Digital Skills Global
How to be a Successful Leader

How to be a Successful Leader

Insights with Jan Muehlfeit, ex-Chairman of Microsoft Europe and author of The Positive Leader

It is increasingly important to know how to be a good leader. Times are changing and a good leader is someone who is able to respond to these changes, and understand that there is no one strategy that will work for every company, every employee, and every situation. While this does require a more complex approach to management, this may be the most effective approach to achieve the best results.

Jan Muehlfeit, who rose to become head of Microsoft Europe, and then turned this division into their most profitable one globally for several years has some good insights. Here are his first thoughts on how to be a successful business leader:

“Many people are driven by the assumption that if they work hard enough and focus on becoming more successful, happiness will naturally follow. As a society, we are taught that landing prestigious jobs, working longer hours, chasing more qualifications, and persevering at all costs will make us successful in the eyes of the world, and only then can we really be happy.

However, a growing body of positive psychology research puts this whole ‘happiness follows success’ notion to bed, revealing that it is in fact happiness that fuels greater success and achievement – not the other way around.”

This insight requires us to be self-aware of who we are, and how we are with others. While some may feel that down this road lies a new age philosophy and approach. Muehlfeit brings in some interesting research that suggests that positively minded people will bring you better business results.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener found that people who were successful were happy before their successes, and that life satisfaction leads to successful business outcomes. A positive mind-set results in:

Much like the advice about smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, as it will release positive feelings and behaviour within you. So too, it seems being aware of the value of a positive mind-set, and then taking steps to achieve this, both within yourself, and your workforce, yields successful results. Muehlfeit explains

Our brains are hardwired to function better when we are happy, and so a sunny outlook can give us a chemical edge that helps us come out ahead. Positive emotions (such as inspiration, awe and gratitude) invigorate our brains by flooding them with dopamine and serotonin. As well as making us feel good, these neurotransmitters help us organise new information, retain it for longer and retrieve it faster later on.

As a result, we are geared up for better learning, creativity, analysis and problem solving. Greater flexibility and ingenuity in our mental processing means we can think out-of-the-box and perceive more possibilities, make more accurate judgement calls and find the best solutions to the trickiest problems.”

There has been a lot of research into what motivates millennials, and how this may be different to the generations that came before them. Happiness, meaningful work, and something that they believe in come up frequently. In this context the emotional intelligence of those working with, and managing these people becomes increasingly important. While some senior managers are resistant to this approach, the benefits appear to be revealing themselves in terms of lower staff churn rates, and increased productivity in happy, positive workforces.

Muehlfeit explains this in more detail here “From a corporate perspective, a happy, engaged workforce has been linked directly to a stronger bottom line. Stats from a 2014 study by economists at the University of Warwick reveal that happiness leads to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers prove to be 10% less productive. Furthermore, in October 2015, Gallup reported that there are two major factors influencing employee performance: engagement and wellbeing.

Employees with high levels of both engagement and wellbeing are 27% more likely to report ‘excellent’ performance in their own job and 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organisation in the next 12 months. (‘Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement’, Gallup). These findings have fantastic implications for the workplace. With happy teams, improved organisational performance comes naturally; it does not have to be forced.”

Over the course of Muehlfeit’s book he goes into further detail about how to achieve these goals, and also how to manage your own happiness and mental health in your own managerial position too. There are some interesting insights, and even for Muehlfeit himself, he hit a point where he had to re-evaluate his own life work balance. Successful business management is an evolving area, but there is a growing awareness that changing times require changing approaches.

Preparing for Leadership in the Digital Age

Taking the Muehlfeit philosophy to leadership, our programs focus on building the soft skills required of leaders in the digital age. Our participants work in international cross-functional team alongside global leaders from the world’s top companies to enhance cross-functional collaboration, international team communication and agile project management skills.  

Hear from Dr. Robert Mauro, Director of the Global Leadership Institute at Boston College, on how our programs help professionals develop the skills required of leaders in the digital age.