Nurturing Happiness – a Clarion Call to Leaders

August 26th, 2016   •   leadership, leadership development coaching, leadership training   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy



Earlier this year Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, announced the establishment of a new post, the Minister of State for Happiness in the UAE:


Since then, Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi has been appointed as Minister of Happiness, and the new minister has moved quickly. His primary mission is to harmonize all government plans, programs and policies to achieve a happier society. To this end, he has launched the National Program for Happiness and Positivity. This has three main pillars:

  1. Promoting happiness and positivity in government work (policies, programs and services of all government entities, as well as internal work environments)
  2. Promoting happiness and positivity as a lifestyle in the UAE
  3. Developing indicators and mechanisms for measuring happiness in the community.

Work on the program is well under way, and involves both the public and the private sectors. For starters, the UAE government has appointed 60 “Chief Happiness and Positivity Officers” who represent federal and local government entities. And the government is equipping the newly appointed officers. The minister has signed an agreement with the Oxford Mindfulness Centre at Oxford University, to train the candidates on how to employ mindfulness principles to spread happiness and positivity. (Full disclosure: I am an Associate Fellow at Oxford University). The minister has also signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California – Berkley to implement of the Chief Happiness and Positivity Officers training program, and develop national capacities in the field of happiness and its practical applications. The next push is to inspire the private sector to follow suit.


Wow! That’s ambitious. And inspiring!


From the research literature, we know quite a lot about the factors that contribute to happiness*. Key among them are:

  1. Self-acceptance
  2. Personal growth
  3. A clear purpose in life
  4. Positive relations
  5. Environmental mastery and
  6. Autonomy.

You will, I expect, not be surprised to see that money and fame do not feature prominently on the list. Yes, money and fame can influence some of the six factors. They can contribute to environmental mastery and to autonomy, but the effect, even here, is limited.


What is great about this list of factors is that so many of the factors are under our direct control … or, at the very least, subject to strong direct influence from ourselves. We can all practice self-acceptance as we acknowledge who we are, recognize our strengths and our limitations, process forgiveness and redemption and mature in our perspective on ourselves. We can all achieve personal growth by being open to experiences, by staying curious, by learning something new every day. We can all strengthen the clarity around our purpose in life by reflecting, speaking with friends, experimenting, journaling and daring to make strong, values-based commitments. We can all invest in relationship building – deepening existing relationships and opening up new relationships.


As leaders, we have substantial influence on the happiness of the people we lead. We can give our people (partial) autonomy in the contexts where we work together. We can increase their environmental mastery by giving them direct control over factors that are critical to their work. We can role-model self-acceptance, personal growth, a clear purpose and positive relations. And, we can encourage those we lead to explore these factors for themselves. What an opportunity; what a calling!


I am inspired by what is happening in the UAE. One could ask all kinds of questions and it would be easy to take a cynical stance. And many have – referring to aspects of the Emirates society which are not so happy. But this is bold and exciting. Let us be inspired by this example to nurture greater happiness in the contexts where each one of us operates.


* See, for example, Carol D. Ryff, Life Satisfaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

Finding the courage to say “no” – gently and respectfully

August 18th, 2016   •   coaching for excellence, leadership development coaching   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

Finding the courage to say no - gently and respectfully


This week I have been running a leadership development program in Central Europe. I feel privileged to be able to spend a week in a pleasant environment and help participants explore more of who they are, who they want to become, how they can become more effective in their leadership roles and how they can clear hurdles that stand in their way. We do this in group settings and one-on-one coaching.


Several of the participants shared that one thing that stands in their way is that they regularly experience conflicting commitments. They feel torn by requests and expectations coming from many different directions, and they struggle to say “no”. They end up living up to the vision that someone else has for their lives rather than realizing their own dreams.


Participants shared a number of tactical hints on how to say “no” smartly. “Explain to the requestor that you are already committed to something else.” “Express that you would really like to help but you are already stretched.” “Negotiate a later dateline for delivering on the request.” “State that you want to provide support, but that you will need resources to do so.” The list continues. Many of these suggestions are good, but they do not address the root cause of the conflict that many feel.


One of the participants nailed it when she expressed what lay behind the concern: Fear. Fear of what they will think of me. (Is he not a hard worker?) Fear of what they will say. (Is he not prepared to take one for the team?). Fear of poor evaluations. Fear of postponed promotion. Fear of being fired. And living in fear is of detrimental to any exercise of leadership. It is hard to be inspirational when you are scared.


Now, courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that something else is more important, more valuable. How can we gather the courage to say “no” – gently, respectfully – rather than compromising on our principles and sacrificing our plans, our priorities? The key seems to be a combination of self-awareness and a strong sense of purpose. We need the self-awareness to recognize the lurking fear, name it and understand where it comes from. This is the starting point for testing assumptions and reframing how we view the request and the requestor. But this is not sufficient. We also need a personal, strong sense of purpose. This is what we say “yes” to when we say “no” to something else. If this sense of purpose is fuzzy, it is very hard to say “no”. When this sense of purpose is clear and well articulated, it gives us the strength and the courage to give ourselves permission to say “no” to requests which are unreasonable, arbitrary or simply not aligned with what are aiming for.


This is of course not an invitation to be self-centered and navel-gazing and only look out for ourselves. But it is the basis for living centered lives where we pursue our personal vision rather being buffeted helplessly by forces around us. The world will be a better place when our primary motivation is compelling vision rather than fear. Take time to deepen self-awareness and strengthen personal sense of purpose, and encourage those you love to do the same.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

Inspiring leadership is often about being, more fully, who we really are

August 1st, 2016   •   leadership, leadership development, leadership development coaching   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

Inspiring leadership is often about being, more fully, who we really are


I just completed a leadership development program on the US East Coast. It was a joy to work with participants from many parts of the world, including the US, China, Colombia, Ireland, the UK, Russia, the Netherlands and India. I always leave these programs profoundly grateful that I have the opportunity to work with gifted leaders that want to make the world a better place.


In last week’s program we explored leadership styles and we looked at how leaders inspire us in very different ways. I was struck by the input from participants: they listed warmth, caring, courage, perseverance, sense of mission, edginess and much more … for a total of 60 traits and behaviors. (The photo in this post shows a small sample). How to make sense of such a rich list? It makes a mockery of formulaic approaches that attempt to distill the essence of leadership in a handful of guidelines.


As we explored the meaning of this list of inspiring leadership traits, the emerging consensus was that at the heart of all this is authenticity. We become more inspiring leaders by being, more fully, who we really are and by showing, more clearly, who we really are.


It is deeply meaningful to work with leaders to identify and address blind spots, uncover and eliminate confusion, and name and address fear. By doing so, we allow ourselves to be – more fully – who we really are. My thanks go to a wonderful group of participants who inspired me with their openness, their determination and their support for one another.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.