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Can You Be Happy at Work When You’re in Charge?

Leadership and managerial responsibility can be exciting, but being in charge can be draining, worrisome, and even frightening at times.

So how can you stay on the upside to ensure successful performance for yourself and your team? When “it’s not safe to be happier than your boss,” an important responsibility to be happy enough to give your people the opportunity to be at least a little happy too.

Despite some of the negative press and current attitudes about the burdens of management — “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” as opposed to “It’s good to be King,” and all that — there’s absolutely no good reason why you shouldn’t be able to have a decent day at work most of the time. Not only will you set the tone for the rest of the team, but in general, over the long haul, it is a “virtuous cycle:” You’ll do better when you feel better, and so will everyone else.

Avoid Self-Limiting Thinking

  • You need to believe you’re entitled to have a good day before you can feel motivated enough to help others have a good day. If you’re not willing to try to help others, it’s actually very difficult to have a good day yourself and still be responsible for them.
  • If you believe your job places unrealistic demands on you then you feel like it’s reasonable to impose unreasonable demands on others in turn. You’re also likely to believe that if your team members wish to continue working for your company, then it’s their obligation to meet those unreasonable demands because, after all, YOU do. This is a repetitive cycle too, but it’s not the virtuous kind.
  • If you feel dissatisfied or depressed because you believe that your job situation really is miserable, how can you possibly give your heart to improving work for others? Even if you (and your people) see your position as a buffer between your team and upper management — or if you’re the one who absorbs the toxins of the workplace so that others are protected — that still doesn’t make for happiness, even if you feel it’s a morally worthwhile role.

Improve Your Point of View — and Everyone Else’s

How often do you feel good about going to work — at the start of your day or your week — instead of a sense of impending sense of doom or gnawing anxiety? How recently have you had a conversation with someone at work — your manager, a co-worker, or a direct report — in which they expressed appreciation for you and your contribution? I don’t mean commiseration or grudging assent, but actual appreciation.

Say you’re not feeling so great about your work, and now doesn’t seem like the right time to look for a change of venue. Even if you’re stuck, you can improve the way you feel about it. Here are a few things to try:

  • Seek opportunities that already exist within the workplace — actions, expressions, people — to value and acknowledge at all levels. Be more appreciative in both thought and word. Remind yourself of what’s good.
  • Take control of small things, like tidying your own workspace, or getting the junk out of a communal area. (Side story: As a new call center supervisor decades ago, I prepped for the beginning of each shift by setting out two sharpened pencils at every work station, and then greeted everyone with a cheery good morning as they came in. Not only did I save countless minutes of sharpening plus dawdling time, but it helped get everyone’s day off to a positive start — and a positive start often means a more positive end. )
  • Think about the happiest boss you’ve ever had. How did that person behave? Adopt some of those behaviors.
  • Make sure it looks like you want to be there. Personalize your workspace. If it looks like you’re thinking of leaving because there are no pictures on the walls and nothing personal on your desk, it’s harder for people to feel loyal to you and show you their softer happy sides.
  • Start a “Do a Nice Thing for… Club” and encourage your group to compliment each other and pay forward any improvements and positive actions — then you can acknowledge everyone for participating, and get a lift twice.

Most of all, decide you actually want to feel happier. Without turning into a big phony, smile more often. Notice what is working and talk it up — to yourself and to your group. And whenever someone expresses some happiness to you, pause a moment and share it. What goes around comes around.

Onward and upward,


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2 thoughts on “Can You Be Happy at Work When You’re in Charge?

  1. Love the sentiment, Liz. Good ideas, too. It being so fresh in my mind, I recall what Steve Jobs said along those lines in his 2005 Stanford commencement address:

    “…for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

  2. Thanks, Jack. Luck is luck, but real success — and feeling good about it — has to start with us and our daily choices.

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