- August 24, 2023
- Mark Miller
The Happy Trap
The best leaders don’t make everyone happy. That may sound harsh to you – it may even sound wrong. It’s not intended to be rude or mean-spirited, and it doesn’t mean that great leaders try to make people unhappy. It’s just a byproduct of leading well. This is a lesson…
The best leaders don’t make everyone happy. That may sound harsh to you – it may even sound wrong. It’s not intended to be rude or mean-spirited, and it doesn’t mean that great leaders try to make people unhappy. It’s just a byproduct of leading well.
This is a lesson I learned early in my career – one I could have easily missed. Like many young leaders, I didn’t invest a lot of time reflecting on my leadership style or philosophy – I was trying to learn to lead!
One day, the president of our company came into my office. I don’t recall him ever visiting me before that day, so it must have been important. When he entered the room, I stood to greet him. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
“Congratulations,” he said.
“Thank you, sir.” I paused. “Congratulations for what?”
“You’ve figured out something many leaders never understand, and you’ve discovered it early in your career.”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, so I knew I needed to probe. “What’s that, sir?”
“You’ve learned that not everyone is going to be happy with your leadership, and you’ve decided that’s okay.”
Had he not pointed that out to me, I guess I could have missed it. My goal had always been to try to do the right thing. If I felt I had done so, I wasn’t too worried about those who disagreed.
Let me be clear and say again, I don’t believe leaders TRY to make people unhappy; it’s just part of the role.
Why is that the case? Here are five reasons – I’m sure there are more.
- Leaders create change. Leaders understand that progress is always preceded by change. There will always be people who don’t like change, and they’ll not be happy with us for instigating change.
- Leaders make hard decisions that affect people’s lives. Sometimes we have to terminate an employee, close a business unit, stop funding for a project, or set a strategy that is not popular. These are activities leaders are paid to do that make people unhappy.
- Leaders hold people accountable. To most leaders, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Unfortunately, many people see it as a huge negative. I prefer to think of accountability as a gift we give to those we lead, a gift that enables them to be successful.
- Leaders stretch people and organizations. Leaders know that if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. Therefore, we often ask people to do things faster, cheaper, better, differently. But stretching creates discomfort, and many people aren’t happy to be stretched.
- Leaders are unreasonable people. Leaders are compelled by a vision and fueled by the desire to see that vision become a reality. Leaders live much of our lives thinking about what could be, an orientation that often creates an “unreasonable” view of the world.
So, what are the implications for us as leaders? My advice: Don’t be surprised if there are always some people who are unhappy with you. And if no one’s unhappy with you as a leader, perhaps you should be unhappy with yourself.
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Mark Miller is a Wall Street Journal and international best-selling author, communicator, and the former Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. Mark’s leadership journey at Chick-fil-A spanned 45 years, and today, he serves as the Co-Founder of Lead Every Day. Mark began writing almost twenty years ago, and with over one million books in print in more than twenty-five languages, his global impact continues to grow.