How CEOs Can Maximize Employees’ Potential

potentialImagine the biography of a person who had the ‘perfect’ life, full of pleasantries without struggle. The Empty Life would recount how nothing was overcome in pursuit of anything. It would be a horribly boring story.

Adversity, uncertainty, and challenges are unavoidable and give our lives meaning. So, when business leaders attempt to create ‘happiness’ exclusively by using perks, I cringe. The Empty Life doesn’t maximize happiness – or human potential. To maximize human potential we need to struggle in pursuit of something great. This journey allows us to flourish, together.

In a company that flourishes, the CEO empowers a community to balance the struggles of risk-taking with flexible optimism. In that endeavor, the CEO’s responsibilities expand. You set forth an agenda of eudaimonia, a term the ancient Greeks used to describe ‘human flourishing.’ Here’s what it means to take the Chief Executive hat off and put the Chief Eudaimonia one on:

  1. Value the integrated life

Theology and Ethics Professor Anthony Bradley argues that flourishing “…is characterized by a holistic concern for the spiritual, moral, physical, economic, material, political, psychological, and social context necessary for human beings to live according to their design.”

“Innovators flourish by challenging indignities the market takes for granted.”

Compare that to the catchphrase ‘work-life balance.’ I am not in favor of work-life balance. Ask yourself: when would you not choose life? It’s less about balance and more about integration. We need not isolate any dimension of our life for the sake of the other.  Dr. Bradley gives us dimensions to integrate, not sacrifice.

Quality of thought and freedom to execute ideas matters more than hours of work in the digital age. CEOs who encourage teams to choose the integrated life will sustain innovation.

  1. Encourage risk as a path to truth

There is no flourishing in The Empty Life because it’s risk-free and produces no truth. We call it knowledge work after all – our job is to discover and apply truths to problems to serve our customers.

As story authority Robert McKee writes about characters, “The only way to know the truth is to witness him make choices under pressure, to take one action or another in the pursuit of his desire.”

In real life, the pressure reveals truths that define our sense of value and contribution to a company. Innovators flourish by challenging indignities the market takes for granted.

  1. Train optimism to fortify people against struggle

Optimism is a skill according to Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism. Human potential depends on flexible optimism in adverse conditions.

Optimists believe that bad events are temporary, contained, and not a reflection of their self-worth. Employees who apply optimism during times of struggle will see themselves and their community as agents of their flourishing.

Yet over the last decade, it seems CEOs have been tasked with making employees happy. The resulting culture fuels The Empty Life. Instead, CEOs need to empower the stakeholders of the organization to flourish with all the struggle that entails. Let’s honor the people who don’t want it easy because their quest is one of maximizing human potential.