Great leaders must strive for excellence in all areas of life, a concept which the Greeks called “virtue” and is the premise for much of Western culture and philosophy today. For philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, true excellence or virtuosity was known as eudaimonia—a state of growth aligned with our purpose. Today, these concepts are being rediscovered as executive committees and leadership boards strive to create positive company cultures focused on growth.
The Origins of Excellence
Eudaimonia is a life of flourishing success and happiness, and as early as 400 BCE philosophers have been seeking to understand purpose, intrinsic motivation, and fulfillment. While philosophers such as Socrates believed values were the fundamental building blocks of an excellent life, it was Aristotle that translated abstract principles into the present reality of life. For Aristotle, fulfillment from work and life wasn’t a hypothetical state or end goal. It was a process of refinement and continuous striving to achieve one’s purpose, similar to the focus of modern day positive psychology.
We see this reflected in modern philosophy, where psychologists have categorized three distinctive needs for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Fulfilling one’s purpose is a harmonious and natural form of perfection, and becoming the most authentic version of ourselves will empower us to do our best work and be fully engaged in the workplace. It’s the reason Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” message resonated with clarity throughout the world. It’s the same reason leaders are focusing on intrinsic motivation for talent retention and organizational success.
Failure is Just as Important as Success
While each of us want to be the best we can be, Aristotle didn’t prescribe a specific method or function for personal growth. For Aristotle, virtue is not achieved overnight, but rather by habitual triumph over mere sufficiency. But how do we build virtue? How do we form healthy habits to learn and grow?
In 2006, Dr. Carol Dweck brought the concept of eudaimonia to the information age. In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, she pinpointed philosophies that encourage and empower growth. Her work has changed classrooms and boardrooms around the world by identifying the differences between how individuals perceive failure.
Our Actions Shape Our Character
Dweck and Aristotle would both agree that our personalities and habits are not fixed. Just as our values shape our actions, so do our actions change our identity and future choices. We often separate people into “morning” or “evening” people, which Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset. A growth mindset teaches us that “morning people” are simply human beings that made a commitment to starting their day a little bit earlier until their body naturally adjusted.
People with “fixed” mindsets generally view failures as a lack of intrinsic ability or value, whereas people with “growth” mindsets believe that failure can be overcome with preparation and effort. This is crucial for individual employees to understand and for leaders to communicate, because a growth mindset in each employee is essential for organizational success.
Company Culture is Defined by Individuals
Incorporating a growth mindset into company culture is an implicit responsibility for leaders. When employees fail to develop in excellence, a leader can choose to focus on ways to grow in the future. Great leaders communicate early and often to shape values, define company culture, and invite each employee to participate fully with autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
At ProHabits our mission is to connect personal growth and organizational success. We use researched principles of positive psychology to introduce daily activities while forming long lasting professional habits in the workplace. Learn more about ProHabits research and organizational success here!