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The Happy CEO

You might ask, why does it matter if the CEO of your organization is happy? Or if you are the CEO, then why is it important if you are happy?
 
First, in this context, happy means optimistic, joyful, purposeful or just plain enjoyable to be around. I’m speaking more about the inner peace and confidence reflected out to the world in a way that emits a positive energy field.
 
Last week, I went to the Aspen Ideas Festival and witnessed Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg  being interviewed/grilled by a thoughtful but intense and unrelenting interviewer. You can imagine the line of questions: “What did you know; when did you know it; how long will the litigation last; when will the 737MAX be flying again; will you compensate your customers for the lost revenue?” All fair questions, but I asked myself, When will Mr. Muilenburg crack or relent?
 
He didn’t. He was humble, focused, as candid as he could be, and yes, appeared deeply sorry about the tragedy that his company was involved in, yet he still exuded an inner peace that was deep.
 
No doubt all good CEO’s have media training to keep them out of hot water, but you can’t coach happiness into someone. That comes from within.
 
Contrast this interview to another session at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where a similar line of questions were poised in the same challenging and intense fashion to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
 
I didn’t witness the same happiness and inner peace. The person next to me, whom I just met, wrote me a note that read “This guy is a robot.” No disrespect to Zuckerberg, but it didn’t look like he was having fun. His attitude made his answers seem less authentic.
 
Mind you, both of these executives agreed to attend the festival and knew what they were getting into. They had likely undergone at least nominal rehearsal ahead of time. But the one who exuded positivity is the one who left a better impression.
 
There is actual science behind this. A 2015 study found that the tendency to respond positively to situations was a predictor of better leadership. In addition, the study also found that negative attitude was actually a predictor of poor leadership.
 
Happy leaders also make for happy teams. And happy teams are more productive, more innovative, more willing to take risks, more ethical, and more effective.
 
I know being a joyful leader isn’t always easy. As I lead my team, I have my own challenges. But taking joy in the service of your team, members, and all of the stakeholders that the CEO represents makes for better work, and for a better life.
 
It’s evident that CEOs who enjoy themselves are most often better leaders. Enjoyment is contagious.
 
A personal note: it’s said that we teach what we most want to learn. I share these thoughts as a lesson to myself with the hope that others see the possibility for themselves.
 
When the CEO is happy, the organization is happy.