“The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact in a Challenging World” by Tal Ben-Shahar and Angus Ridgway

  1. The key, he learned, was leadership: the ability to influence the thinking and activities of other people in a shared effort to achieve goals and, ultimately, to realize a shared vision. Organizations that had good leaders—not just at the top but also at all levels—would be able to carry out an initiative. Others were almost certainly wasting their time.
  2. The core, the essence, of effective leadership is personal flourishing.
  3. First, a new definition of leadership for the modern era was required, one that focuses on personal flourishing, not command and control, and second, new intervention methods were required to be able to reach deeply into the organization in a way that existing, nonscalable, and labor‐intensive approaches cannot do.
  4. The rate at which the business environment changes today is a key reason why there’s such a wide gap between those who flourish and those who flounder. The inability to adapt constantly, to maintain your energy and continue to learn and grow, will leave you far behind.
  5. The two crucial questions anyone wanting to develop a more positive and meaningful leadership role poses: How can my role as a leader help my organization achieve our shared goals? How can my role as a leader bring me, and those around me, joy?
  6. Strengths. 10X leaders primarily focus on getting a lot more out of their strengths, rather than on getting a little more out of their weaknesses. Health. They stay productive and happy by avoiding burnout—by balancing periods of stress and exertion with recovery activities that restore both mind and body. Absorption. They succeed by spending much of their time living fully in the moment and immersing themselves in the work at hand, rather than by waiting for inspiration to strike at rare moments. Relationships. They lead not by wielding power and control, but by cultivating authentic and positive relationships to achieve a shared vision. Purpose. Rather than simply grind out tasks on a to‐do list while waiting to discover life’s ultimate purpose, 10X leaders find meaning and commitment in their daily activities.
  7. More and more, working people aren’t looking for patronage; they’re looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and become happier versions of themselves.
  8. Flourishing in the work environment—becoming more energetic, engaged, focused, and happy—has always been important, for obvious reasons. But in the old world order of the hierarchical company, it was possible for a person to work his or her whole life in a steady state of modest achievement and marginal competence, in a strictly prescribed role and physical space, completing tasks without flourishing.
  9. Today’s organizations can no longer afford to underuse talent and initiative or to think of the word entrepreneur as a term that applies to an elite corps of innovators.
  10. Where we once looked for work to keep our families fed, sheltered, and clothed, we’re now looking for careers that will provide us opportunities for growth, fulfillment, meaning, and purpose.
  11. Companies need employees, no matter where they might rank in the traditional corporate hierarchy, to generate new ideas.
  12. In the world of social media, of Facebook and Twitter, leadership can be defined as “having followership,” and nomadic workers increasingly have a choice: If they’re not inspired, or interested, or they don’t see an opportunity for learning or growth, they’ll move on.
  13. The key to extracting power from information lies in the ability to synthesize large amounts of data, by recognizing patterns, extracting the essentials, and finding meaning and direction amid the ambiguity and chaos.
  14. Most people don’t know what it means to succeed and lead. Most aren’t reaching their full potential, or achieving lasting fulfillment, because their formula for success and well‐being is almost always completely wrong. Like the inefficient, clunky machines of old, many continue to suffer from outdated ideas of what it means to be a good leader—and why it matters at all.
  15. Opportunities for flourishing and influence—for the joy of leadership—within the organization must be more attractive than those outside it.
  16. The feeling of being happy and fulfilled and the ability to lead—to inspire others and make a meaningful difference—to be so strongly associated as to be virtually inseparable.
  17. Although no one should ignore his or her weaknesses, because energy is a limited resource, it’s unwise and counterproductive to focus too much of that energy on remediating deficiencies. To do so is to put yourself in a hole that you may have trouble climbing out of.
  18. People perform better when they focus on the things they’re good at and enjoy doing: They’re more creative, flexible, and adaptable.2 They’re more confident, more satisfied, and find more meaning in their work.
  19. “If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”
  20. People who see their work as a calling work harder and longer, simply because they view their work as rewarding.29 It’s an approach rooted in the idea of cognitive reframing, the psychological technique of identifying our negative perceptions of ideas and events and recasting them in a positive light that opens the door to better experiences and well‐being.
  21. The best way to lead, and to succeed, is to be happy—and not the other way around.
  22. “At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?”
  23. In “Managing Oneself,” Peter Drucker said it best: “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first‐rate performance to excellence.”4 It’s much easier to develop existing strengths than to work on weaknesses—and the payoff is dramatically better.
  24. “The point…is not that you should always forgo this kind of weakness fixing. The point is that you should see it for what it is: damage control, not development…damage control can prevent failure, but it will never elevate you to excellence.”
  25. If we can manage our weaknesses to the point where they don’t prevent us from exercising our strengths, we can build self‐confidence through experiences that validate our strengths.
  26. We need to stop asking, How smart is the student? and start asking, How is the student smart? The question presumes everyone is smart—we’re just smart in different ways. We have different strengths. Our role as teachers and leaders is to help identify and encourage those strengths.
  27. The difference between a well‐rounded individual—whose versatility guarantees competence but not excellence—and a well‐rounded, multifaceted team composed of sharp individuals who complement one another.
  28. “We learned that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, which, paradoxical as it may seem, is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.”
  29. We should look at an additional continuum between depletion and restoration. In this way an activity, whether at home or at work, can be either depleting or restoring. To lead a healthy and happy life, finding the right balance between depletion and restoration is no less important than finding some form of work‐life balance.
  30. How many of us take time at the end of a day to appreciate our own accomplishments, or the many things we’ve accomplished over a whole week? Appreciating what we’ve done is not only gratifying, but it also leads to better performance.
  31. Mirror neurons help explain the phenomenon of emotional contagion—the way pleasant or unpleasant emotions tend to spread like a virus among group members. We’re automatically and unconsciously tuning in to the actions and emotions of others.
  32. We, too, must learn to live our own lives as a series of sprints—fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging and seeking renewal before jumping back into the fray to face whatever challenges confront us.”
  33. The modern workplace—in which the term multitasking was born—seems perfectly designed to disrupt flow, to destroy our ability to give undivided attention to things that matter.
  34. The mindless following of routine and other automatic behaviors leads to boredom, mistakes, pain, and a course of life that seems predetermined.
  35. Three conditions people can create to increase the likelihood of reaching a state of flow. First, one must be committed to a clearly defined goal: Second, it’s critical that one operates under a clearly defined set of rules while pursuing that goal. Just as the goal is unambiguous, so also must the rules be—otherwise one may lose focus or become distracted while trying to interpret them. Third condition for creating flow is that the goal we set should be neither too difficult nor too easy. The activity we’re engaged in should be challenging, but manageable.
  36. Teams’ goals should be ones that we have only about a 50 percent chance of attaining.
  37. Attention is a finite resource and requires us to focus on things that are more positive or productive. Top‐down attention is a mindful choice made by people who are focusing on what’s positive and generative, rather than nonproductive wastes of time.
  38. To be a charismatic person doesn’t mean you’re invisibly pulling others into your sphere. You’re extending yourself. You’re absolutely present for others and their thoughts and feelings. You’re modeling mindfulness and absorption.
  39. Employees are more engaged when they’re able to use their strengths—and research further indicates they’re more likely to feel engaged in their work when they’re recognized for what they’re doing well.
  40. When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.
  41. Recognition and gratitude are the fundamental building blocks of positive relationships.
  42. Good teams didn’t make more mistakes—they merely reported more mistakes.
  43. People driven by a deeply held sense of purpose are also better equipped to deal with hardships—knowing where you’re headed, and why, makes it harder for you to get knocked off the rails.
  44. “Without a clear purpose you have no foundation on which you base decisions, allocate your time and use your resources. You will tend to make choices based on circumstance, pressures and your mood at the moment. People who don’t know their purpose try to do too much, and that causes stress, fatigue and conflict.”
  45. We either inject meaning in what we do, or we don’t—and if we don’t, we’re almost sure to find our work, and our lives, unsatisfying.
  46. People of any rank within an organization can make different meanings of their work—and of themselves at work. There are three broad categories of ways to do this: first, altering the tasks you perform, to spend more energy on tasks you find more gratifying; second, changing relationships in the workplace, to spend more quality time with people who make you feel better about yourself and your work; and third, using cognitive reframing to change the way you perceive your work.
  47. “Yesterday’s idea of the boss, who became the boss because he or she knew one more fact than the person working for them, is yesterday’s manager. Tomorrow’s person leads through a vision, a shared set of values, a shared objective.”
  48. We came up with four important principles to follow for leaders who want to rally a team or organization to commit to a shared vision: The leader must help others see the connection between their own work and the greater purpose.
  49. For a purpose to inspire others to action, it has to provide the right kind of challenge.
  50. A purpose or vision must be communicated to others in a way that’s positive.
  51. Communicating purpose effectively is to epitomize it—to walk the talk.
  52. “Mindfulness will help you clear away the trivia and needless worries about unimportant things, nurture passion for your work and compassion for others, and develop the ability to empower the people in your organization.”
  53. For all its imperfections—its nagging discomforts, its mediocrity, its lack of progress or promise—the present state of things is at least familiar. It is usually nonfatal, and usually doesn’t upset anyone, so we ride it out. But the reluctance to rock the boat can create a dry, visionless conformity.
  54. “Happiness is determined by factors like your health, your family relationships and friendships, and above all by feeling that you are in control of how you spend your time.”
  55. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re doing anything meaningful or productive.
  56. Time affluence—the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful—is a better predictor of a person’s well‐being than material affluence. By contrast, time poverty—the feeling that one is constantly stressed, hurried, overworked, or running behind—is a pervasive and destructive force in most people’s lives.
  57. To change—to develop our capacity to lead and flourish—we often need to focus more time on the activities and relationships that fulfill and strengthen us and less time on tasks we find draining or ultimately irrelevant.
  58. If all is not possible, certainly, something is better than nothing. Small incremental changes, implemented over time, are more likely to make a lasting difference than a drastic plunge into radically new ways of thinking and acting.
  59. Success is impossible without failure.
  60. Many people understand fully that they’ll die one day and that it’s important to be grateful for everything they have, rather than take it all for granted—but they don’t express gratitude regularly, if at all.
  61. In his 1980 book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Millman writes: To change the course of your life, choose one of two basic methods: You can direct your energy and attention toward trying to fix your mind, find your focus, affirm your power, free your emotions and visualize positive outcomes so that you can finally develop the confidence to display the courage to discover the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do what it is you need to do. Or you can just do it.
  62. It’s never safe to stop reminding yourself of the importance of the changes you’ve made.
  63. Inspiration happens during work, not before.
  64. The motivational spark that compels people to bring ideas into fruition—is not a mystical visit from the divine, but a mental state that can be activated and managed.1 Perspiration precedes inspiration.
  65. “Perfection,” says the writer Neil Gaiman, “is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.” Just keep doing it. The proficiency and happiness you’re creating should be apparent not in the future, but in the now, in the moments you’re building on your strengths; increasing your health and well‐being; creating flow; strengthening the authentic, positive bonds between the people who mean the most to you and yourself; and discovering a deeper purpose in the work you do every day.
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