Elusive Happiness


September 30, 2010

In his seminal work ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins found that two things were necessary for truly great (Level 5 in Collins’ vernacular) leaders: humility and a highly focused strength of will.  Perhaps Collins’ greatest contribution to leadership literature is having shot down the sexy, if fallacious, idea of leaders as larger-than-life and ostentatious.  So, why is it that after such paradigm-shifting discoveries we are still so mired in mediocrity in terms of our corporate and political (both parties!!!) leadership?  I think one of the biggest and most overlooked answers to this question lies in the way we pursue leadership.

To illustrate this point, consider the times in your life that you’ve been the happiest. Ever notice how elusive happiness is when you try to pursuit it? Well it turns out you have something in common with a famous utilitarian philosopher (your Mom must be so proud)! John Stuart Mill said, “Those are only happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than happiness. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way.” Part of happiness is the effortlessness and lightness of being that accompanies it. So, when we try and try to be happy, we are necessarily running afoul of one of its fundamental features. Something very similar can be said of trying to be a leader.

I, like Jim Collins, think that humility is a necessary attribute of a deep leader. That said, when we take the mantle of leadership upon us in the “how-can-I-lead-these-little-people” sort of way, we’ve already failed! Those who aspire to leadership, who view themselves as leaders in the traditional sense, and who buy leadership books (and read blog posts on leadership – GOTCHA!) because they are somehow elevated, have violated one of the fundamental tenets of deep leadership before even truly beginning the journey. And as any sailor can attest, going on a journey that begins with a miscalculation can land you way off course.

Thank you to Daniel Crosby, Ph.D. for guest posting today.  Daniel is the President at Crosby Performance Consulting.  Please click HERE to learn more about him. You can also follow him on Twitter @crosbypsych.


  • Trish- It’s true- the things that make one happy can be the things they never sought out in the first place. I am light years away from what I set out to do when I left high school- but I am so fulfilled & happy- I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

  • I think the issue with leadership is what I call the “cult of personality” effect. We idolize the “star” personality. You could even go so far as to say that the most powerful leaders are those with the most mesmerising charisma. But the best talkers are not necessarily the best doers. I forget who it was, someone said “never again will there be a bald president of the USA”… it may not have been a prophecy but it says it all.

  • Awesome post. Thank you.

    As with all posts I appreciate, this one got me thinking. In Good to Great, Collins points out that we often look to “charismatic” leaders as best in class, but he asserts that they are only Level 4. While they generate phenomenal success, it is often ephermeral, lasting only as long as they are at the helm. It is about them. Level 5 leaders generate sustained productivity and success, even long after they have moved on. It is all about the organization.

    So I was thinking about those people who generate happiness in others’ lives. We all know some of these people. Aren’t the real winners the ones who generate sustained happiness in others? Maybe these are the folks who have found happiness in their pursuits — versus pursuit of happiness — and lead us to the same by their example. Just thinking. DK

  • I think it was Johnny Bench that said “if you want to hit .300, make .350 your goal.”

    We pursue that which retreats from us (which is why your dog doesn’t chase rocks). The anticipation of reaching your goal is often more satisfying than getting there.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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