It’s not easy to lead someone to do what you want them to and get them to enjoy doing it. I know this well because I’ve always been a hard person to lead. I like to do things my way. But I also know that I’m not the only one who feel this way. A lot of us like to do things our way or at least feel like we are the ones in control, making our choices. That is why, in my experience of leading others, one of the key things I focus on is the ‘happiness’ of the employee.

Some employees may love complete autonomy while others are happier to have a more structured day. Depending on the person you are leading, you need to help him or her create the type of workday that makes them happy and feel productive.

Happiness is based on perception. It’s how your employees perceive their power to make choices that truly matter to them. If they have control over the kind of projects that they would like to work on for a large portion of their day, they will be happy. They need to have the freedom to execute their ideas, the space to grow and expand.

When people own their choices, they also own the responsibility to deliver on their promises. As a leader in your organisation, think about what you derive happiness from. Who do you enjoy delivering great work to? It could be a co-worker, boss or customer. Ask yourself: Why do you think you work harder to deliver these results for them? Your response will help you understand the importance of emotions at work—yours and other people’s.

True leadership

So you want an atmosphere that encourages great work? We all do. Most bosses and managers talk a good game, but they don’t create a plan to make it happen.

Almost every CEO I have worked for always talked about the importance of their people, but their actions did not match their words. They were always more worried about their own issues.

I know how important it is to make money, improve profit margins, keep stock holders happy, but if the employees aren’t happy, sooner or later the bottom line will suffer.

My mistakes

A few years ago, I was assigned to lead an event that my company was hosting. This meant that I had the responsibility of roping in the speakers [from within and outside the organisation], looking after the set up of the conference room, creating a programme schedule, gathering materials, promoting the conference and all the other laborious tasks that come with hosting a big event.

As soon as I got to work, I began delegating tasks and ticking them off my checklist. After terrible results in the first few weeks I stopped to take a breather. My problem had been that I was blindly assigning people to jobs without asking for their input or preferences. I gathered everyone for a meeting and asked for their feedback and experiences in the past few weeks. Their feedback shocked me. I found out from them that I had delegated tasks to people who had no interest or knowledge in carrying out those tasks. I then realised that I had a lot of improvement to make as a leader.


One of the ways I’ve found that make people happy in their workplace is when they can create their own plan. It helps them improve their ability to understand the choices they do have [perceived freedom]. As a leader you can help them execute their ideas and encourage them to work on their mistakes. The problem lies in helping them execute so they have the best chance at success.

Techniques for happiness and success

As a leader of people, you need to remove obstacles and encourage happiness in every facet of your business. I’ve created some techniques that will enable you to help your company be happy and successful:

  1. Be happy yourself
  2. Know your people and make time for them
  3. Create more autonomy
  4. Help them find meaning in their work
  5. Encourage friendships
  6. Recognise and reward hard work
  7. Let people know that they have options
  8. Find out why people leave.

These are concepts that are easy to understand, but may be hard to apply to your company’s culture. Let’s start with little steps.

Once you’ve been able to bring a little more happiness into your own life and career, which isn’t easy but should be daily pursuit, you can move on to making your employees happy.

The best way to do this is the four-step employee happiness process:

  1. Ask them, on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you in your current job and role? [1 being you would rather lose a foot than continue working here and 10 being happier than a baby giggling.]
  2. Ask them, how can I make you happier? What projects are you struggling with and what projects would you like to do more of? [Let’s say on the scale of happiness they are a four, then you can ask them how you can help them to get to a five or six. Make it feel attainable and meet their expectations.]
  3. Listen to their responses and be honest about where you could probably help them and where it might not be possible at this time.
  4. Ask them if they can create a plan with two projects that they would like to work on [no more than 500 words] that would help them feel happier as well as help the company. Make sure that they provide a step-by-step plan of how they will implement the projects [timeframe, resources and breakdown of tasks] and what they think the results would be after the project is complete.

You will have to review the plan, pick the best project—or tell them why neither will fit into the company’s vision. If it’s the latter case, give them guidelines to create a better project for themselves and the company. But if they did their due diligence, your job is just to review the plan, make mutual adjustments and help them implement their idea.

It seems pretty simple, but it needs commitment and persistence. As leaders we don’t schedule the time to listen to our people and help them become happier. It’s the most basic need that will help you get the best results from your people.

Now the hardest part; schedule a happiness meeting with just one employee at a time. Tell him/her that you would like to schedule a ‘happy meeting’ to help them feel happier at work. Let them know how it will work. I suggest only 20 minutes and stick to it. Ask them when would be a good time for them and schedule it accordingly. Watch how a smile comes over their face. This alone will encourage you to do have ‘happiness meetings’ with more of your people.

The best part is it’s a win-win. You have happier employees and you get better results.

This was first published in the October 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Karl Staib
Karl Staib is a career strategist and speaker who helps people unlock their career happiness. If you enjoyed this article, check out his Unlock Your Passions e-course.


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