In the column Leadership jazz, I am highlighting the leadership qualities that are to be given attention in embracing and shifting the challenges of contemporary times for the better. In doing so, I draw inspiration from jazz, in which I repeatedly recognize parallels with the current situation, as well as tap into the laws of creating ‘music’ that adapts, develops, transforms and mirrors the inner experience of external conditions at the moment of playing.
People find it difficult to talk about the inner world. It is easier for us to express ourselves in relation to what is happening around us, to interpret, judge and evaluate others. We especially like to form opinions about other people’s creations. Every creator must therefore be prepared for the judgment of the people, that are predominantly clueless about the creation or the creator.
When I connect the latter thought with leadership, I wonder: What exactly is the creation of leaders? What is the canvas of their creation? What is the value they contribute and leave as a trace?
Recalling dozens of collaborations with leaders, draws a few faces. These share a common joy of life, faith in collective power and the ability to function without own shadow.
They understand their contribution in creating conditions in which people learn, develop and surprise themselves. They create an opportunity to explore and realize the unique contribution of each individual and build a space for joint engagement.
Their canvas of creation is therefore a space that is created between people. They draw on it with the potentials of individuals, they allow the overflow of colours and shapes, they explore emerging new forms. Their greatness, however, is reflected in the awareness that the balance sheet in which their contribution is reflected is the balance sheet of people’s lives.
Economics of happiness
The impact of leaders on the quality of life of individuals is enormous. Great leaders are those who are aware of this and with all the necessary care nurture the possibility of expressing the uniqueness of the individual and skilfully connect them with the shared aspirations.
Leaders who lack this insight and operate with a rigid focus on short-term economic balance sheets sooner or later face the consequences of an emerging culture of discouragement in which people tend to pull their heads below the line of being noticed, hide exhaustion from running short distances, forgetting their dreams.
Studies prove that meaningful action, inspired by a clear collective endeavour, is closely linked to a sense of experiencing deep personal fulfilment, which can be defined by the term happiness. In the recent business literature, the term economics of happiness has emerged, and is related to exploring the correlations, impact, and values that happiness carries along.
The paradox that prompted numerous studies in this field resides with discovery that the happiest people live in the least developed parts of the world, in Africa and South America, and the unhappiest in Europe (!).
Interestingly, the definition of happiness, unlike its ‘distribution’, has no geographical origin. In its composition it is common to all people.
The universal recipe for happiness is healthy interpersonal relationships, a loving partnership, enough resources for a dignified living, health, and meaningful life.
The difference in experiencing happiness is not only in what kind of images we have created in Europe in these categories as compared to the ones held by the happiest people on Earth (the Dominican Republic), but above all in the ability to strike a balance between the inner experience of happiness and the outer appearance.
What is happiness?
Can you agree that left does not exist if there is no right? That light exists only if there is darkness? That sound can only be if there is silence? That day comes only if preceded by night? If so, the argument goes that there is happiness only if there is also hardship.
All those dualities co-exist. They are inter-related; they give existence to each other only in the state of BOTHNESS. Hereupon, there needs to be struggle, shortage and even pain for happiness to come to light and shine through, as proves the study on the happiest people. And the experience of happiness in return makes us resilient to walk through the dark moments.
Happiness is our awareness of the moments, connections and the inner state of joy, tranquillity, contentment and meaning that raises from the field of challenges we face, from adversity. Saying this, it means it is a conscious practice as much as the consequences of external conditions.
The source of happiness at work
Organizations can have a compelling mission, elaborated values, an attractive vision, a well-thought-through strategy, and excellently educated leadership, yet this does not guarantee them the happy faces of co-workers. What does then? It’s actually who rather than what; it’s the leaders.
And even for the leaders, the turning point in realising the deeper meaning behind true value and impact of leadership comes in the form of the hardship. Thus, it is no coincidence that the greatest leaders are often the ones that have gone through such processes resulting in transformative outcomes.
“For the birth of a dancing star, you need chaos in your soul.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
With the raise of challenging and difficult situations in (business) life, also raises the probability of overlooking the pursuit of happiness. And yet it is precisely this questing and this awareness, both on a personal and at the level of providing the conditions for the happiness of others, that is the key attention of the KPI of happiness. If the leader is not able to access his/her well of joy, serenity and meaning and if he/she is not paying attention to creating the environment for the others to be able to access it, the shadow of unhappiness will spill through the space.
So, mind that your ‘brush’ is clean, bring your attention to the ‘canvas’ and create bright and colourful ‘pictures’. And by doing so, your creations will be assessed by happy spectators.
Happiness resides in the transactions of awareness of what we have, not what we do not have, in gratitude, creating opportunities, playfulness, which open the flow of energy between people, between departments, between organizations, between cultures, between boundaries set at the level of beliefs, ideologies and pave the way to an understanding of the meaning and miracle of the value of all values, of happy life itself.