The Joy of Leadership - Ideas for Leaders

The Joy of Leadership

How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact - and Make You Happier

About Author/s:

Tal Ben-Shahar taught acclaimed programs on Positive Psychology and the Psychology of Leadership at Harvard University before setting up Potentialife with co-author Angus Ridgway. Ridgway is a former McKinsey Consultant having led the Leadership Development function globally there.


When computers started to become normal parts of working lives some twenty-five years or so ago, we were all promised that we would have more time to enjoy ourselves as the machines took over the boring chores of life. We now know that in fact they have just made everything faster and created more work and data for us to deal with, and that we have lost much of the connection to our co-workers and the feeling of purpose we might find in our work. This book looks to change that, building on principles of positive psychology.

Core Idea

"There's more than one way to lead, succeed and be happy" the authors note in their opening chapter – but they have identified five recurring areas of focus, with the acronym SHARP:

  • Strength: Focus more on your strengths than your weaknesses
  • Health: Recovery is as important for executives as athletes – you have to balance your flat-out work periods with some lying flat-out
  • Absorption: Immersing yourself in the moment is more productive and fulfilling than fire-fighting 10 different things at the same time, no matter how busy this may make you look.
  • Relationships: Shared vision through real connection to people – not clunky command and control powerplays.
  • Purpose: Meaning and commitment in daily activities are key.

To prove that it is not just computers that have brought this incessant torrent of new challenges, chapter two of the book opens with a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus (born 535 BC) "You cannot step twice into the same river for fresh waters are flowing in upon you", nonetheless today's work environment moves at an unprecedented velocity and our lives have altered to match, with gigs replacing the jobs that replaced lifelong careers. The core of the book stems from some common business myths: People are happiest and most productive when they eliminate stress from their lives; the most important tool for a good leader is power and control; the key to fulfillment lies in seeking and finding the meaning of life; and the biggest one…. achievement and success lead to happiness and fulfillment.

The key to the book is the author's focus on what they term 'disaggregation', essentially the fact that to look SHARP you have to pursue all five elements at the same time. None have much impact if practiced singly. The power of SHARP is its 'cascading success' of when all five elements work in synergy with each other. It is the final thirty pages of the book that set-out how you can find a pathway to SHARP success and the obstacles you will need to overcome to achieve that. They involve managing 'fear of failure', fighting conformity (Asch's experiment), managing your time, Carol Dwek's fixed and growth mindsets  – and the opportunities that neuroplasticity (our ability to make new neural pathways late into life) affords us.


As you might expect from a book with such an alluding title, and that is ultimately focused on happiness, this book is written in an upbeat and entertaining style, however the core message is one of seriousness. Being consultants they have a framework, the SHARP model, to create what they term '10X leaders', those people who make work and success seem effortless, and put people at their ease. There is little that is really new in this book, but it is engagingly written and draws the major positive psychology themes that we have summarised papers on in Ideas for Leaders together coherently and concisely.


  • Title: The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximise Your Impact – and Make You Happier
    Author/s Name/s: Tal Ben-Shahar and Angus Ridgway
    Publisher: Wiley
    ISBN: 978-1-11931300-7
    Publishing Date: September 2017
    Number of Pages: 196

Author Knowledge Rating: 1-5 (based on their years of experience, academic expertise in subject areas, and exposure to cross-functional thinking in the area)

Readability: 1-5 score(1=dense and v academic; 5=frantic; page turner)

Appropriate Length: (1=could have been written in 25% of the length;5=could have been longer)

Core Idea Value: (1=nonsense (or entirely esoteric); 5=game-changer)