Pursuit of Perfect


« Pursuit of Perfect » by Tal Ben-Shahar, the famous professor of the even more famous Harvard university that taught the largest course at Harvard on « Positive Psychology » and the third largest on « The Psychology of Leadership »—with a total of over 1,400 students. In this book Ben-Shahar explains how perfectionsim might prevent you to be happy in your work as well as private life and how sliding from perfectionism to optimalism might bring you happiness and success.

Happiness at work, a path to success

In an AOL jobs article, Alexander Kjerulf propose 5 easy tips to make your work life happier. He reminds us that happiness at work is important for employees as it is most likely the activity to which we give the more time per week, because it is also good for our health (A Gallup’s report clearly indicates the possible huge financial benefits of having happier employees as they will be less sick and less prone to switch employers) and also because it will lead to success.

This last point is also supported by a 2005 scientific article of Lyubomirsky & King, « The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? » in which the autors suggested that evidences indicates that it is happiness that creates conditions to success and not only the successes that makes people happy (although their is also a positive spiral effect here).
Many successful leaders (Jobs, Branson, Hsieh,…) have often repeat that they never worked as they always did what is a passion to them. They were not looking for success at first but more to make what was making sense to them. At the same time, such mindset creates better condition for success as you will likely not be devastated by your failures to the same extent as your goal is not to reach a result but more to do what you like. It is the same difference like between the optimalist and the perfectionnist (if I refer to Tal Ben- Shahar definition in his book « Pursuit of Perfect« ), you will enjoy the path to success instead of waiting the success to be enjoyed.

Delivering happiness

« Delivering happiness » from Tony Hsieh, the CEO and co-founder of Zappos, the first online shoe store in the world, recently purchased by Amazon for about a billion Euro, is providing probably the best example of a new way to manage a company. First define your values, create the right culture and the rest will follow.

 

As an example, here are the 10 Zappos familly values:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble
One of the result of this approach is likely the quality of Zappos customer service. Do you know a lot of companies where you can return your purchased good within a year (the Wow effect) but also one where the customer support agent will send you flowers and a card, on the company’s name after you called to ask for the refund of your recently deceased husband Shoes? Happy customers through happy employees, that is very likely the best marketing you might ever have.

You can also visit their website http://www.deliveringhappiness.com/ or also http://deliveringhappinessatwork.com/

ReWork


You probably already know the famous book of Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of 37Signal, the small company that generate 150 millions$ of benefit with 15 persons in their staff. If it is not the case yet, go get it now or at least visit their website (http://37signals.com/rework). The book is easy and quick to read and might change your ideas on how to do the things right in your company.

Great (Human) Leadership

What can help us being great (human) leaders?

To answer this question, we should start with our personal values. Gandhi, in his great wisdom, said : « Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony« . Before asking you to take human aspect into account, ask you if you care about human (not as a resource but as a human being). If you don’t, it is maybe time to think to move to another blog, you likely won’t be interested in what will follow. If you do really care, ask yourself if you fell in harmony with this value and your other values. If you feel something is wrong, you might have a need for real change. What matters for you? In a perfect world as you see it, as you dream it sometimes, what will be different?

If you can picture what should be different, you can start change yourself. Be the change you want to see in your company (to paraphrase Gandhi, him again). Changing a company culture starts at the top. Leading by example. You want to have a « human » company… be human! You don’t know how to do? It is fine, you are human. You can make mistakes. Just communicate, learn to be vulnerable. It will just make you a better person, a better leader. Making mistakes is not the problem. Not learning from it, is one.

You need to avoid two common pitfalls here. First, contrarily to lot of companies claiming their 3,5 or 10 corporate values, you should adapt your management style to reflect these values. If you talk about entrepreneurship, let people take decisions. When you talk about creativity, accept that employee (including yourself) will make mistake. Do what you say you do, not the opposite. If you are scared of making mistakes, you can’t be creative. It is paradoxical communication. If you want to have a psychotic kid, try such kind of communication, tell her/him you love him and slap her/him on the face.

Second pitfall is the definition of your job as a leader. Are you an expert, a decision maker, a key element in a complex machinery? Lot of managers believes or fell that they must be strong, always right, providing directions, controlling everything. If you do so, It does not let them you a lot margin of maneuver. How many leaders are stuck in meeting all day, taking decisions based on very limited knowledge and without a real understanding of what their subalterns, subject matters experts or not, thinks of the subject? You must be able to trust your team, you must be available in order to ear their ideas, their fears, their issues, their needs. You must understand what they do. In order to do this well, you cannot be in a complementary higher position. You need to be able to be high, low and symmetric. When you don’t know, you are low, accept it. When you take the decision, you are high (referring to Watzlawick).

The job of a leader is to define a strategy, directions, and to take the necessary decisions to make it happen. In order to do this, you must listen, be emphatic, take all inputs into accounts, accept to be challenged, take sounds decisions that you can explain to your kids. Leaders should trust their people, act as human, taking emotions into accounts, be available and take decisions, good or bad and stay consistent with their values, their directions. Be a leader, be human.

The right to be wrong

A large number of companies have a culture of perfection or, at least, « right from the start »  in their values. As a consequences, failing is not welcome. Who like to fail? Nobody!

Even if you don’t like it, failure occurs. And the worse thing about failure is to fail to learn from it and to repeat our failures. Unfortunately, with a « right from the start » culture, employee tend to be scared to fail and try to hide, as much as possible their failure. If there is no failure, there is no lesson to learn from it or not the right one if the truth about the root cause is kept secret. Moreover, such culture prevent creativity to occur in our offices. To do it right we do it like the others, we follow the normal path, the one without risk. Nowadays, can companies afford to be on the same path as their competitors? Don’t we need fresh ideas, innovation, improvements? But if your employees are scared of proposing a (maybe) good and innovating idea, how will you achieve innovation? If you cannot fail, how will you succeed?

Another consequence is the tendency to postpone decisions. In order to minimize risks, managers tends sometimes to postpone decisions or to transfer the risk, meaning the decision process, to the upper management. What is worse? Taking a maybe wrong decision or not deciding? Going forward or staying still? No decsision is a bad decision (100% chances). Deciding is likely less risky but fear of being wrong (or not being right) slow down the process or burden upper management with additional (sometimes minor) decisions to take.

Experience shows that accepting failure will likely increase the number of failures during the first year. Not because people will do more but rather because they will report more failures. With time, failures will diminish as people will learn and creativity and success will rise.

Are you ready to take the risk to allow people to be wrong?