The Real Measure of a CEO's Success Can Be Found in an Ancient Greek Word
You are supposed to make the entire company run properly. Every dollar spent needs to pass by you for approval. The whole organization expects you to make the right decisions. You have been preparing for this moment. You are the CEO.
The public will judge your leadership based on numbers. How fast is the company growing? Are you profitable? Did you release new products this year? Did you cut costs? These measures of success are as predictable as they are shortsighted.
Today, I believe the real measure of a CEO’s leadership -- and the best indicator of your company’s potential -- is eudaimonia, the Greek word indicating a state of being happy, healthy and prosperous. The new CEO is the Chief Eudaimonia Officer.
I believe we should measure CEOs by their ability to create a eudaimonious workplace, because that is what will bring talent through the door, and talent is the only sustainable competitive edge in a business environment where ideas and innovation can disrupt any industry. The health, happiness and prosperity of employees are the best predictors of a company’s long-term success.
The traditional attitudes of investors, businesspeople and analysts all conspire against an idea like the Chief Eudaimonia Officer. Employee satisfaction is supposedly out of your control -- and who cares? They should all feel lucky to have jobs, right? The CEO is doing a good job if the company meets its financial targets, the board is happy and shareholders are rewarded.
If those are your sole professional accomplishments, success will feel empty. You, personally, will feel a void every day at the office. Employees, going through the motions, will do just enough to earn a paycheck so they can find some contentment in life outside the office.
You can justify the void because you are merely carrying the torch passed on by your predecessors. Work is just like it was when you were climbing the corporate ladder. You were afraid to disagree with your boss. Company information was held so close you didn’t know how things were going. You followed processes that made no sense, but you didn’t dare challenge them. Life was Office Space without the punch lines.
You raced to top to escape the hell of being at any other level in the organization, except now you’re the CEO -- the only person in the organization capable of triggering a cultural shift.
Work on yourself
I went through this inner battle when I became CEO of Widen in Madison, Wis. Wherever I turned for guidance, people encouraged me to maintain the status quo. It was accepted that an effective CEO should resemble some combination of "Chainsaw" Al Dunlop and Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street. Initially, what I failed to realize is that a CEO must transform before he or she can transform the culture of a company.
My Dad had always encouraged me to live a balanced life. It was the type of fatherly advice I used to roll my eyes at, but when I became responsible for an entire company, the imbalances in my life became magnified. I wasn’t my optimal self. I entered into a full examination of how best to lead an integrated life, striving toward a state of happiness, health and prosperity.
And once I approached eudaimonia, I knew it was the path to changing the role of the CEO and transforming Widen. Engagement is just a hollow, abused buzzword until employees are allowed to be human beings who live balanced lives, however they define that. If Widen created a eudaimonious environment, I was confident that it would show in our financial performance (spoiler: It has). If we created a culture that was built around employee happiness, health and prosperity, we’d also create cooler things for customers. And we have.
The road to eudaimonia
I had many successes and colossal failures in the experiment to create eudaimonia at Widen, and those continue. It’s not without challenges, but the journey is worth it. If you’d like to be surrounded every day by fulfilled, passionate people living out their potential, I’d recommend breaking this transformation down into three steps: mindset, model and measurement.
Peter Drucker supposedly said that the "purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” I agree, and even when eudaimonia becomes your target, you still want to maximize profitability and generate shareholder returns. The mindset shift is to decide that the purpose of your business is also to help its employees achieve happiness, health and prosperity. Strong financial performance becomes an effect of eudaimonia.
This sounds like a wild goose chase, and that is why you need a model to ground eudaimonia in reality. In 1977, Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed a model of wellness and called it the Six Dimensions of Wellness. He held that wellness is a factor of the social, emotional, physical, spiritual, occupational and intellectual aspects of life (“environmental” was added later). I use this model at Widen, and we have started sharing examples of how we are acting, or not acting, in the interest of these wellness dimensions to achieve our state of eudaimonia.
Finally, you need to measure eudaimonia as if it were a financial metric or key performance indicator. Early on, we made the mistake of asking employees to indicate their level of eudaimonia on a 5-point Likert scale. Yeah, that was a bit too vague. So in this year’s employee survey, we are asking people to rate their satisfaction in each dimension of wellness. We’ve made sweeping changes to our workplace based on historical survey responses, and I anticipate more changes as we continue to hone our eudaimonia.
Many CEOs care about their legacy, which is usually measured in growth, acquisitions, product launches and other traditional metrics. It’s easy to forget that a CEO can have an immense impact on the lives of employees, and all the family members, friends, partners, customers and community members connected to the business. Put on your servant leader hat, fade into the background and choose to leave a legacy of eudaimonia. The financials will speak for themselves.
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