage is doing what we say we will do!


It's admitting when we are wrong, staying humble when we've been acknowledged for superior performance, giving credit where credit is justly due, knowing when we're ready and capable of taking on a new challenge and asking for the opportunity.


In the same respect, if we make a mistake, it's owning it!


Being brave is never being so big that we can't do the small stuff and never being too small to reach for the highest branch, so it's reciprocal for leadership and those who are led.


In the workplace, authenticity means being true to values and beliefs, even when challenging, and being open and honest in interactions with others.

Getting back up

Grace and humility are both forms of courage!


Confidence will constantly be challenged and shaken, and that's precisely where resilience, perseverance, and determination are most critical to bravery.


In those moments, it's essential not to give up but to look to those around us for new perspectives and insights, asking them for their feedback and ideas.


Also, instead of focusing on failures, it's essential to look back on the things we've accomplished!


Then, we should rewrite the narratives about our failures so that they become stepping stones to subsequent success, as grit and grace will always persevere.



Many different variables influence employee well-being!


A work environment is always about more than motivating a workforce to be productive. It's about the people, the surroundings, and the culture that inspire employees to enjoy their work.


Like happiness, workforce satisfaction is very individual and, therefore, difficult to measure because it is based on each worker's sentiments, experiences, and emotions.


The following strategies can help to improve well-being and the resulting happiness practically…


Tracking employee health

To do so, executives, leaders and entrepreneurs must consider the number of days, hours, and weeks the employees work without substantial time off, the work environment, personality factors such as team members and management, access to training, and opportunities for cross-over initiatives.


Monitoring, tracking, and measuring happiness to improve employee health is important. However, those in positions of leadership must remember that unhappiness can be hidden when it only impacts a minority!


Tying happiness to more than business outcome

Business outcomes such as reducing employee churn, improving morale, increasing productivity, and reducing errors are apparent indicators of happiness.


However, the individual workforce's sense of purpose is what drives outcomes!


Therefore, companies, organisations and businesses will gain more if they:


  • Communicate each employee's role, duties, and purpose. Create more vital team harmony.

  • Break down silos that limit collaboration, communication, and team effectiveness.

  • Allow different teams and departments to learn and grow from each other.

  • Encourage organic problem-solving and innovation across the team, company, organisation, or business.

  • Recognise and acknowledge achievements, even those not tied to outcomes.


Implementing these consistently in the work culture will foster and encourage a sense of purpose in employees.


Benchmarking happiness

Employees typically have a good idea of what's happening in other companies, organisations, or businesses in the same industry or do their research when individual employment dissatisfaction rises.


Unlike old ideas, even if they are paid well and are satisfied overall in their current position, the grass will always appear greener if something is neglected within their current workplace's happiness and well-being balance.


Therefore, for executives, leaders and entrepreneurs…


Regularly examining existing operational and organisational aspects such as wellness programs offered, how quickly feedback is addressed, equal opportunities for personal development, appealing changes to the office environment, and incentive programs, and critically accessing and improving them when needed…

Can further enhance well-being and the resulting happiness!



Undeniably, the work environment isn't just about motivating employees to be productive; it's also about the people and the surroundings.


A culture that inspires an individual in the workforce to enjoy their work as happy, equates to a healthier team, company, organisation or business.


As satisfied employees generate positive outcomes, executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs must balance work environment ideals against the demands of happiness in the workplace.


“If you want to make everyone happy don't be a leader – Sell Ice Cream.” – Steven Paul ‘Steve’ Jobs

But for every healthy and long-lasting successful company, organisation, or business that is able to pay the wage for its workforce, it turned out that…


Happiness should be ‘A’ priority, but not ‘The’ priority of leadership!

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Lars Friedrich, Leadership Expert

Lars Friedrich, a seasoned expert in personal and professional leadership development, brings a unique 'Touch of Zen' to his approach. This distinctive method, honed over a proven track record of over three decades, sets him apart in the field and piques his curiosity.

With a career that has spanned from being a former Officer and Special Forces Operator to a COO in international and intercultural corporate business operations and development positions, and now as the founder of his boutique business, Lars has accumulated a wealth of practical leadership, resilience, discipline, motivation, endurance, commitment, persistence, and dedication.










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