The idea that success can bring happiness is like putting the cart before the horse; research shows it is actually the reverse that is true. The Positive Leader teaches you how to harness your unique strengths, values and passions to lead a fulfilling and successful life, and to inspire others to do the same.

By Jan Mühlfeit, Global strategist, executive coach and mentor, Former Chairman of Microsoft Europe

Many people are driven by the assumption that if they work hard enough and focus on becoming more successful, happiness will naturally follow. As a society, we are taught that landing prestigious jobs, working longer hours, chasing more qualifications, and persevering at all costs will make us successful in the eyes of the world, and only then can we really be happy. However, a growing body of positive psychology research puts this whole ‘happiness follows success’ notion to bed, revealing that it is in fact happiness that fuels greater success and achievement – not the other way around.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener found that people who were successful were happy before their successes, and that life satisfaction leads to successful business outcomes. A positive mindset results in:

  • 23% greater energy when under stress
  • 31% higher productivity
  • 37% higher levels of sales
  • 40% higher likelihood to be promoted
  • Three times higher creativity
  • Our brains are hardwired to function better when we are happy, and so a sunny outlook can give us a chemical edge that helps us come out ahead. Positive emotions (such as inspiration, awe and gratitude) invigorate our brains by flooding them with dopamine and serotonin. As well as making us feel good, these neurotransmitters help us organise new information, retain it for longer and retrieve it faster later on. As a result, we are geared up for better learning, creativity, analysis and problem solving. Greater flexibility and ingenuity in our mental processing means we can think out-of-the-box and perceive more possibilities, make more accurate judgement calls and find the best solutions to the trickiest problems.

From a corporate perspective, a happy, engaged workforce has been linked directly to a stronger bottom line. Stats from a 2014 study by economists at the University of Warwick reveal that happiness leads to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers prove to be 10% less productive. Furthermore, in October 2015, Gallup reported that there are two major factors influencing employee performance: engagement and wellbeing. Employees with high levels of both engagement and wellbeing are 27% more likely to report ‘excellent’ performance in their own job and 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organisation in the next 12 months. (‘Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement’, Gallup). These findings have fantastic implications for the workplace. With happy teams, improved organisational performance comes naturally; it does not have to be forced.

When we are happy we exude positive energy and people are more likely to want to be around us, and even help us. Just look to the best business leaders – they do not put happiness second. They understand that if they are happier, the people around them will be happier, they will be better communicators and will have a bigger impact. This is just as true for housekeepers as it is for engineers – it is not ‘what’ you do, it is ‘how’ you do it and the attitude you bring.

A better understanding of how happiness works and, more importantly, applying positive psychology principles can help the majority of people in the majority of situations become happier. I developed the 4Ps of Positive Leadership model to provide a complete workable system for positive leadership, one that is easily adaptable to any kind of leader or organisation. Based on the key principles of strengths, purpose, energy management and happiness, this model aims to help leaders and teams unlock their full potential and find greater meaning and happiness in what they do. Each dimension of the 4Ps model targets the Who, Why, How and Where of Positive Leadership.

  1. Positive PEOPLE.

Building Strengths – The ‘Who’.

Understand who you are. Identify and play to your strengths to release your full leadership potential. Nurture talent and build top teams by showing you care and paying attention to what people are good at, not their shortcomings. Be authentic!

  1. Positive PURPOSE.

Personal Mission & Ultimate Vision – The ‘Why’.

Your purpose is to add value to the world and be happy in the process. Strike out on your own meaningful mission by leveraging your unique strengths, values and passions. Inspire and be inspired by setting your sights on the highest vision for you and your team…and perhaps even achieve the impossible.

  1. Positive PROCESS

Energy Management – The ‘How’

Manage energy (yours and other people’s) to achieve outstanding feats without running out of steam. Become a Chief Energy Officer (CEO) and set the right example to marshal the collective energy of those you lead. Avoid classic burnout by taking care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resources.

  1. Positive PLACE

Success vs Happiness – The ‘Where’

Follow your heart instead of the rat race to the place where success and happiness are in balance. Happiness breeds success. By putting happiness first, you can learn strategies for positive living that bring meaningful rewards to you and your team, while also delivering bottom-line results. Help others and use your position of authority to make a difference in the world.

As negativity and stress abounds in many workplaces, there is a clear need for a positive approach that recognises the value of self-awareness, strengths, enjoyment, meaning, purpose and kindness as being essential to maintaining people’s wellbeing and, consequently, their ability to achieve. By embracing positive practices, leaders can get the ‘hard’ financial results they need through ‘soft’ support and collaboration.

To learn more about positive leadership, pick up a copy of The Positive Leader: How Energy and Happiness Fuel Top-Performing Teams by Jan Mu?hlfeit and Melina Costi (published by Pearson). For more information, visit

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