How does one go about finding the best route to finding joy in your work, while also achieving great business results? This is the key question that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his collaborators set out to answer in “Good Business” after interviewing business leaders who managed to find a balance in their own businesses between material success and humane ways of going about their work.
The stories are interesting in themselves. They included business leaders like Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, Ted Turner of AOL Time Warner, John Templeton of Financial Investment, James Davis of New Balance, Kenneth Kerr of Chevron, Richard De Vos of Amway, Gerald Greenwald of United Airways, and surprises like Jane Fonda.
The book is an engaging read and, true to Csikszentmihalyi’s previous works on Flow, it provides a clear model to apply in creating optimal experiences.
Let’s look at just three observations here…
Traits of Visionary Leaders
Csikszentmihalyi observes that visionary leaders have the conviction that their efforts are creating a better world. They connect with a greater purpose that allows other to follow where they lead and find joy in their work. He identified five traits which allow visionary leaders to maintain a connection with a bigger purpose:
1. Optimism: They have the self-assurance to solve difficult problems by adopting a positive outlook focussing on the joy of life and how they can contribute to others.
2. Integrity: They trust themselves, trust others, and are trusted by others. This they achieve by maintaining an authentic “self” where they consistently “differentiate” themselves AND “integrate” their experiences.
3. Ambition/Perseverance: They combine their own personal ambition (which they explicitly recognised themselves) with a selfless expression of the desire for their businesses to be the best in the world. As a result they set objectives that are difficult to reach and do not give up on achieving these. They recognise themselves as being very determined, even stubborn.
4. Curiosity: They have openness to new experiences of all kinds, and are dedicated to life-long learning and improving themselves. Their broad interest in the world and their curiosity to learn more prevent them from becoming self-centred.
5. Empathy: They have an inherent sympathy to the needs of others and are capable of putting themselves in the shoes of others, which leads them to treat peers, customers and sub-ordinates with respect.
You’ll also find a section in the book where the principles of good business are explained. This is organised under three headings…
1. Vision beyond the self: Visionary leaders have a calling to build a better world, help others and do their best; and they successfully translate this into bringing “soul” into their businesses.
2. Operations based on trusts and respect: They understand how they should align the self-interest and group-interest of their team members so that personal growth of members creates opportunities. As a result they generate the conditions for flow to occur.
3. A product/service that helps humankind: They remain aware of the immediate and long-term positive effect of what their businesses offer their customers and the keep looking for ways to increase the positive effects.
Better self-management leads to better results
Csikszentmihalyi observes that visionary leaders have learnt how to manage themselves in such a way that they achieve results that are both good for business and humane. They manage to align what they give their attention to, the time they have available and the habits they form, with their vision of “the self”. So, let’s look at each of these…
1. Attention: Visionary leaders understand that you like what you pay attention to. They choose what they give their attention to and what they will not give their attention to, and in this way they create a life filled with what they like.
2. Time: These leaders are aware of the finitude of time and its relation to the tasks they have to complete. They find ways of organising their tasks during times that are best for them.
3. Habits: They build better strategies based on what works best for them and turn these into habits they cannot do without. One such habit is to set aside time for reflection – every day!
If more business leaders would follow the lead of these visionary leaders, Csikszentmihalyi notes, “business would truly fulfil its potential to help make life happier for all.”