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Can Executives Be Happy (At Work)?

How would you rate yourself on a happiness scale?


Several times in coaching sessions, I’ve asked CEOs to rate themselves on a 10-point scale on numerous factors – including fun – and they froze. “OK, call it happiness if you’d like,” I prompted. Still no response.

That ain’t right!

Executives should be many things: Competent, strategic, kind, decisive, communicative … and happy.

I think people so infrequently ask senior leaders if they’re having fun that they don’t see it that way. Fun becomes something you do outside of work.

“What do you do for fun?” is something you might ask a busy executive. Golf, skiing and mountain climbing might be expected answers.

Why is leading others not fun?

It could be that the current business environment is challenging and stressful and the leader isn’t succeeding, but that wasn’t the case with these CEOs. Challenging situations are typically episodic.

I believe some executives don’t allow themselves to have fun. Like a cloistered nun, they’re serious and intense and sacrifice themselves to the cause. They feel they must atone for last quarter’s results and dig through P&Ls when the sun is up and try to squeeze in a little joy between a 7 p.m. martini and the kids’ bedtime.

That ain’t right!

If you can’t, on average, say your happiness score is a 7 or better at work, change something!

I recently met the CEO of a midsize business who wouldn’t schedule anything after 3 p.m. Rather, he’d spend the last several hours of the day saying goodnight to his people. He learned a lot and greatly enjoyed it.

Another was a beer lover who had a taproom built in the corporate office. Many others had great passion for their company’s mission, and their joy was so infectious that you had fun just being around them.

You metaphorically (or contractually) take many vows when you become CEO. Growth, profit and ethical behavior are three that usually show up. Put fun on the list and make it happen.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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