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Why It Isn’t Your Job to Make People Happy

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Happiness isn’t everything. Especially in how you lead.

Is it important to help build happiness? Yes. Is it the main thing that matters? No.

Your No. 1 job is to engage your people. Trying to make them happy and engaging them are two very different things.

We don’t always have perfect contentment, ease and satisfaction at work. And, really, we shouldn’t: Growth means discomfort. Innovation means venturing out of pleasant complacency and conquering obstacles.

The problem comes when your people think that they should always be in that perfect, rosy state. And when they, and you, think it’s your job to create that for them. You can set up circumstances to help them thrive, but when it comes down to it you can’t make anyone be happy. That’s taking on a responsibility that should be theirs.

Engagement, on the other hand, means setting your people up to be challenged and to grow. If they are engaged, they are willing to look beyond what they know and innovate. They bring new solutions to the table time and time again. If they are engaged, they will challenge the status quo because they care about making things better.

We use a coaching assessment called the Team Diagnostic that puts teams in one of four quadrants based on their results:

  1. Low Productivity, High Positivity = Everyone’s happy, but nothing gets done.
  2. Low Productivity, Low Positivity = No one’s happy, and nothing gets done.
  3. High Productivity, Low Positivity = Effective for a short time, but burnout is around the bend.
  4. High Productivity, High Positivity = Win/Win.  People are happy, engaged and accomplishing goals.

Where do you think you and your team fall? If you’re high on positivity but low on productivity, look at the gaps between what you’re actually accomplishing and where you want to be. Then enlist your team to make a plan to get you there.

Engaging your people might feel like making them unhappy in the short term because you’re taking them out of their comfort zone and pushing for growth. But by engaging them, you’re helping them find meaning, and ultimately a deeper kind of happiness.

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