What Does It Mean to "Thrive?"

What does it mean to “thrive?” According to dictionary.com, one definition is “to grow or develop vigorously; to flourish,” and per Merriam-Webster, one definition is “to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.”

I think most individuals desire to “thrive” in the world, both personally and professionally, and certainly organizations, too, wish to “thrive.” They want to flourish, be responsive, resilient, and forward-looking…..especially in a fast-paced, ever-changing landscape like today!

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Thrive Summit hosted by Virgin Pulse. The event focuses on employee well-being, employee engagement, and the “employee experience.”  There were a variety of sessions that covered items like total well-being strategies, organizational culture, leadership, positive psychology, and behavioral economics

I thought I would highlight two of the plenary sessions.

One keynote was delivered by Susan David, Ph.D., a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. For the last several decades, she has conducted science-based research around emotional agility. In her research she has found that “no matter how intelligent or creative people are, or what type pf personality they have, it is how they navigate their inner world (their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk) that ultimately determines how successful they will become.” In other words, the way individuals respond to their internal experiences drives everything they may say and do.

Our “inner world” impacts everything we do, so how do we deal with this inner world? Susan’s talk centered on finding personal and professional fulfillment through being emotionally agile. Emotional agility refers to one’s ability to navigate one’s “inner voices” and emotions so that we place our best foot forward in our outward behaviors. Since there is no question that our emotions affect our behavior, we must learn to make sure these emotions do not control us, and work towards bringing the best version of ourselves to the forefront.

Emotionally agile people are not immune to stressors in life or setbacks; the key difference is that they know how to adapt, aligning their actions with their values and making changes in their lives that lead to a lifetime of growth. According to Susan, it is about individuals learning to recognize the thoughts and emotions facing them and moving past them; being emotionally agile is what separates those who master the unexpected detours and challenges of life.

Her research findings have applicability for both individuals and organizations. With examples, including workplace scenarios, Susan demonstrated situations where your inner thoughts and emotions might want you to engage in one way, but by developing certain practices (although you still recognize the presence of those thoughts and feelings), you choose to respond in another way.  In other words, many times we allow our thoughts and feelings to turn into actions that do not serve us well. We must learn to adapt and make sure one’s values and intentions translate into the reality of “what we actually do on the ground” so that we can “thrive.”

In another keynote session, venture capitalist Anthony Tjan, author of Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters, talked about the business value and virtue of hiring good people.

What are “good people?” According to Tony, good people are “those that are committed to continuously cultivating the values that help them and others become the fullest versions of who they are.” According to him, “goodness” represents the only truly sustainable competitive advantage for companies; for Tjan, “goodness” is the key to creating authentic work cultures, arguing that compassion and character need not be trade-offs for competitive edge.

Based on his own work as a business owner, consultant, and researcher, Tony shared his strategies for showing leaders how to put goodness into practice and positively impact organizational culture, using actual case studies and interviews with various business leaders, including CEOs. Through these examples, he demonstrated the strategic advantage of hiring “good people," and the ability to create company value by focusing on sound people practices. 

Tony believes that successful business outcomes stems from real enduring cultures that focus on people, rather than relying solely on metrics and outputs that have traditionally guided business decisions. According to Tony, in general, businesses have an unhealthy bias towards outputs more than the inputs that drive the desired outputs. Businesses tend to over-focus on extrinsic rewards and outputs (profits, shareholder return, quarter to quarter results, etc.), with a lesser focus on the inputs (which, granted, is harder to dissect, manage, and lead really well). The inputs are the people and the purpose. 

Tony believes that Purpose needs to come before Product and product has to come before Profits.” If we focus on inputs (authentic people and purpose first), then the profits (or other business outcomes companies may desire) will come. 

How can your organization thrive in an uncertain and complex world?

  • Become more emotionally agile; make sure your actions and behaviors represent the organization you intend to be
  • Have a clear and authentic purpose and be sure to share that vision continuously
  • Hire good people; it’s good for business and increasing the bottom line!
  • Create agile and resilient individuals and teams
  • Help others become better versions of themselves
  • Empower people and tap into their desires and intentions

The well-being of companies is tied to the overall well-being and resiliency of its workforce. A critical foundation to this is ensuring that people feel that their organizations care about their total well-being and are working in a trusting, supportive environment, especially today in an era where many surveys indicate low employee engagement scores.

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