#31 – Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

This is #31 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Looking for more? Try this one.

Measure satisfaction when you want to find out what people think about the food in the cafeteria or if the marketing team needs new furniture or if your employees would like to form a softball league.

Measure engagement when you want to find out if people’s hearts are in the work; if they are willing to spend their discretionary effort on your cause.

It is both tempting and convenient to conflate “Yes, I am satisfied with my job…” with “Yes, I am engaged in my work…”.

Before you do so, remember that many people and many teams have changed the world while eating lousy food, sitting on crummy furniture, and remaining blissfully unaware of the company’s standing in the softball league.

close up photo of yellow tape measure

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#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

This is #13 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”

Actually, it’s not just an acceptable answer, it’s often a great one.

It is wonderfully counterintuitive that the ability to say “I don’t know” comes from self-confidence. It is self-assurance in what we do know that allows us the ability to be more curious, rather than defensive, about what we don’t.

This is, for me, one of the signs of mature leadership (and parenting, too for that matter), the ability to openly and publicly “not know.” The power surge from “not knowing,” when treated as a collaborative and even connective moment, can be significant.

If a leader says “I don’t know” when asked a question by a team member, and then asks, “Do you have any ideas?” or “Who else do you think we could ask about this?” or “What resources do we have to figure this out?” that person is now jointly engaged as a problem solver. That person is now engaged at a much higher level.

Good leaders, like good parents, are facilitators of discovery, connection and learning. They do not see themselves as repositories of knowledge but as catalysts for the dynamic exploration of potential. They can’t define what that is with perfect clarity or precision, only that it is more likely to be discovered if we are all committed to the search.

close up of beer bottles on wood

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Mona
{Naomi Shihab Nye}

Dear Mona, do you know
how your old stucco building
marks the spot of Something True?
Your hand-lettered red sign rises up
like a crooked, friendly flag.
I can guess the menu:
bean & cheese, potato & egg,
maybe a specialty of your own making,
avocado twist or smoky salsa.
Your nombre is nice.
One taco might be enough.
You feed the ranchers who just lived through
the worst drought and flood back-to-back.
They touch the brims of their hats
when they see you.
Don’t we all need someone to greet us
to make us feel alive?

West of town, soft fields
ease our city-cluttered eyes,
There’s a rim of hills to hope for up ahead.
Mona, mysterious Mona,
I don’t have to eat with you to love you.
Every morning I think, Mona’s up.

three purple plastic chairs

Photo by Rebecca Swafford on Pexels.com

What’s your story?

Today I asked my students to think of a recent experience when they were fully engaged, be it at work, in school or with some other endeavor.

I asked them to think of an instance when time slowed down, they were hyper-focused, and they were both cognitively and emotionally dedicated to the work at hand.

Then I asked them to find a partner and share their stories.

The room erupted with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that can only be associated with people who are reminding one another what it feels like to be fully alive.

So I ask you, when did you last feel that way? What kind of recent, dedicated work has made you feel fully alive?

For me, it was the one hour and fifty minutes I spent with my students today. Time slowed down, I was hyper focused and I was both cognitively and emotionally dedicated to the work at hand.

Fully engaged equals fully alive.

phases of the moon

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The Side Hustle

My side hustle is teaching a class each semester in the College of Business at Cal State San Marcos. I teach a course in organizational behavior for non-management majors. I do it because I love to teach. I do it because the energy of working with aspirational students is addictive and fulfilling. I do it because it makes me a better professional in my day job which in turn makes me a better teacher for my students, which in turn…well, you get the point.

For me, the side hustle has become an essential piece of my overall professional experience. It provides a perspective, an alternate point of view that allows me to see my work with fresh eyes.

The side hustle, I am learning, is much more common than I realized. As these diverse endeavors come up in conversation, I am struck by the shy smile that emerges as well as the actual twinkle in the eye. And while I know that many, many people have a side gig for the supplemental income, most of the people I talk to are doing it to satisfy a personal passion.

When I see that telltale expression of mischievous glee, I can’t help but ask: “what is it about your ‘9-to-5’ job that is not providing the opportunity to pursue that passion?” And then I wonder, what might happen, and I emphasize might, if that passion was known by the person’s team leader and the two of them talked openly and expansively about how their current job might be adapted to satisfy it?

What happens so often – why engagement at work persistently hovers around 30% – is that employees leave their passion at home because they either don’t associate “work” as a place where it belongs or their present employer fails to create an environment where passion, even seemingly unrelated passion, it is welcomed and cultivated.

I truly love that we live at a time when traditional ideas and modes of work have been upended. And I truly love and admire that special brand of person who will always have another iron in the fire, always driving to create and express outside the lines of typical employment.

The truth, however, is that most people continue to work within the circumstances and conditions we define as “normal.” They go to an office, put in their time and return home at the end of an 8-hour day. If this huge population of employees is not expected, much less encouraged, to explore and express their passions within those four walls, that organization will always go hungry for the creative energy that is just beyond its grasp.

photo of woman painting in brown wooden easel

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That’s Not My Job


Imagine that your job is to paint the stripes down the middle of the road. And not just any stripes, but the double yellow ones that create a powerful visual safety barrier on a well-traveled two-lane road.

Imagine that you’ve reached the line that demarcates city from county and you are told to stop painting the stripes because “That’s as far as we go.”

Imagine that you look up and see that you’ve only got another 150 yards to the bottom of the hill.

Imagine how it must feel to not finish a job that in just a few more minutes of thoughtful effort would be so easily completed.

Do you finish your workday with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment? Do you go home and announce with pride, “I striped some of the road today! I made some of the road safer for the residents of that neighborhood!”

“What do you mean ‘some’?” comes the curious reply.

“Oh, well, we’re only responsible for striping the part of the road that is maintained by the county.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Then why do you do it?”

“Because the rest of the road is someone else’s responsibility.”

Look of disbelief.

Shrug of shoulders.


When we allow the red-tape of bureaucracy – be it in our government institutions or our private enterprises – to replace common sense, we also replace the qualities of autonomy and agency that make work the most noble human enterprise.

To be told that “almost” is “good enough” is an insult to the human spirit.


Hiding in Plain Sight

“What is obscure we will eventually see;
what is obvious usually takes a little longer.”
{Edward R. Murrow}

Your team is hiding in plain sight. They are there, you can see them, they are working…all true.

But they are hiding, just the same.

What they are hiding is the depth of their creativity, their energy and their initiative because they do not (well, most of them, statistically speaking do not) feel engaged enough to do so.

In other words, most leaders of most workplaces haven’t earned the right to preserve, protect and defend the most important qualities of the human condition, those qualities that demonstrate who each of us is at our most open, and most vulnerable.

Knowing this as they do, they do not bring those best parts of themselves into the office. They leave them elsewhere for safe keeping…in the car, at home, online.

And the organization is impoverished for the lack of access to their best selves. Complex problems remain unsolved, possibilities remain unexplored, “craziness” remains unexpressed.

This is, technically speaking, a huge bummer.

But there is hope, here on a Tuesday, in the shape of you and your willingness to start a new kind of conversation in a brand new way. It goes like this:

“I would like to earn the right to get to know you at your most creative, energized and engaged. What would need to be true around here for that to happen?”

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Choose to Make it Better

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
{Richard Rohr}

If you’re struggling in a poor work environment – not a toxic one, mind you but one that is marked by ineffectual leadership and uninspired co-workers – you can do one of three things:

  1. Leave
  2. Stay and join in the misery
  3. Make it better

Important to note that choosing #3 does not require you to make the whole thing better, just the three foot circle of it that surrounds you everywhere you go.

You could choose to have a radically positive and affirming attitude. You could choose to be on time in the morning, for all appointments and meetings and with your work as well. You could choose to compliment and recognize other’s contributions. You could choose to offer support when someone needs help. You could choose to abstain from complaining about what can’t be controlled and begin conversations about what can.

Your efforts may not yield the ripple effects necessary to shift the environment in a more favorable direction, but they might. And in the process, for as long as you choose to stay, you will feel better about yourself, most likely do better work, and be a light for others who are also trying to find a better way.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

How Did You Stay?

The only thing worse – and it’s much, much worse – than someone leaving your organization because they are disconnected, disenchanted and disengaged, is when someone feels that way but decides instead to quit and stay.

Even in a great job market like we are experiencing right now, it’s a major inconvenience to research, apply for, interview and negotiate the terms of a new job. That process is made even harder in a toxic situation because it’s all done behind the back of one’s current employer.

I am familiar with an organization that is going through a period of difficult transition. They have been leaderless for some time and into that vacuum have crept many individualistic survivalist tendencies among those who remain. It is dispiriting to see some people going through the motions, looking out for themselves and checking the boxes on their responsibilities.

It also happens to be an organization with a clear and noble purpose, one that is so clear and noble that it might actually seem too simple to make the embrace of it the core strategy for getting back on track.

My encouragement to anyone, regardless of level or role, who is in this situation, who is deciding between quitting and staying and who does not wish to “quit and stay” is to begin a conversation about that purpose. It’s too easy to get caught up in the leader’s failings or the team’s misgivings as a replacement for the more essential conversation.

That conversation, among those who are willing, contains some difficult and powerful questions:

  1. Starting with myself, what attracted me to our purpose in the first place? What did I come here to do?
  2. How invested am I in that purpose today? How much do I care if it is fulfilled?
  3. Whom do I serve? And what is it that they need most from me and from us right now? Does it still energize me to play a part in meeting those needs?
  4. Who among my colleagues is also in this place of frustration and is also open to an honest and reflective inquiry? What conversation might I have with them about how to navigate this moment in our experience?
  5. What’s a next step I can take to reframe my experience, to challenge myself to see what might be possible in staying that will not be possible once I go?

What’s clear is that most of these questions are at the level of the individual because until we have a personal confrontation with what is fundamental, and do so with integrity, we will remain unable to do so with others.

These questions and ensuing conversations are anything but an easy path to take, but it’s one that is worth walking if you are not ready to consign yourself to a daily existence of present but not present.

“At least I didn’t leave when times got tough!”

“Yes, but how did you stay?”

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Somebody is Always Watching

It’s easy to believe, in a world of increased devotion to personal devices and a status quo of extreme busyness, that nobody is paying attention to what we do and how we do it.

Somebody is always watching. Creepy though that may sound at one level, it is an imperative reminder that the quality of our engagement – the dedication (or lack thereof) and attention (or lack thereof) we bring to our work – is noticed and evaluated.

This is especially true for leaders who, by title alone, are appropriately under constant scrutiny. In the same way we might say of a child that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” we can notice employees who understandably (if sometimes regrettably) use their leader’s behavior as a guide.

I notice it in the classroom; students who arrive on time, students who sit upright or even forward in anticipation of what’s to come, students who expect to engage and be engaged.

I notice it in service situations; employees who make an effort to connect, to be genuine, to bring something personal to the interaction, and those who go through the motions, perhaps with a smile but one that is practiced, not pleasing.

At my best, I notice it in myself; when I am present and connected and when my energy and attention is flagging. When I do catch myself at anything other than my “best” I either correct it quickly or let others in on how I am feeling. I assume that they’ve already noticed.

An appealing practice that I think would do a lot of good without a ton of effort is to call people out when we notice their thoughtful engagement.

This happened to me once and it was an exceptional moment. I assumed the worst was coming, that I was going to be highlighted as a negative example, but it was just the opposite and it made an impression on me that I will never forget.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.