Our newest contributor is Akaya Windwood from the Rockwood Leadership Institute, an initiative based in Oakland California that offers training in leadership and collaboration for social change. We’ve been following her monthly reflections in Rockwood’s newsletter with much admiration. She wrote the following piece for the Institute’s October 2012 newsletter.
Over the past several years, there has been a great deal of international focus on the notion of happiness. While there are many definitions of happiness, here is a composite of my favorites: “emotions experienced when in a state of well-being that range from contentment to intense joy.”
This is not a new notion. Thinkers from Aristotle to Alice Walker to the Dalai Lama have written much about it, what it is and isn’t, and how we humans might increase our everyday access to it. The pursuit of it is written into the Declaration of Independence as an unalienable right (although you’ll notice it is the right to pursue happiness, not to actually have it).
In 2010, Bhutan took pride in its designation as the country with the highest Gross National Happiness, based on a number of metrics. If we can measure such things, how might we measure happiness within an organizational context?
I believe that one of the key responsibilities of an effective leader is to foster an environment centered in collective well-being, and to create the conditions under which happiness will thrive. What if we as leaders were to hold ourselves accountable to Gross Organizational Happiness?
A few codicils here: I’m not talking about the sentimental, smarmy happiness that most advertising tries to sell us. Nor am I talking about the co-dependent drivel of “I can only be happy if you are happy first.” And I’m certainly not talking about a Disney-esque “happiest place on earth!”
I’m espousing a happiness that requires creativity, intention and attention. It is a personal and collective responsibility — a muscle that develops over time, especially in a culture that teaches us that happiness is something that can be bought and sold.
The well-being of our staff, trainers, board and alumnae/i is pretty consistently on my mind and heart. While I am not responsible for any individual’s happiness (other than my own), I feel deeply responsible for creating the conditions by which collective happiness is possible.
I won’t say that I’m always successful at this, but I’m learning, and think I’ve gotten better at it over the years. It often means that I have to muster up my courage and have regular authentic conversations, or that I have to be willing to be considered weird and risk possibly being seen as silly. It means I get to praise and appreciate often.
It also means that my work is hugely satisfying, and that I can openly love those whose work is interdependent with mine.
The Dalai Lama reminds us that “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” And that “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
People who genuinely love and enjoy each other tend to be happy. Happy people tend to get a lot done. I’ll bet that organizations filled with happy folks are really effective. Imagine what social movements based on happiness could accomplish!