02 August 2021

The future demands inspiring leaders. Where does happiness fit in?

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Can we truly be happy at work, much less, in our whole lives? As societies and businesses shift and settle post-COVID, many are seeking clarity in how to work smarter, connect better, and live happier. Within the workplace, our ways of working and leading a team are changing. So what’s next? Studies show distinct foundational skills that will be key factors in determining who will thrive in the future of work. While digital skills will continue to grow in importance, so will "soft" skills, or people skills. Specifically, in areas of interpersonal talent and self-leadership skills. So how can these be developed?

Beyond Digital, the knowledge-sharing discussion club organized by digital expert Ariad, tends to focus on specific trends or issues around digital. In the most recent meeting, we truly went beyond digital to learn more about the topic of inspirational leadership. To dig deeper, we were led through a discussion on inspirational and self-leadership with Transformational Leadership Coach Stijn Dieusaert.

Pursuing happiness to become an effective and inspirational leader

When not working as the regional site manager at Melexis, Stijn and his team at Accende work with a model which drives leaders to find purpose and infuse it in their work, life, and leadership. Based around satisfaction and fulfillment, they use 4 layers of happiness that build on each other. These layers are roughly classified by internal vs external gratification and the longevity of the satisfaction or good derived from the activity.

  • Layer one is satisfaction derived from material objects or short sensory experiences, where the enjoyment is temporary.

  • Layer two speaks to the ego, which uses comparison to measure achievement, such as getting a promotion at work.

  • The third layer is happiness that comes from doing good and contributing to a purpose beyond oneself, involving the happiness of others.

  • Finally, the fourth layer is happiness that comes from greater connection to the universe or human existence, to be explored through philosophic or scientific endeavors, spirituality or meditation, or one’s own calling.

Because each layer represents a different kind of happiness or fulfillment, in an ideal life all layers are integrated and balanced. Happiness comes from finding satisfaction among the different layers, and according to Stijn, as much in your personal life as your professional life. “Each layer gives the energy to the next, helping to make it happen. It’s not about one being better than the other, but rather complementing and building. Each layer can be seen within the perspective of another.”

(Want to join the next meeting of Beyond Digital to learn, share, and shape the future of digital in Belgium? Sign up for more information here!)

How the levels of happiness can affect our work

“Within layers, there is also the opposite if you don’t have balance. For example, if in your company or your team, the sole focus were on layer two achievements, it would be a major block. Exclusively focusing on achievements, comparison and recognition, in the end, it can be very destructive and compulsive. There is the risk that it's never enough, and becomes an endless comparison game.

“With that approach, in the short term we will likely see success in the bottom line of the company. But as we’ve also seen, and seen cited in places like the Harvard Business Review, that success can come at the expense of your people. There’s no consideration of the long term, the relationships suffer, the team doesn’t feel inspired, and you’re basically very limited. That’s why when applying the third layer, using targets but contributing to efforts and greater good beyond oneself, we can derive a great amount of lasting fulfillment.”

The role and goal of inspiring leadership

So, is a leader responsible for guiding their team through these layers? Most argue no. Shares Sarah Catoul, Head of Digital Marketing & Experience at AG Insurance, “I see the value in evaluating these layers, I think you often see them evolve along with maturity and advancement in your career. As a leader, you don’t have to actively fulfill these layers for your team, but maybe include them in your leadership and also strive for it at the company level. For example, I see these layers linked strongly to AG’s values, and I really connect with them and feel that it’s a great place to work.”

"With that approach, in the short term we will likely see success in the bottom line of the company. But that success can come at the expense of your people."

Stijn Dieusaert, Transformational Leadership Coach

It is also suggested that while they can find happiness and satisfaction at work, employees don’t directly seek happiness from their employers. Says Audrey Noble, Scrum Master and Conversation UI/UX Specialist with Proximus, “Do we really need a company to fulfill our dreams? I think you define your own experience. It’s not for anyone else to take on the role, you should be responsible for identifying and acting on your needs. It’s more about giving people the room and empowerment.”

This is where self-leadership comes in. “The goal isn’t to lead all teams directly into these layers,” explains Stijn. “Those who aim to be inspirational leaders first have to be inspired themselves, and integrate the layers in their personal and professional lives. We are talking about self-leadership, which is very connected to self-motivation. This, by the way, is not just for traditional leaders, but for everyone. And it’s showing to be more and more important as it’s closely linked to job satisfaction. This empowerment brings a lot of benefits for the individual and for the company.”

Want to join in on the discussion?

Ariad’s digital professionals knowledge sharing club Beyond Digital brings together future-forward individuals working across industries in the largest brands in Belgium. No member fees, just a community of ambitious minds! Apply here for more information about this monthly event.