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!
It’s no secret that a company’s success relies on top performance from its employees and their positive habits at work. With hierarchical structures and performance reviews, companies monitor and evaluate how their employees are performing. Often times, managers are tasked with motivating their supervisees and driving performance. However, elevating performance relies on much more than these external motivations. In fact, employees motivated by intrinsic factors are more likely to excel in creativity, productivity, and overall performance.
Why do we see performance standing still in the first place?
Lack of structure
Though it may appear that long work days and overtime hours are a display of effort and investment, they are likely to be the result of unstructured work days and poor focus. Simply putting time into a project is not enough…it is the quality of time spent that really makes a difference. Work days that are unstructured and lack clear goals tend to lead to distraction and uncertainty. The result is wasted time and hindered performance.
Lack of focus
Not only does lack of focus on schedule come into play, but lack of focus on purpose also hinders performance. When employees are unclear about the broader purpose of their work and of the company, their ability to optimally perform is jeopardized. Detailing clear goals and intentions provides employees with clarity, improving focus and performance.
Lack of confidence
Employees who are unsure of their work, abilities, and goals, tend to have lower levels of confidence and mood. Employees who lack confidence also tend to fret over failure. Although some degree of concern can promote attention to detail, general fear of failure stifles innovation and hinders growth. Promoting employees to be confident in their ideas and goals inspires creativity and fuels improvement.
So, how do we improve performance?
In order to promote lasting and effective performance growth, we must inspire employees from within. Rather than relying solely on managers to motivate and monitor employees, we should drive employees to want to improve for themselves. But how do we do this? By fostering key habitual behaviors we can create more self-aware, focused, and intrinsically motivated individuals.
People who write down goals for themselves have been shown to be significantly more successful in their endeavors than their non-goal writing counterparts. Clear, measurable goals provide employees with focus and guidance and create an intrinsic system of accountability.
Building habitual self-motivation drives employees to improve out of their own personal desire. This form of motivation is far more reliable than external motivations because it functions solely within the individual. Self-motivation does not depend on wavering external factors and persists independently of circumstance.
What’s the point? Employees should always be able to answer this question. Whether it’s a small scale task or a broad company movement, employees should know the purpose of their work. Building the habit of figuring out why creates employees who are more self-aware, focused, and driven.
Though sitting uninterrupted for a straight eight-hour workday may seem like a valiant effort in productivity, a no break workday does more harm than good. People who take breaks throughout the day have been shown to be more productive in shorter periods of time and less prone to distraction. Getting in the habit of recognizing energy dips and focus lapses allows people to take strategic breaks that refresh the mind and elevate productivity.
Not all feedback is quality feedback. The standard employee reviews and company reviews, filled with broad questions and scaled ratings, have been shown to be relatively ineffective. However, detailed and specific feedback is beneficial for both parties involved. Engaging in feedback sessions promotes learning and understanding and provides employees with fresh perspectives on how to elevate their performance. Furthermore, frequent self-reflection and feedback can produce greater self-awareness and, in turn, fuel performance.
It’s natural to have waves of distraction. Rather than succumbing to these challenges, employees should be encouraged to plan ahead. By recognizing one’s personal triggers for distraction or common energy zapping tasks, employees can create disaster control plans for how to best handle these inevitable challenges. Getting in the habit of responding purposefully to distraction can greatly improve workflow and performance.