Don’t Worry, It Runs Itself

In our Rotary Club (Superior Club #40, Wednesdays Noon, Barker’s Island) we have memorized a few punch lines, and we use one of them so often that we’re thinking of giving it a number so it’s less difficult to deliver. The punch line is: “It runs itself.” We haven’t decided on which number yet.

Everyone who anticipates the joke laughs on cue because nothing runs itself in any organization and especially in any volunteer organization. We all know that for something to run somebody has to be in charge to make sure it runs, right! Right? That’s the way it has always been. Ask anyone who has been in charge for a long time. Social science researchers over a half-century ago gave that leader a title: AUTOCRATIC LEADERSHIP, a leader who believes and acts like nothing will run and nothing will get done unless he or she is leading it. The humanists (or were they humorists) created two autocratic types: a) benevolent autocrat; and b) dictatorial autocrat. Remember, this was in the 1950s and the U.S. still had its “military-industrial complex”.

Engagement was what people used to do before they got married. When you got a job, you became “engaged” to the business, then engaged with the business and ultimately you and the business became one. But in the decade of relationship reconstruction (1960s) engagement underwent a re-evaluation. Business consultants started asking employees about “psychological ownership of your job and the company you work for.” If you believed you owned your job in a psychologically healthy manner, you were then asked what kind of “stakeholder” you were in the organization.

The more up-close and personal question became: “Do you have skin in the game?”
Well, engagement has been re-born-again and it looks better than ever! To lift a quote from a confidential source: “Engagement is an emotional commitment to our organization that goes beyond rational incentives and drives discretionary effort in employees” (italics mine). I for one like that statement and am glad because engaged employees are better employees in many ways. However, this rebirth begs a question: If you are not engaged at work, what are you? Words leap to the tongue, though many are vulgar and certainly not flattering. One I can share from this morning (and I thank the person who shared it ) was “mindless”, as in mindlessly going through the daily grind of your job. That has more, perhaps too much descriptive richness compared to what I was planning to use: disengaged, the opposite of engaged. See, there’s just no sizzle with mine.

Now let me say right here that there really is a serious issue with the engagement concept. No, I’m not referring to a mindlessly disengaged population with an entitlement mindset whose goal is to reach the end of the line and die conveniently. Not today anyway. I am referring to the mindful person who gets the notion that engagement should be a win-win opportunity where every player comes away from the game of life achieving what he/she wanted, having fun in the process of achieving it, and drawing from the overall game a sense of pride, satisfaction and fulfillment. If those visions feel good to you, then read a little further for an important message.

Where’s the best place to start? I suggest you start by defining the “poles” for your engagement concept and its “bi-polar definition”. Don’t get excited, we use these definitions all the time. For example: North Pole/South Pole; God/Devil; 0/1 computer bits; every on/off switch; car batteries; and common A/C electrical circuits. I’d mention “opposing seasons and temperatures’ but we seem to have gotten confused by Winter and More Winter here in the Northland. Moving on.

How do you set your personal poles? First, put the word “Engagement” on a card in front of you. Then on another card write a one-word descriptor that best represents your most supreme level of engagement (remember, this is a personal task). Third, write out another card with the word that captures your most amazing experience of disengagement. Again these are your words and they are for your personal use.

The important message is: Don’t wait for some big-talking consultant like me to tell you how engaged you are in the workplace. Use your personal “Engagement Meter” and tell yourself first! Be the Autocrat in charge of yourself.

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Allen Raffetto

About Allen Raffetto

Allen M. Raffetto, Ph.D., the group’s founder, brings together psychology and business for clients throughout North America. He has worked extensively with companies in the Midwest since 1983. Dr. Raffetto holds degrees in psychology from Stanford University (B.A.), San Francisco State University (M.A.) and the University of North Dakota, (Ph.D.). His specialized area, cognitive psychology, includes studies of human learning, memory, perception and information processing. He was a member of the faculty and Chairman of the Psychology Department at Beloit College from 1969 to 1984. During those years Dr. Raffetto also held research appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied the reading process, and at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where he participated in an on-going study of how medical education transforms bright students into practicing physicians.

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