Making People Happy

During a leadership panel at Agile2019, one of the top answers to what is challenging for leaders was “Making everyone happy”.  I was thrown a bit on stage as the facilitator asked me a question about this because in that instance, I realized that I don’t think this is a goal for leaders.

Let me first explain why this surprised me.  I fully believe in creating work environments where people are motivated, have autonomy, and can develop their skills.  As a result, this often leads to employee satisfaction (which leads to customer satisfaction).  So in theory – I would almost expect myself to care about people being happy.  And I do but it is very nuanced.

First, when I’ve tried in the past to make people happy, I’ve done the wrong thing as a leader. Sometimes the fear of losing respect, gaining conflict, and/or losing relationships – caused me to avoid/diminish/etc issues that ultimately created the very things I was afraid of.

Second, not all people are the same.  So what might make one person happy, could make another person unhappy.  Trying to create something for everyone usually results in creating nothing for everyone.

Third, you can’t control someone’s happiness.  They have a choice on how they react, who they are, how they are feeling…period.  As Christopher Avery said, I would never want to take away someone’s right to be unhappy.  There might be a reason they need that right now.

Fourth, the answer was posed as making other people happy.  But here’s the thing, there is also the factor of making yourself happy.  This can lead to the all the same wrong things as when trying to make other people happy.  In hindsight, the decisions that made me the most unhappy in the short term – were often the best ones.

Now, I’m not going around trying to make everyone unhappy and miserable.  I just can’t lead with the responsibility of happiness.  You own your happiness.  I own making sure my intentions are good.  I own why we are doing something.  I own how I communicate. I own creating the environment.  And I own that I won’t always get it right.

How has trying to make other people happy impacted your leadership?

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