5 5. Exogenous Success Factors

Chapter 5

Success and the influence of exogenous factors in adulthood

This chapter continues the analysis of the top workers’ biographies. We learned
in the last chapter that many factors in childhood can lead to the right track in the
light of the process of success at work. However, there are many elements in
adulthood life too that can infl uence the process.
The fi rst purpose of this chapter is to discuss the role of social relationships in
success at work. Especially interesting is to make comparisons with research on
happy and long-lasting marriages and solutions that top workers have considered
functional. Are there commonalities between these groups?
Second, we glance at the signifi cance of hobbies. In positive psychology the
role of activities that provide refreshment and pleasure has been long acknowledged.
In this book we will view how the top workers describe the importance of
their hobbies for their success at work.
Finally, we will discuss the role of leadership. Can leaders enhance employees’
chances of success at work? What if they themselves could also benefi t from the
capability of enhancing employees’ chances of success?
A successful combination of work and marriage
When moving further from the school world, dating and romantic relationship
begin to take place. In this section we will discuss how success at work is
connected with family and marital life. The relationship between work and
family life has been studied mostly from the perspective of negative confl ict
(Greenhouse et al . 1987 ). It is obvious that the interplay between these two areas
of life has positive consequences (Barnett 2004 ; Leiter and Durup 1996 ), and the
positive experiences and solutions are also worth studying (see, for example.
Mahoney 2002 ).
The combination of work and family life has been increasingly studied since
women started to work outside the home (Barnett 2004 ; see also Aryee et al .
2005 ). At the same time, in the past few decades, men have been spending more
and more time attending to housework and childcare (Barnett 2004 ). In Finland,
Chapter 5
Success and the infl uence of
exogenous factors in adulthood
88 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
social policies have also been used to encourage the possibility of combining
work and family (Salmi 2004b ). Indeed, fi nancial matters are essential to this
phenomenon (see, for example, Barnett 2004 ; Barnett and Lundgren 1998 ).
Barnett and Lundgren ( 1998 ) illustrate issues that spouses need to solve when
making work-related decisions. Fundamentally, the decisions are based on
economic and social factors and, for example, on gender-related attitudes to
work. In addition, the situation in a workplace (for example, the continuation of
employment) and individual factors play their respective roles in decisionmaking.
In an ideal situation, spouses refl ect upon their own and each other’s
biological, psychological and economic needs. They may end up with an arrangement
whereby (1) both work full-time, standard work schedules; (2) both work
full-time, non-standard work schedules; (3) one works full-time, one works
reduced hours; or (4) both work reduced hours (Barnett and Lundgren 1998 ).
From the marital point of view, whether or not spouses work together (i.e., in the
same workplace) is also signifi cant.
However, the most signifi cant issue, from our point of view, is to understand
the question of combining work and family as related to wellbeing and overall
happiness and success. Special attention was being paid to how the Employees of
the Year solved this question as well as to the descriptions of the long-married
couples’ successful solutions. Salmi (2004a, 2004b) suggests that the most
productive perspective would be the one that refl ects the phenomenon from the
perspective of the entirety of life.
The interaction between work and family
The interaction between individuals’ work and family responsibilities has
become a concern of practical as well as theoretical signifi cance (Clark 2000 ).
According to Berscheid ( 2006 ), an understanding of human behaviour has
suffered because of the propensity to forget the fact that people live in a net of
human relationships for their entire lives and that most behaviour takes place in
the context of human relationships. When studying successful behaviour, it is
important to examine how environmental factors and people’s mutual relationships
affect the development of self-concept (Caprara and Cervone 2006 ;
Magnusson and Mahoney 2006 ).
In addition, Aspinwall and Staudinger ( 2006 ) note that many human strengths
are based on the person’s relationships with others; in other words, they are relational
or collective by nature. For example, one’s ability to understand and cope
with various problematic life situations is strengthened if one has an opportunity
to discuss the problem at hand with a close friend, swap opinions and refl ect on
the issues from new perspectives.
Social roles play a signifi cant part in an individual’s life. Frone ( 2003 ) refers
to family-work balance in this matter. Imbalance between social roles may
produce stress that further affects different areas of life as well as the individual’s
health and wellbeing. Most studies have focused on the work-family confl ict;
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 89
however, Frone ( 2003 ), for example, defi nes work-family balance as a lack of
confl ict or interference between work and family roles.
According to Clark’s ( 2000 ) theory about work and family balance, people are
daily border-crossers between the domains of work and family. The theory
addresses how domain integration and segmentation, border creation and
management, border-crosser participation, and relationships between bordercrossers
and others at work and home infl uence work-family balance. Concepts,
such as permeability, fl exibility and blending are used to describe the border
between work and family. Permeability refers to the degree to which elements
from one domain enter the other. Flexibility is the extent to which a border may
contract or expand depending on the demands of one domain or the other. When
a great deal of permeability and fl exibility occurs around the border, blending
both work and family creates a borderland that cannot be called by either domain
(Clark 2000 ).
In considerations of the connection between work and family, it is important to
refl ect both on how work infl uences family life and the kind of infl uence that
family life has on work (Frone et al . 1992 ; Gutek et al . 1991 ), whether it is
strengthening or confl icting (see, for example, Aryee et al . 2005 ). The hypothesis
of the strengthening effect of multiple roles (see, for example, Rantanen and
Kinnunen 2005 ) is of great contemporary interest as it concerns both genders – as
well as other family members. Recent studies have shown that it is not just about
making compromises but, for example, that positive paternal involvement infl uences
the multiple domains of children’s lives from birth through adolescence
(see, for example, Hawkins et al . 2008 ).
We combine here the results of two independent studies in order to refl ect the
successful combination of work and family, and to discover the kinds of solutions
that are adopted by couples who have been married for more than ten years
(Määttä 2005 ) and by the top workers who have been nominated as Employees
of the Year in their own occupation (Uusiautti 2008 ). By uniting these two
perspectives, the purpose is to give a unique description of how both family and
work roles can be combined in order to facilitate success both at work and in
family life.
The magnitude of shared worlds
Crucial among solutions employed by happily married couples in relation to their
time division between work and family was their willingness to make compromises
in the face of different kinds of aspirations and foci. This can be defi ned as
the magnitude of their shared world. It covers all the thoughts, feelings, activities
and happenings that spouses share. The magnitude of this world depends on the
extent to which spouses occupy the other worlds, and how much and in what way
they appreciate and value their relationship compared with their other activities,
such as their own friends and hobbies, and whether or not these activities are
common between them. The solidity of a relationship derives from mutually
90 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
shared activities; the stronger and more frequent the interaction between spouses,
the more solid their relationship will be. Nevertheless, solidity does not result
from activities that suppress or fail to appeal to either one of the spouses.
Shuttling between work and family was one of the salient issues disclosed by
the Employees of the Year. Everyone had to make choices and come up with solutions
of some kind in relation to this matter. The best situation was when a balance
was found between these two areas of life. Thus, the Employees of the Year
considered their intimate relationships and family as one of the most important
factors enhancing their success at work. Some differences could be found in the
top workers’ experiences of how work and family could be successfully combined.
These solutions depended a great deal on whether the couple had children or not.
The balance between family and work according to
long-lasting and happily married couples
Married couples could be divided into three categories based on the time they
spend together and the feeling of togetherness they share. The fi rst one represents
an intimate, family-oriented relationship that can be called ‘Our Marriage’. The
spouses had a strong affi nity to each other; they were well integrated and spent
their spare time with their family, made decisions together, and were willing to
make the effort to solve and/or avoid disagreements. Their relationship was
epitomised emotional intimacy; they enjoyed each other and being together.
‘Our happiness is often based on work as we are surely able to collaborate.’
‘The existence of the other is unquestionably important, and we are able to
support each other.’
‘A shared hobby makes us closer, and it is nice to discuss the subject at home
with your spouse.’
This is in line with previous research as well. It has been found that the perceived
superiority of one’s own marriage is also strongly related to marital satisfaction
(Buunk and van der Eijnden 1997 ).
The second category consists of couples that are happy together but as individuals.
This kind of marriage of two individuals can be described as ‘Our
Marriage of Two Individuals’. They are integrated, but they tend not to avoid
disagreements and do not endeavour to achieve a consensus. They spend a great
deal of their leisure time together and have a high opinion of each other, but they
also have personal interests outside of the family, such as their work. Despite
being interdependent, they also emphasise their independence.
‘We got married 12 years ago and being a wife of a traveling worker, I have
to be strong-minded and believe, hope and love, forgive, and stretch, too… To
be honest, sometimes it is nice for both of us to be alone from time to time.’
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 91
The third relationship model represented a marriage that lacked interdependence
or shared activities. This kind of relationship could be called ‘The Marriage of
Two Individuals’. There was no communication between the individuals, and
they were unwilling to make compromises in confl ict situations. These kinds of
couples tended to stay together because of habit and convenience or because of
their inability or reluctance to start divorce proceedings. They might have thought
that this way of life would perhaps be better than living alone.
‘My husband is a workaholic, whose home is his workplace – I am a mother
whose home is her whole life. External issues, happenings, or people have
not threatened our marriage; but time and everyday life have fl attened and
faded the fl ush of love. We have seldom been anywhere together because we
have children and “we do not have time”. ’
Work-family balance from the perspective of employees of the year
Combining work and family is mostly instantiated through the organisation of
schedules. In everyday life, this has to do with the number of hours that one
works and how much time is being spent at home with family. The Employees of
the Year alluded to various solutions based on their situation at home: whether
they had children and of what age; whether their spouses worked; or whether they
even had a spouse. The results introduce three categories with examples of the
top worker’s decisions concerning work-family balance.
Family-oriented top workers made decisions in relation to organising more
time with their small children. One top worker had a brilliant career before having
children but stayed at home while the children were very young. Returning to
work was diffi cult and the emotions were inconsistent. The support and conversational
companionship that her spouse provided was the most important factor
enhancing her return to work. This top worker had also discussed her work
openly at home, which had consciously made these two areas of life apparent to
all of family members.
‘I thought that both my work and being at home were important. The whole
rigmarole, which lasted ten years when the children were small, is something
that I do not even remember well. And eventually, it did not matter whether
you were at work or at home. I think that my spouse’s support and our communication
were signifi cant. He is smart and does not want to control my life.
I allow every family member to become acquainted with my work because
I wanted them to be part of it, and vice versa, in a way that my work would
not be an area of life that my family knew nothing about. And I hope that this
has enriched their knowledge of work life too.’
The other top worker had a business of his own and worked from home. The
reason for this arrangement was that he wanted to be available for his children
92 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
while also making a living. He became highly appreciated in his fi eld, but his
work never threatened his family as he always considered his family as the fi rst
priority. He emphasised that these two areas of life should be in balance. Of
course, this negatively affected the family’s incomes, but on the other hand, this
top worker preferred having his life in his own hands and did not want to sell his
principles for money.
‘Basically, I have been at home all the time. When the children came home
from school, I was here… But sometimes, it was fi nancially tight. I have never
wanted to work day and night. I can surely stretch but I do not want to sacrifi
ce all my life for work. People should understand that too and not just strive
for profi ts all the time. People should think about what they want to do with
their lives.’
The relationship between work and family can also be described with the use of
models that focus on multiple roles. The hypothesis of the burdening effect of
multiple roles is based on an assumption of scarcity. Accordingly, the resources
that an individual possesses are limited thus, multiple roles exhaust these
resources. This implies that the resources spent at work diminish those that can
be used at home and vice versa. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the
hypothesis of the strengthening effect. According to this, an individual’s
resources tend to recur and increase particularly as a result of new roles.
Consequently, both roles (work and family) are seen as enhancing capacity in
both areas of life. This aptly describes the previous top workers’ actions.
Two of the top workers had positive experiences with the combination of work
and family – ‘having them both’. Both of them were dedicated to a demanding
job with irregular working hours. The solution to combine work and family was
twofold: fi rstly, they wanted to give priority to their small children, and secondly,
they planned their schedules in unison with their spouses. As they had irregular
working hours, they tried to adjust their schedules with their spouses in a way that
either one of them was at home with their children during their free time.
Therefore, everything was based on mutual agreement, and they were strict about
prearranged schedules.
‘When my children were young, we had a system. They were in part-time day
care, only ten days a month. I spent all my days off at home, as did my
spouse, though not at the same time as I did. It went quite well like that. And
we spent a lot of time with our children.’
‘We made the effort to plan schedules together. I had irregular working hours but
my spouse had standard ones. He was at home during my busiest seasons at work.’
Indeed, couples who value and strive for egalitarian relationships are often faced
with new challenges upon the birth of their fi rst child (Koivunen et al . 2009 ).
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 93
Although combining work and family in this way may seem diffi cult, the
Employees of the Year were content with their solutions because they enabled
both spouses to work and take care of the home. Barnett and Hyde ( 2001 ) champion
such solutions as they are of the opinion that versatile roles (i.e., work and
family roles) benefi t our psychological, physical and social health; and this is true
for both sexes. A strong commitment in one role does not inhibit a similar
commitment in the other.
Additionally, this solution has an effect on several other processes too: the
family’s income level increases, the experiential spheres of both spouses widen
and the chances to succeed increase. Last, but not least, their work and family life
experiences become similar.
Notwithstanding, some of the Employees of the Year wanted to keep these
areas of life separate from each other; they were clearly ‘work-oriented’. They
had the possibility to concentrate on their careers and their spouses took care of
the home. They emphasised that the solution was jointly agreed with their
spouses and that their spouses understood the nature of their demanding job.
‘I have not had any problems… My spouse is at home and this is a sort of a
back rest for me, enabling me to work. And I have had support and encouragement
from home and my spouse takes care of everything at home so well.
I do not have to worry about whether everything is fi ne at home or not. I can
concentrate on my work fully.
My family has been understanding; even the kids have, in their own way…
I am married to my work as much as I am to my spouse.’
One of the top workers was in a similar situation but he had no children. He too
had a demanding job with irregular working hours, which could have been be a
strain on the relationship. However, that was not the case as his spouse was in a
similar situation, having started a new business and being busy with that. The
irregular rhythm of life was thus a matter of course for them and they did not
consider it problematic or burdening to their relationship.
One of the top workers was single so he did not have similar experiences, nor
did he have solutions to consider like his Employees of the Year counterparts.
Instead, he found it occasionally diffi cult to separate work and leisure as his
present circumstances meant that it was relatively easy to dedicate himself
completely to work; work days tended to be prolonged and some tasks were done
at home. This shows that spouses and families do not only demand time and effort
but they also require balance and contentment that does not involve work.
Ability to compromise
One thing was certain; all Employees of the Year had succeeded in their work and
were rewarded for excellence. Additionally, they considered consensus and
concordance with their spouses more important than enhancing their careers as
94 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
feelings of guilt frequently pervaded their thoughts when they worked long days
instead of being at home. Further refl ection on the data on married couples
revealed that the only common feature was that they had been married for a long
time, over ten years, whereas marital happiness and satisfaction varied according
to their mutual appreciation and respect for their marriage and togetherness. This
appreciation and respectful attitude toward each other and their relationship
appeared to connect the two studies.
Whereas the married couples were categorised according to those who were
tightly bonded to each other and those who lived together but as individuals, the
top workers were located between the dimensions of family-oriented and workoriented
individuals. In considerations of successful marriage, on the one hand,
and a successful combination of work and family, on the other, one fundamental
dimension comes to the fore namely, the ability to compromise.
It is not easy to draw conclusions of marital happiness from Employees’ of the
Year narratives. Who would not want to succeed at both work and family life?
This is, however, easier said than done. The solutions may vary but fundamentally
it is all about fi nding one that satisfi es both spouses. There is no single
model, however. It is crucial to determine the kinds of compromises that spouses
are willing to make and whether one has different hopes and emphases than the
other. The ability to be realistic is also relevant here; the understanding that one
cannot have everything appears pertinent to success in both work and marriage.
Thus, the ability to take pleasure in the achievements and best sides of work and
family life eases the compromises. It is the ability to bend and adjust – without
forfeiting anything of primary value. None of the top workers wanted to become
a martyr in the process of making compromises. It was not about neglecting
oneself but a realistic and practical weighting of the possibilities and promises of
life. The level of intrinsic motivation that the Employees of the Year experienced
in their work due to favourable working conditions (such as the experience of
meaning, responsibility for outcomes and knowledge of results) may also have
enhanced their ability to make compromises and appreciate the other at home and
in the marriage (see, for example, Oh and Lewis 2009 ).
Combining work and family responsibilities is a topic of considerable current
interest, which also concerned the Employees of the Year. Many theories describe
career-related solutions more as individual decisions (Barnett and Lundgren
1998 ), not as shared with spouses or the family as a whole. Employees of the
Year disagreed with this; they thought that it was crucial to make career-related
decisions together with their families. All solutions were unique, varying from
equal division of labour between spouses to a situation in which one was working
and the other took care of the home. Regardless of the solution, the main point
was that it was made jointly by considering the aspirations and situations of both
so that neither partner had to sacrifi ce his or her career for the other. The same
phenomenon can also be seen as a prerequisite for a successful marriage. Couples
who made an effort to listen to each other and who tried to fi nd a common ground
appeared happiest.
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 95
A study conducted in Sweden (Evertson and Nermo 2007 ) suggests that
compromises relating to the sharing of housework remained unusual; despite the
increasing involvement of women in work outside the home they continue to
perform the majority of household tasks, and a woman’s economic dependency
on her spouse is related to her share of the housework – this may also lead to
decreased levels of marital satisfaction (see also Koivunen et al . 2009 ).
Furthermore, for men in the dual-earner couples, the relationship satisfaction was
associated with positive family-to-work spillover whereas satisfaction with the
housework arrangement was related to women’s positive spillover. With both
men and women engaging in more non-traditional gender roles in work and
family domains, there is great need to understand the impact of these roles on
each domain (Perrone et al . 2009 ).
Having a family does not prevent one from also having a successful career. It
seems that more important is the readiness to make compromises and to take both
spouses’ hopes into consideration. According to our interpretation, the most plausible
and successful solution is not necessarily to share all duties equally. Neither do the
spouses have to always be together. Both spouses can maintain some level of individualism
in marriage (see also Frisco and Williams 2003 ; Judkins and Presser 2008 ).
Time for hobbies
In considerations of wellbeing and success at work, hobbies and free-time activities
often take the backseat. Leisure is not considered as important as other areas
of life, such as work and family life. Moreover, Csikszentmihalyi ( 2008 : 159)
asks cleverly why people usually would like to work less and spend more time in
leisure given that: ‘on the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore
feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfi ed. In their free time people feel that
there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used’.
In this section, we want to analyse the importance of hobbies and leisure for
success at work. Our fundamental assumption is that the pleasure of doing and
positive emotions are quite important to one’s holistic, daily wellbeing – and freetime
activities offer an excellent context for these experiences. One reason for
this is that activities done in free time are usually voluntary; people do what they
fi nd enjoyable (Carruthers and Hood 2005 ).
Likewise, positive psychology wants to pay more attention to the signifi cance
of hobbies from the point of view of deriving pleasure and positive emotions.
Positive emotions are connected to physical health (for example, the prevention
of physical stress symptoms), mental health (for example, positive coping strategies),
and social health (for example, friendships and social support), which refers
to the fact that happy people are more likely to build happy and reciprocal human
relationships than unhappy people (Carruthers and Hood 2005 ).
The conclusion is that if one’s hobby provides positive experiences and thus
enhances happy and balanced life, it will also promote success at work – indeed,
physical, mental and social health are needed in work life too. This is also
96 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
acknowledged in many workplaces internationally, as McGillivray’s ( 2005 )
shows that health and fi tness programmes, for example, now make up a signifi –
cant component of wider organisational wellness or workplace wellness
programs – although their positive infl uence seems to focus more on physical
health than on mental health (see, for example, Griffi ths 1996 ). Instead, Tuomi
et al . ( 2001 ) fi nd that in addition to favourable work characteristics (such as
autonomy and opportunities for personal development), support for physical
activities and hobbies, as well as possibilities for development and training both
at work and during leisure, infl uence higher work ability and, furthermore, higher
quality of work and the enjoyment of staying in one’s job. Among older workers,
these features were also connected to active and meaningful retirement.
Myers and Diener ( 1995 : 15) remind us in their study on ‘Who is Happy?’ that
while work provides this ‘sense of pride and belonging to a group’, which helps
‘people construct their social identity’, work is not always satisfying; people can
become overwhelmed or underwhelmed. The type of fl ow described in earlier chapters
of this book is not always guaranteed in top workers’ jobs either. Therefore, a
life-balancing hobby can become an important part of the life of successful people.
Hobbies provide counterbalance
However, the signifi cance of leisure was not completely absent from top workers’
narratives. The Employees of the Year tried to unwind from their arduous work
schedules and emphasised the signifi cance of a good hobby. Hobbies were seen
not only as a counterbalance to work but also as an activity that provided
resources for work. Notwithstanding this, counterbalance was no less important;
in fact, a positive relation between feeling recovered during leisure time and job
performance over time has been proven (Binnewies et al . 2009 ).
For one top worker, a hobby turned into a profession; he was a handicraft artist.
In this case, his hobby had considerably infl uenced his career choices. According
to this top worker’s interview, he had never been interested in studying and
schooling. Instead, he enjoyed practical stuff. Therefore, after compulsory education,
he found it natural to have his artistic hobby as a profession.
‘Basically, I chose my occupation after somehow fi nishing basic education.
Not then however, who, at least not I, would think that handicraft could be or
become a profession. You know, I did not like going to school, so I saw an
opportunity there. I could have a better occupation by entering this side door
without studying. I did not want to go to school at all. I had been doing this
ever since my early childhood, because my dad had a small hobby carpenter’s
shop. I did quite a lot of work there.’
Three other top workers described their hobbies and recognised the importance
of these hobbies in their lives. Those who mentioned their hobbies seemed to take
them seriously. Hobbies can enrich work, offer a balance to demanding work or
become an option for an alternate profession.
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 97
For example, the priest enjoyed reading and writing both novels and poems in
his leisure time. This also enhanced the writing skills needed for his work, such
as writing sermons, speeches, articles, etc. In addition, the priest found that reading
both professional and fi ction works was very important for his profession.
However, writing was the priest’s most important hobby. It also offered a loophole
in case a change of profession felt sensible at some point.
Another top worker described her long-term commitment to voluntary work.
She considered this hobby as a counterbalance for work. Furthermore, as her
retirement age was quite close at the time of the interview, she also regarded
voluntary work as her prospective substitute for paid work. After retirement, she
was planning to devote her time to voluntary work.
A third top worker had a different kind of hobby; he sang and played in a band,
even gigging. However, this hobby had benefi tted his work too because it had
brought him publicity and coverage. Through his band, he participated in the
planning of the theme year for his union; he composed a theme song, etc. Partly,
he thought that all this activity could have played a role in him being rewarded
Employee of the Year. At the same time, he recognised all the other benefi ts,
some more important than others (such as wide social networks), for his day job.
‘2005 was the theme year. And I participated quite a lot in the planning. So
I was very visibly a part of this thing. And I have this band too. Our band
composed the theme song….’
Hobbies can expand your competence
The aforementioned descriptions seem to speak to the importance of good
hobbies as a component of success at work. A good hobby does not only help to
relieve work-related pressure or direct thoughts away from work; it can have
other, even surprising, benefi ts for work and life outside work. Hobbies provide
resources for coping, but they can also help create and maintain social relationships
and networks, as the third example above gives reason to believe.
In addition, hobbies may provide a way of increasing one’s competence, skills
or knowledge in a pleasant manner. As with any other employees, top workers’
expertise develops incrementally and skills learned in leisure can eventually
boost learning and development at work in a considerable manner. Achor (2010)
talks about a ‘Zorro circle’, referring to ways in which we can achieve goals in
jobs, careers and personal lives. By fi rst limiting the scope of efforts and accumulating
resources, knowledge and confi dence to expand the circle, success can be
achieved. This progress is similar in all hobbies; even if you jog as a hobby, you
will have to gradually build your physical stamina, learn how to regulate your
speed and select suitable clothes so that it can become pleasant and rewarding.
The same behaviour can be adapted for work and, if the hobby employs similar
skills used at work, it seems natural to think that the benefi ts are multiplied.
Hobbies also help to regulate negative emotions and moods as they ignite and
strengthen positive emotions. In addition, hobbies are often social in nature and
98 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
are usually enjoyed with other people. Therefore, they strengthen social relationships
and provide support from a social perspective (Reed and Buck 2009 ).
Perhaps relating to the point of view of success at work, it is important to note
that employees can adopt new useful skills, widen awareness and self-knowledge,
or even create better social networks. All these can help them face and seize challenges
and opportunities at work and in life in general (Carver et al . 2009 ).
Caring leaders encourage employees to succeed
Next, we want to turn our attention to leaders and their chances of enhancing or
supporting employees’ success. We argue that leaders have the possibility of
creating such work conditions and atmosphere as enhance positivity in workplaces.
This viewpoint is based on our studies on the ideology of love-based
leadership; but in this section we will focus on it from the particular viewpoint of
The role of emotions in the leadership process has attracted increasing interest
in recent years and leaders’ emotional expressions are typically more important
to followers than the objective content of their communication (see Glasø, and
Einarsen 2008). Emotions and emotional intelligence can even be considered as
the heart of effective leadership.
Furthermore, an ethic of caring establishes a moral touchstone for decisionmaking
as opposed to guiding principles that one blindly follows (Hoyle 2002 ).
It has also been argued that when leaders consistently exhibit love, forgiveness
and trust in relationships their employees respond with increased commitment
and loyalty.
Bass ( 2000 ) describes the important role that emotions play in contemporary
leadership by contrasting ‘transactional’ leaders with ‘transformational’ leaders.
Traditional transactional leaders focus more on mutual transactions and the
exchange of rewards for performance and efforts between the employee and the
employer instead of considering affective experiences. Transformational leaders
project a vision that their followers believe in, inspire and support the followers,
and make them feel wanted and valuable to the organisation. The latter leadership
type corresponds to our conception of a loving leader.
Current understanding that wellbeing is not only valuable because it feels good
but also because it has benefi cial consequences makes a loving management
imperative in the workplaces. According to Rego et al . ( 2011), fostering organisational
virtuousness (for example, through honesty, interpersonal respect and
compassion; combining high standards of performance with a culture of forgiveness
and learning from mistakes) improves employees’ affective wellbeing and promotes
a more committed workforce. Considering these fi ndings and mirroring the growing
contributions of positive psychology (for example, Buss 2000 ; Gable and Haidt
2005; Seligman et al . 2005 ), it seems clear that a ‘positive-people-management’
perspective should be considered internationally by both practitioners and scholars
(see Calori 1995).
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 99
Sensitive and loving leaders develop a culture that demonstrates concern for
individual needs in the workplace (Fairholm and Fairholm 2000 ), but consider
and support their followers’ personal lives as well (Ransford et al . 2008 ). Yet,
an organisation in which employees are happy should also make a profi t in the
economic sense. However, these two factors are not mutually exclusive. It has
been shown that effective leaders are sensitive and responsive to their followers’
needs by providing advice, guidance, as well as emotional and instrumental
resources, by supporting employees’ creativity, initiative, autonomy and the
desire to meet new challenges and develop and acquire new professional skills,
thus enhancing their self-worth and self-effi cacy (for example, Popper and
Amit 2009 ).
Happiness not only results in a quantitative improvement by increasing effi –
ciency but also a qualitative one by making a better product or outcome by virtue
of pride, belief and commitment to one’s job. Happy employees exhibit higher
levels of job-related performance behaviours than do unhappy employees
(Wright 2004 ).
Therefore, emotions are also given prominence in leadership (Campbell 2007 ).
It has also been stated that authentic leaders are ‘as guided by the qualities of the
heart (passion and compassion) as by the qualities of the mind’ (Avolio et al .
2004 : 805).
Love in leaders’ work can also be considered from the perspective of the interpersonal
nature of emotions. According to Fischer and van Kleef ( 2010 ), it is
indisputable that emotions are mostly reactions to other people, that emotions
take place in settings where other people are present, that emotions are expressed
toward other people and are regulated because of other people: therefore, the
elicitation of love by understanding other people as the cause, target or third-party
observer of these emotions is necessary for leaders.
How do leaders describe love-based leadership?
Finnish and American university leaders (for example, deans, department heads,
etc.) were interviewed as a part of the Love-Based Leadership research project.
They maintained that their role in turning a vision about the state or future of the
organisation or work unit into reality was very satisfying when they could attain
a caring leadership style. On the other hand, the process of attaining caring leadership
did not necessarily have to be that lengthy or be related to a vision. Some
university leaders found positive experiences in their daily work, and derived a
feeling of success from the smallest accomplishments:
‘I think that I get plenty of positive experiences, and they keep me going as
an employee. Without these experiences, I couldn’t do this job, really. At
times, I’m quite frustrated … so sometimes you can enjoy the simplest
(Finnish leader)
100 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
Likewise, they described taking active and prompt action when they saw something
that should be done or corrected:
‘Three people were emailing each other quite blood-and-thunder messages,
and so I intervened. It seemed to me that I had to solve it and we did, at least
for a while.’
(Finnish leader)
‘It’s action, all right. You don’t just sit there and ponder, like, oh my God,
what am I going to do? You just go over there and say, hey, what’s wrong,
what are we doing wrong? … and say, this is what I understand we’re doing
wrong. You go and make it right. It’s all about action. So I think that’s the
thing I probably did best.’
(American leader)
Leaders’ actions brought about the types of positive feelings that one may experience
after active, motivated and engaged effort. In addition, when a leader handles
issues in an active way, he or she simultaneously sets an example for followers
who may fi nd the action energizing. One of the leaders noted this as follows:
‘When I was a dean at XXX University, I actually had breakfast in XX, lunch
in the middle of the state, and dinner at the far end of the state. And I came back
that night. Once my staff knew what I was doing that day, it energized them.’
(American leader)
The third category covers experiences of success that relate to working for
others or for the common good. Leaders can consider their position as an opportunity
to enhance work conditions and employees’ positive development and
thriving – this can improve their own wellbeing too, not to mention the effi –
ciency of work units.
‘I was the person in this faculty who attended every meeting and brought out
the faculty’s and students’ voices. I noticed that afterwards everything turned
out as I had hoped, so I could say I succeeded in that way.’
(Finnish leader)
‘I guess the greatest successes that come to mind fi rst have something to do
with organizational development and the handling of confl icts among staff.
Having discussions with people and reorganizing duties within the organization,
I have made at least half a dozen people so happy that they are never
absent. And they sort of fi nd their work valuable and meaningful and feel that
they are being heard and treated well, and they feel good. I think these things
make me proudest.’
(Finnish leader)
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 101
What was emphasised in these interviews was a sort of humane, caring leadership,
the core of which was the leader’s authenticity and self-knowledge. One of
the US interviewees talked about servant leadership; another referred to caring
leadership; and a Finnish leader described it as dialogic leadership. However, this
kind of leadership was seen as a means of achieving benefi t for all.
Employees’ success is the leader’s success as well
The fi ndings here are in line with those of Kinnunen et al . ( 2008 ) who maintain
that increasing the rewarding aspects of work is an effective means of both
reducing staff turnover and increasing engagement among leaders. Moreover,
Schunk and Pajares ( 2005 ) have noted that a positive perception of one’s effi –
cacy improves one’s performance and wellbeing in numerous ways. The positive
experiences of leadership reported in this study can also be compared with
those described in a study by Hakanen et al . ( 2008 ). They fi nd that job resources
(for example, autonomy, immediate feedback and rewards) are crucial to true
wellbeing and motivation at work, or work engagement, as it is sometimes
When everyone in a team is excited and inspired by the task and reaches for a
common goal, a successful outcome may produce the most delightful experience
(see also Losada and Heaphy 2004 ). Naturally, workplaces are replete with problems
and confl icts, and the purpose is not to turn a blind eye to these facts. Rather,
we seek to highlight the power of positive experiences. Seligman (2002: xi–xii)
has wisely stated: ‘There is not a shred of evidence that strength and virtue are
derived from negative motivation…. Experiences that induce positive emotion
cause negative emotion to dissipate rapidly. The strengths and virtues function to
buffer against misfortune and against psychological disorders’.
The leaders in our study emphasised working for the good and the use of reciprocal
feedback practices that enhance positivity in others (see also Avey et al .
2011 ). This view shows the signifi cance of caring leadership in action; it may be
directly connected to productivity among followers as a result of leaders creating
a positive and encouraging working environment; it may also have this effect
among leaders themselves (see, for example, Hoyle 2002 ).
‘I try to empower my team of chairs. They’re the ones that I really want out
there leading… So I try to work through them, and I’ve spent a lot of time
pruning that group, developing that group, trying to coach those people. And
I see their success as really my success.’
(American leader)
Leaders’ flow as the booster of everyone’s success
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( 2008 ) begins his comments on fl ow at work by saying
that ‘Like other animals, we must spend a large part of our existence making a
102 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
living’ (p. 143), but continues ‘Because work is so universal, yet so varied, it
makes a tremendous difference to one’s overall contentment whether what one
does for a living is enjoyable or not’ (p. 144). He is talking about an ultimate
phenomenon that can occur in various areas of life; that is an autotelic experience;
a total feeling of becoming absorbed by one’s doing and which contributes
to one’s perception of satisfaction with life.
The concept of fl ow starts to be quite a familiar one among researchers of
behavioural sciences, and yet, it is extremely adjustable with new positively
toned research trends such as, for example and especially, under the umbrella
paradigm of positive psychology (Hakanen et al . 2008 ; Isen and Reeve 2006 ;
Snyder and Lopez 2002 ). In this section, we discuss the phenomenon in workplace
environments through a new leadership concept, love-based leadership,
and analyse the connection between fl ow and success at work. The viewpoint is
unique; here, we address the state of fl ow through leaders’ experiences. The
ultimate purpose is to view how the positive work conditions can occur in
workplaces, how leaders can enhance this kind of absorption to work, and how
leaders’ fl ow is connected to the overall satisfaction and wellbeing at
Our purpose here is to analyse the concept of fl ow from the point of view of
positive psychology and its core concepts, happiness, wellbeing and positivity.
This particular study focused on the positive experiences and the manifestation of
fl ow as a part of love-based leadership. Csikszentmihalyi’s ( 2008 ) list of the eight
elements of fl ow was used when analysing the leaders’ positive experiences
because it also provides illustrative examples of the multidimensional nature of
fl ow; being absorbent in one’s doing consists of many factors and fl ow can occur
for numerous reasons. In order to be called fl ow, one or more of the following
elements should typify the experience.
Challenging activity that requires skills
In fl ow it is important that one’s skills and abilities match the work at hand. It has
been shown that the optimal work experience can lead to high motivation and
activity in work. A leader’s work is something that obviously has high psychological
demands (Kinnunen et al . 2008 ) and, as a result, it can provide numerous
varied opportunities for high-level use of one’s skills. However, not everyone is
a leader instinctively but one has to fi nd the position suitable to oneself. This fi t
was emphasised by the leaders.
‘Well, I think some people don’t really like the political dimension of leadership.
And I think your reason for going into leadership has a lot to do with
that. But I think that some people don’t feel comfortable in the political role.
They don’t feel comfortable in the public eye.’
(American leader)
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 103
‘You as a leader have to have quite a strong self-esteem with what you are
doing. Always when leading other people you face the fact that everyone is
not satisfi ed and you have to make diffi cult decisions. That is your job.’
(Finnish leader)
Indeed, leadership is a strength (Seligman et al . 2005 ) that is more peculiar to some
people than others. The leaders interviewed in our study referred to the political
nature of leadership and that one being in such a position has to feel comfortable
in it. From this perspective, the position can be seen as a combination of leadership
strengths, categorised by Rath and Conchie ( 2008 ) as execution (making things
happen), infl uence (selling ideas inside and out of the organisation), relationship
building (being the glue that holds teams together), and strategic thinking (focusing
on the big picture and the future). When the leader’s skills match with these
kinds of challenging activities involved in leadership work, fl ow can occur.
Merging of action and awareness
As mentioned earlier, fl ow occurs as experiences of being absorbed. This means
that one concentrates fully on what one is doing instead of thinking about something
else; the level of the focus of attention at work is the key in this element of fl ow
(see, for example, Gardner et al . 1989 ). Clarity of goals and immediate feedback,
which will be discussed next in this section, lay the foundation of this experience.
‘It’s action, all right. You don’t just sit there and ponder, like, oh my God,
what am I going to do?’
(American leader)
University leaders described events like this by talking about processes they
had followed persistently or about the nature of their action as leaders. Their
workload is, naturally, heavy, which means that they have to consciously
focus on their tasks at hand. The leaders in this study described taking active
and prompt action when they saw something that should be done or
corrected. At their best, these actions provided leaders with satisfactory
work experiences.
‘I was really happy that I handled that issue so quickly.’
(Finnish leader)
Clear goals
In fl ow, one always knows what has to be done, and an enjoyable job always has
clear goals (see also Maier and Brunstein 2001 ). The work leaders doing is
special by nature when it comes to the goals of their work. Often they are the ones
104 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
who have to defi ne or have the possibility of defi ning the goals not only of their
own work but for that of their followers too.
‘I have a particular vision of what a research university should be like. I’ve
tried to invest in activities that will make the vision more real.’
(American leader)
The university leaders in the data described situations that had successful endings
or outcomes due to them having used their leadership skills. They were able to
give many examples of such situations or chains of events in which the foci or
goals of the action were at the center. These kinds of positive experiences were
described as follows:
‘It is a long process fi nding the right direction. When we are able to discuss
and change course in a direction that leads to a good outcome and we are all
satisfi ed with it; those are the best experiences of success.’
(Finnish leader)
Immediate feedback
In addition to the fact that one knows what has to be done (the goals), fl ow always
requires information about how well one is doing. Immediate and clear feedback
should be, therefore, received usually from the activity itself, allowing the person
to know he or she is succeeding in the set goal (see, for example, Jackson and
Marsh 1996 ), whereas maintaining fl ow in an unresponsive work unit can be diffi –
cult or impossible. Positive feedback received from others was very much appreciated.
However, regardless of how positive or negative the feedback provided by
co-workers was, more important is that it should be given in context and related to
their actions. The university leaders liked positive feedback because it boosted
intrinsic motivation (see also Isen 2001 ; Isen and Reeve 2006 ; Ryan and Deci
2000 ).The fact that feedback had to correspond the university leaders’ intrinsic
conception of their work tells us that the leaders could also provide feedback to
themselves. Actually, this is in line with the conditions of fl ow too.
‘So, I had almost hundred percent positive feedback all the way. It’s fl attering;
they don’t even know what they’re talking about.’
(American leader)
Concentration on the task at hand
After the merging of action and awareness, distracting issues do not bother when
doing the task at hand. Leaders emphasised the ability to focus on the person
coming to talk to you or on the event they have to handle as leaders. The ability
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 105
to exclude distractions was seen as important in leader’s work, especially when it
came to the love-based action. This means that leaders wanted to show their
concern and willingness to understand and to see the employee’s perspective by
being present in the situation of talking with others.
‘You have to be able to be present in situation.’
(Finnish leader)
The leaders also expressed their willingness to do their share and raise the spirit
at the work unit by showing the way through their own work:
‘Once my staff knew what I was doing that day, it energized them.’
(American leader)
On the other hand, the process of attaining caring leadership can emerge from
very small accomplishments in leaders’ work:
‘It doesn’t have to be anything more than just fi nishing some paper or email.’
(Finnish leader)
All of the afore-mentioned examples show the range of elements in leaders’ work
requiring concentration. In addition, they show that if the leaders fi nd the pleasure
from accomplishing these tasks, and if they openly show their excitement to their
followers, the positive state can contribute to the work spirit of the workplace.
Perceiving this positive outcome can act as a signifi cant component of fl ow as well.
The paradox of control
The most enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over
their actions. This means that rather than thinking of the actual doing, they feel
the possibility of control. In a leadership position, it can manifest itself as a
leader’s perception of how action can infl uence in the big picture; the feeling of
power can even become addictive. The leader’s feeling of capability and being in
the right job assures about the leader’s profi ciency – and the feeling of control.
‘So, we’d meet and talk about how things are to move and I don’t go on down
and telling people that this is the way it’s gonna be. You know, I want them
to know that the whole pattern needs to fl ow through the organization.’
(American leader)
Transformation of time
One of the most common descriptions of optimal experiences is the perception of
time and how it does not seem to pass in a way that it ordinarily does. Many
106 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
people have experienced these changes in time. This was common to the university
leaders too, but merely through the realisation that leadership was something
demanding and time-consuming, and that in order to be a good leader one has to
become free ‘from the tyranny of time’ (Csikszentmihalyi 2008 : 67).
‘Good leadership takes time. You just can’t do it, you can’t be on a clock.’
(American leader)
This notion was also manifested through negative leadership experiences. The
leaders reported how they would like to have more time to do their work properly,
especially in people management.
‘I think a good leader needs to spend time and talk with people and also listen
to them. You know, not just talk at them.’
(American leader)
The loss of self-consciousness
The loss of self-consciousness is an interesting part of fl ow because it eventually
leads to increased self-awareness. The foundation of the loss of self-consciousness
is in the clear goals, stable rules and suitable challenges and, therefore, they
involve a low risk of the self being threatened.
‘I think every leadership position that I’ve had just made me feel more alive.’
(American leader)
At the same time, when being wrapped up in one’s doing, fl ow requires a very
active role for the self. This means that in order to fully employ one’s abilities,
and even exceed one’s skills, one has to have a good self-conception, a profound
understanding of one’s self (see also Mäkikangas 2007 ). When considered from
the point of view of leadership, this idea actually comes close to the concept of
authentic leadership. The university leaders described the meaning of authenticity
and self-awareness as follows:
‘You lead people more or less with your personality.’
(Finnish leader)
Could leaders’ flow be spread among employees?
Why is it necessary to study fl ow and, better yet, why study leaders’ fl ow? The
fi rst reason is that whenever people are in fl ow, they report it as a much more
positive experience than the times they are not in fl ow (Csikszentmihalyi 2008 ).
In addition, Csikszentmihalyi ( 2008 ) reports that managers and supervisors
would experience fl ow at work more frequently than, for example, clerical or
The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood 107
blue-collar workers. Therefore, our leader data functioned well as the foundation
of analysing fl ow states from the point of view of success at work. However, we
also wanted to expand the perspective and contemplate whether leaders’ fl ow
could also contribute to the success of others at work.
The reason is that we wanted to analyse its manifestation in relation to the
caring leadership. As the previous descriptions of fl ow-like leadership experience
showed, as the leaders surfaced caring leadership practices and their experiences,
they also described enjoyment in leaders’ work.
Earlier in this chapter, we defi ned caring leadership as ‘a process accomplished
successfully through the exercise of one’s leadership; individual successful
events and the accomplishment of everyday duties; the leader’s own actions that
promote mutual good; and timely feedback given in context’ (see also Uusiautti
2013 ). This all leads to the ‘perceived meaningfulness’, one of the basic tenets of
positive psychology (Seligman 2002 ), and one connected to fl ow as well, enhancing
people’s productivity, engagement (Hakanen et al . 2008 ), problem-solving
skills (Carver and Scheier 2005 ), wellbeing (Judge et al . 1997 ) and stability
(Kinnunen et al . 2008 ).
Most importantly, fl ow is also involved with one’s skills, which is also closely
connected with the sense of meaningful doing. Actually, the connection between
the fi nding of one’s strengths and perceived happiness is based on the feeling of
meaningfulness (Seligman 2002 ).
Furthermore, the emergence of fl ow is dependent on how well one has recognised
one’s strengths, thus being a question of self-awareness and authenticity.
To fi nd pleasure from leadership and act in a love-based manner as a leader, one
has to be ready for self-disclosure and increasing self-awareness (Gardner et al .
2005 ). Love-based leadership might contribute to leaders’ work by providing
them with positive experiences, initial excitement and perceived successes as
well as a positive means to contribute, for example, to the work unit performance,
employee retention and job satisfaction as was shown in Peterson and Luthans’s
( 2003 ) study on hopeful leaders. Such positive action described in this section
can, at its best, enhance optimism, hope, perseverance, wisdom, happiness and
creativity – and fl ow.
The salient conclusion is, however, that love-based leadership might contribute
not only to leaders’ optimal performances, but also to employees’ work by
providing them with positive work experiences, initial excitement and perceived
successes. These enhance positive feelings in the workplace (see also Isen and
Reeve 2006 ), which are vital for the emergence of fl ow states.
Through this kind of leadership, leaders set an example at the workplace; they
can encourage employees to seize new challenges boldly and not back away from
the challenges (see, for example, Diener, Oishi, and Lucas, 2009 ) in order to fi nd
the meaning in their work. According to the ideology of love-based leadership,
leaders can enhance employees’ ability to utilise their own strengths through various
love-based leadership practices in the workplace. The fundamental assumption
is that leaders can act as guides, motivators and examples, as well as
108 The influence of exogenous factors in adulthood
organisers of meaningful and enthusiastic doing at work (see also Rutledge
2009 ). This is how everyone can achieve top performances and the sense of using
their abilities to the fullest.
Our viewpoint here also offers one way of analysing the positive impact leaders
may have on performance challenges facing today’s organisations (see also
Peterson and Luthans 2003 ). Caring leaders try to fi nd the road to better work
conditions, development, performance, contentment, higher motivation, and the
sense of self-effi cacy in themselves and their employees – because success is also
about a sense of meaning and pleasure, the best manifested by the state of fl ow.
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