Leadership: Can Executives Be Happy?

Several times in my coaching sessions, I’ve asked CEOs and other senior business leaders 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 also have fun.

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 fun 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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