Shawn Achor is one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. After 12 years at Harvard University, Achor founded Goodthink, Inc. His TED Talk on The Happy Secret to Better Work has more than 16 million views and he has lectured or worked with more than a third of all Fortune 100 companies, as well as the NFL, NBA, Pentagon and the White House. He’s also the author of two New York Times best-selling books.
Fortunately, we were able to borrow a few moments of Achor’s time to answer a few questions for CAR WASH Magazine in advance if his keynote appearance at The Car Wash Show 2019 in Nashville.
In a retail/service focused industry like the car wash industry, what do we need to be mindful of when thinking about how to maximize the potential of our business and, more importantly, our people?
Most people think happiness is an individual sport, that’s why you find books on happiness in the “self-help” section. But my research shows that greatest predictor of your happiness is your social connection with others, so if you eliminate others in the pursuit of happiness, you miss out on happiness. Moreover, the height of your potential is predicted by how well you connect to others in your “ecosystem,” which means we need an interconnected approach to happiness and success that connects us more deeply with others.
What are a few key ways that the power of positive psychology manifest in leadership?
Some managers think you don’t have to talk about happiness or engagement because that’s what you pay people for. But leaders are paid to lead others, and if the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged team, then if leaders aren’t focused on happiness and engagement, they aren’t doing what they are paid for. More importantly, they are missing out on the happiness advantage — when the brain is positive, every business outcome improves.
What does your experience and research suggest is the most important step in switching gears to reprogram your brain to be more positive?
Gratitude. If a pessimist practices scanning the world for 3 new things they are grateful for each day, 21 days later they test as an optimist. That’s life changing.
At some point, when you’re in a leadership position, it can be challenging to continue to focus on your own development and maximizing your own potential. What have you found is the best way to tackle the challenge of feeling maxed out? How do you focus on you? Or should you focus on you? Is that the opposite of a successful approach?
I found in my own life that at some point, there are diminishing returns on focusing upon myself. I’d rather someone I mentored as a speaker get a standing ovation than me. That’s because maximizing your potential alone is small potential. Big Potential is what you can achieve only when you start expanding power out and enhancing those around you. But ironically, that’s also where the most growth is for us as individuals.
Any tips on how we can maximize both our own potential and those around us?
If you’re doing something positive that works, tell everyone. If you started doing yoga and it had an impact on you, tell everyone that works for you. If you do three gratitudes a day or pray or meditate and it made you into the leader you are, talk about it to everyone. I met a COO of a Fortune 100 company who did three gratitudes every day in his office. I asked him how much he talked about it, and he realized that in 20 years at that company, he hadn’t told anyone. The more you role model positive change, the more people will follow you. If you only talk about numbers or talk to people when they make mistakes, you’re missing out on raising their potential.
What is “the happiness advantage”?
When the brain is positive, literally every business outcome we know how to test for improves significantly.
When you talk about happiness, how are you defining the word?
Happiness is not pleasure, it is the joy you feel moving toward your potential.
How can I, as a business leader, use positive psychology and the happiness advantage to help me attract and retain talent?
In one study at LinkedIn I found that if a person received three-plus touchpoints of praise over a quarter, the retention rates went from 80 percent to 94 percent. Same pay. Same building. Same incentives. Massive retention change compared to less than three points of praise. Second, in another study we found 80 percent of individuals would rather work for a boss who cared about their future success rather than get a 20 percent raise. People want to be cared for.
Is there one practice or habit you think everyone can add to their day to alleviate stress?
Embedded within every stress is meaning. If I tell you someone is failing English, no stress. If I tell you your kid is failing English, massive stress because you have meaning in that relationship. In my research that made the top psychology journal: If you find the meaning in your stress, stress doesn’t decrease, but the negative health impacts do — a 23 percent drop in stress related symptoms like burnout or fatigue. Find the meaning in the stress.