I am often interviewed. The questions typically focus on leadership in the digital age, governance, corporate culture, personal success, or happiness. People specifically ask questions about any of these areas based on their individual circumstances or the interest of the audience they are recording for. But the other day someone asked a question that I had never been asked before:
How can you achieve phenomenal success and happiness, develop courage and be a great leader at the same time?
Wow! The question was both deep and broad. How can I answer it succinctly while providing practical advice at the same time, I wondered? I thought about it for a few minutes and then said that the four goals of success, happiness, courage and great leadership can indeed be achieved at the same time. But in order to do that, one must first get rid of conventional wisdom about what those words mean, and then believe and live by five strongly interdependent and interdependent principles. Here they are:
1. Hunt for life’s worth, not equity
Most people believe that success and happiness is about having wealth and power. Yet we have all seen examples of extremely wealthy and / or powerful people who always feel dissatisfied. We have also seen people who have very little, but they feel really happy and successful. The secret lies in maximizing the worth of one’s life by consistently practicing a set of personal values that you believe are right and noble, and relentlessly pursuing a laudable goal based on those values.
There is nothing wrong with desiring material success, but truly happy people know that success should be measured by what they give to the world, not what they receive from it. They are not selfless saints. They know that it is only when one feels the joy of giving that one fully understands what it means to receive. So, they never stop trying to make their life worth living – a life of giving something meaningful to the world. For some, the result is great wealth, prestige and power. Bill Gates wanted to change the world with software – the resulting wealth was a much appreciated by-product. For others, it’s the immense satisfaction and pleasure they get from just giving – think nurses, teachers, rehabilitation workers and soldiers. They do not feel the need to amass enormous amounts of wealth and power because their purposeful work makes them deeply happy and prosperous.
Courage is also a function of a deep conviction in a goal based on values. Gandhi was not afraid because he was deeply convinced that the goal of achieving freedom based on the values of non-violence and humility was worth dying. Mandela was not afraid of 27 years of harsh imprisonment for the same reason.
2. Use the power of love rather than the power of position.
People who seek to prioritize life’s worth over net worth are deeply in love with their values and purpose. It makes them live their values at all times; and gives them the strength to pursue their noble goal through thick and thin. In doing so, they gain the respect, admiration and trust of others. This soft power is much stronger than the formal power of position or the assigned authority. I once worked for a boss who never stopped trying to create a better future through his research and writing. An incredibly dedicated hard worker himself, he would often say, “There is so much pain in the world… if we can make a small contribution to alleviate some of it, what better than that? And isn’t it great that we get paid to do this? He never told any of us what to do. Yet we were so impressed with his love and dedication to the profession that we wanted to do as much as possible to contribute as well. He never used his formal authority to assign us tasks, but every member of his team regularly went above and beyond.
3. Create happiness by replacing hate, regret, and envy in your mind with gratitude.
Try this thought experiment. For the next five minutes, think about everything that is unfair in your life. List everything (and everyone) you hate, regret, or envy. Exercise your emotional integrity as much as possible by being completely honest with yourself. Take a break from reading to complete your list.
How do you feel after making the hate list? Frustrated, angry, sad?
Now spend the next 5 minutes listing everything you are thankful for in your life. Count all your blessings. How do you feel now?
The point is simple. If you fill your heart with gratitude, a feeling of deep happiness overshadows any feelings of hate, regret, or envy. Hate, regret, or envy cannot coexist with gratitude, so happiness is a choice – a choice YOU have all the power to make.
4. Develop enough inner strength and self-confidence to be able to forgive unconditionally..
People who live to maximize life’s worth rather than net worth feel so happy and if they are successful in giving the world what they believe is worthwhile that they learn to love and respect themselves. In doing so, they become independent and are less impacted by the behavior of others. Such people are not easily injured. Even if someone manages to hurt them, they find the inner strength to forgive. They rise above the desire for revenge and punishment because their need to make a meaningful contribution to the world is far greater than the desire for revenge. Thus, they forgive easily. And by forgiving, above all, they create their own happiness and peace of mind.
5. Lead yourself, not others
The biggest problem with leadership, or rather the lack of it, lies in two basic misconceptions about it:
I. To be a leader, you must have followers, and
II. Leadership is what we do to influence others to get things done.
Whether it is to command, control, inspire, motivate or coach subordinates; leadership is seen as an act of doing something to others. Yet all of the great leaders that I have observed and studied have done the opposite. They didn’t do anything to others. Most of what they did, they did it themselves. Like my former boss whom I described in Principle 2, they understood that leadership is about consistently leading oneself work harder and harder to create a better future. By relentlessly living their values and pursuing a values-based goal, they have become powerful examples for others and have acquired the dedication of others without having to manage or control them. As Gandhi put it so well, Be the change you want to see in the world.
I have learned these five principles by observing many successful, happy, and courageous leaders over the past 30 years. I am grateful to them because I have tried to live my own life with these gems and in doing so I have discovered my own version of success, happiness, courage and leadership. I wish they would do the same for you. Here is a little cheat sheet to help you start your thinking. Rate yourself on each of the following five statements on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 strongly disagree, 2 disagree, 3 neither agree nor disagree, 4 agree and 5 strongly agree. made okay. Once you’ve completed your self-assessment, ask yourself what you would like your scores to be and what you are willing to do to get there.
- I prioritize the value of life (living my values and pursuing my goal) rather than maximizing my net worth
- To inspire others I use my love of purpose and values more than my power of formal position
- I regularly choose to create my own happiness by replacing feelings of hate, regret and envy with gratitude
- I have enough self-respect and inner strength to forgive unconditionally
- I work hard enough to become the change I want to see in the world