Leadership Is a Level 3 Activity

AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.” But what does that mean in organizations? And how does Leadership fit in?

Attracting good talent is expensive –losing it is even more so. One of leadership’s main challenges is to create an environment in which team members thrive, perform well and are happy. Employee satisfaction surveys consistently report that people leave an organization not for money, but because of their immediate supervisor. Employees want an environment where the work they do is challenging and meaningful. Although money matters, it’s satisfaction that keeps them happy…and working productively.

Distilled to its essence, leadership is the ability to get other people to accomplish things for the leader. There are many ways to do this, however not all of them leave the team members happy and satisfied. There are many types of happiness. Leaders who find the sweet spot in delivering the right levels of satisfaction and happiness produce superior results. Leaders who focus on winning, being on top, may get results, but they will not be sustainable and will cost them in terms of turnover, productivity, mistakes and rework.

Plato’s 4 Levels of Happiness

What does happiness mean in an organizational context? The word can have many different definitions. In fact, 2,500 years ago, Plato used 4 different Latin words to differentiate types of Happiness.

Level 1 Happiness – Immediate reward, intense, short lived. If we walked by a great bakery and saw and smelled a chocolate chip cookie, then ate it, that would be Level 1 satisfaction/happiness. But, an hour later, you might want another one.

Level 2 Happiness – Reward is not always immediate, can still be powerful, and is somewhat longer lasting. Level 2 is characterized by being “Better Than” – it’s the satisfaction of achievement. When we win a game of chess, or a big contract, run faster than, jump higher than, sell more than, etc. The winning may take more time, be more important to us and the feeling may last longer. It is a zero sum, win/lose proposition.

Level 3 Happiness – Reward can take longer to develop, but the satisfaction lasts longer; however, it is not nearly as intense. Level 3 is characterized as being “For the Good of.” When we help someone solve a problem,
learn to walk, talk, think, communicate, etc. It is a win/win proposition.

Level 4 Happiness – The reward can be characterized as a sense of Ultimate Truth, Ultimate Beauty, Perfect Execution – although this satisfaction is rare and fleeting in experience and very low in intensity, the impression of happiness/satisfaction can last a very long time.

“Better Than”

In organizations, most individual contributor’s behavior is predicated on Level 2 activity and rewards. Sales personnel are evaluated on their ability to sell more than the prior year. Accounting team members are valued for their improved accuracy and speed in gathering and reporting the information. Lawyers are recognized for their ability to litigate better, obtaining better settlements and judgements. Unfortunately, some of this can be internally
focused. Enlightened organizations also help team members connect to a greater purpose, which typically also yields a Level 3 reward.


“Good For”

Leaders are often lionized for being high achievers, as being “better than” others who have performed in similar positions. By contrast, leadership behaviors should concentrate on the Level 3 area, focusing on “good for”
behaviors for their team members. Leaders should be in the business of helping create an environment in which their people can thrive in their Level 2 pursuits. The leaders’satisfaction comes as they help their reports connect to
a larger purpose and discover the best ways to achieve their performance objectives. By helping their reports succeed well in their duties, they are working “for the good of” their team members. In the envisioning process
(annual and strategic planning), leaders should be thinking in terms of the “good” of the organization in setting objectives toward which the enterprise
intends to thrive. Then, as execution comes into focus, leaders should naturally seek to inspire their people to contribute to the success and to align them for maximum productivity. While attaining the outlined goals may produce a Level 2 happiness in terms of organizational performance, great leaders derive that much longer lasting, Level 3 happiness from the  development of their people in how they approach issues and problems and how they resolve them. When leaders use these types of expectations and rewards, they deliver more effectively for their organization – a true Win-Win.



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