How Unhappy People Lead

I prefer happiness to sadness. But what if sadness is an asset?

Unhappy leaders:

Martin Luther King Jr. tried to commit suicide twice before he was 13. (Time)

(Winston Churchill’s) creative-depressive personality meant that writing (or painting, or bricklaying) was a way of keeping the “black dog” of depression at bay. (Telegraph)

On January 23 (1841) Lincoln wrote to his law partner in Washington: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. (The Atlantic)

Unhappy, but leading:

King, Churchill, and Lincoln shined light into darkness.

#1. Empathy:

Sadness – in us – enables us to face sadness around us. There’s no room for unicorns and fairy dust when challenges loom large and times are dark.

#2. Vision:

“Individuals, (Lincoln) had learned from his own “severe experience,” could succeed in “the great struggle of life” only by enduring failures and plodding on with a vision of improvement.” (The Atlantic)

You might wring your hands in worry, but successful leaders answer worry with vision.

#3. Grit:

Battling the “black dog” builds resilience.

Sadness with resolve is credibility during crisis. When the nation is in peril, it’s silly to be frivolous.

Successful leaders acknowledge the worst and move forward with their best.

How might unhappiness be a leadership asset?

When is unhappiness problematic for leaders?