Category Archives: Well-being, Stress

The Natural Order of Things

I’ve been on a mission to develop a working understanding of the interrelationships among and the dynamics of impact and influence; values and values-based leadership; engagement, well-being and the Greater Good. In doing so, I’ve tried to stay objective, formulating a hypothesis then setting out to refute it—trying to prove my hunch wrong.

But every path I followed ended up at the same destination, the hypothesis refused to go down in flames: organizational sustainability begins with me. For a company to achieve performance excellence and sustainable maximum results, it must invest in helping people connect with what is truly important to them personally. What drives them—not at work, but what is their life’s mission? What values influence their daily actions and help them set personal priorities?
Without people who are well-connected and personally aligned to their personal purpose and values, excellence and sustainability and all that other bottom line stuff is simply out of reach.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But I’d love to see alternative views, so what do you think? The whole thing is a bit long, here’s a link to The Natural Order–the whole enchilada.


First Nation Beliefs- Personal, Organizational Relevance

(Disclaimer! This is long as it covers a lot of ground, all related. I’ll venture a guess that you’re either going to like it all, or not like it at all. Let me know what’s on your mind either way!)

But ya doesn’t has ta call me “Chief”! Even though I’m well over 6ft (OK, used to be) with green eyes and blond hair (again, used to be), I am allegedly part Native American. My last generation that would know first-hand chose not to talk about it. Back then there was a stigma assigned to those who associated with godless savages, but in spite of the silence there are early, early photos of a family reunion on the prairie, with familiar ancestor surnames written on the back. Several in attendance sported suspiciously Native-looking dress and had distinctly Native features.

Right….if they were pictures from a Halloween party, kudos to the props and makeup team.

Something about the Native American—the First Nation—beliefs system and simple but sophisticated spirituality has always gripped me. My real awakening came in the early seventies at the University of Iowa and I had a chance to study Native American Literature through the Writers’ Workshop. The professor wore buckskin-fringed desert knee boots and shortly most of the students did too. We sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle for classes. We learned the finer points of story-telling. We listened to long recordings of Native music in the pitch-black orchestra room.

We read and discussed several classics, Black Elk Speaks and Seven Arrows among them. And we explored the First Nation’s beliefs system in great depth, total immersion mode. That one-semester experience kicked my Vision Quest off in earnest.

Personal Perspective. I had twelve years of Catholic education. Result: I cannot buy into any formal, dogma-laden religion, Catholic or otherwise. Man-made interpretations and human-authored rules are behind too many wars and petty disagreements haunting us—people killing people in the name of my religion? Please. But I am highly spiritual; I live by a very strong personal beliefs system that I’ve later learned quite accidentally borrowed elements from the mainstream religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism… and Native American. To me, deep down the core values and beliefs are all compatible. Human-created dogma is the trouble-making differentiator.

BUSINESS and ME, INC. IMPACTS! For my day job I study and practice human behavior as it relates to organizational and individual development. I’ve had two major “aha” moments along the way, both are substantiated by tons of studies and data:
1. We all want to leave a legacy. We need a purpose in our life, we need real and relevant meaning, a feeling that we are somehow earning our way. We need to know we are making a meaningful contribution toward the greater good. All of this just oozes higher-order spirituality. Impact and Legacy have become essentials in my vision statement.
2. Humans are social creatures (we’re pack animals!) and we are driven to connect with not only our world but with others around us. We need a sense of community, of belonging. We must be part of something important and “bigger” than me alone. The alternative: gang membership and, even worse, radicalization becomes extremely appealing to both young and older disenfranchised people who have been given nothing better to belong to or believe in. A true, full-time Lone Wolf human animal is a little bit sociopath…or a lot. Again, a higher-order level of spirituality is in play.

Both of those ‘ahas’ have sky-high relevance for organizations. Companies that tap into these two spiritual motivators are rewarded with (1) a more highly engaged workforce (major bottom-line payback!); (2) the highest regard in the surrounding community; (3) elite status as employer-of-choice (candidates stand in line to get in) and (4) barring major marketplace meltdowns, nearly guaranteed long-term sustainability because their culture is on an absolutely solid foundation.

These two ‘ahas’ are also wildly important for individuals. They ensure longer, healthier, less stressful and more productive lives. Google Blue Zones and check out the research, studies and findings—it’s not just my opinion, it’s well-researched and well-documented.

Two-level challenge, I seriously hope you take this personally and professionally:
(1) companies and their leaders have a moral obligation to promote those two ‘aha’ points among their employees in the spirit of true servant leadership, corporate social responsibility and impacting the greater good. Those long-view organizations that do so will be rewarded with insanely better bottom line results and that other good 1-4 stuff mentioned earlier;
(2) Each of us has the potential to have a real influence on others…see “The Ripple Effect–One Pond, One Pebble”. Talk about impacting the greater good!

Back to the First People.

Bet you’re wondering how this is all connected, aren’t you? Following is a sampler of key Native American beliefs. I’ll leave it to you to establish organizational and personal relevance. It’s there. Self-discovery is the most effective learning experience there is!

Vision Quest. People on a spiritual path—their Vision Quest—know they are here for a reason but may not yet know what it is. The journey is all about finding that purpose and understanding their intimate connection with the Medicine Wheel. “We want to know what we need to accomplish in life for our highest benefit, and, in turn, the benefit of the world….The most important thing is being clear in your heart as to what you are seeking for yourself and the people of the world.”

Circle of Life, Medicine Wheel  The Native American beliefs system and spirituality is based on inter-connectedness of all forms of life and the relationship of all living things with Mother Earth in a circular / cyclical / systemic relationship. An early precursor to systems thinking: to understand the parts one must examine the whole.

The Circle of Life (from Black Elk Speaks)
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance….Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves…. “

So the circle holds a place of special importance. Human beings live, breathe and move, in a continuous cyclical pattern. Every seeker’s journey is to find their own harmonious way of traveling through and interacting with that cycle.

This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. The Circle of Life / Medicine Wheel are based on the four directions: North, East, West and South with each having special attributes, a way of perceiving things. Those on their Vision Quest explore all four, seeking to thoroughly understand their place in the world and make their own deep connection to The Four Great Ways:

NORTH: wisdom and truth, strength and endurance.
EAST: illumination, the new dawning sky, enlightenment.
WEST: introspection, looking within. Rest, recharge, renew.
SOUTH: warmth and growth after winter is over, a new beginning.

Religion “vs” Spirituality

I’ve been part of a highly engaging online conversation on whether we would be better off without religion and had spirituality in its place. Interesting thoughts, a couple of mine follow.

I have faith, very strong faith. But I do not trust that any religion has “the” direct line to God. And I especially do not have faith that the words of the prophets, whether Jesus or Mohammed or any other you can label as such, were accurately captured, preserved in their original wording and meaning. Humans have mucked that all up by reinterpreting interpretations, sometimes twisting words and meaning for personal / political gain.

One discussion participant issued a challenge to name one good culture that did not have an organized religion governing its norms and values / beliefs system. I offered up the Native North Americans, the First Nation, as an example of a rock-solid and highly spiritual beliefs system that governed a very good people. The First Nation ran headlong into the “white man’s” greed, their need for elbow room and an arrogant, dogma-fueled obsession to tame the godless, savage beasts, saving their souls by giving them “real” religion to replace the pagan rituals.

The level of spirituality and depth of the beliefs system of the early native North and Latin Americans was incredible and flourished prior to conquistadors, colonization and attempts at conversion to Catholicism and other models of human dogma. It was an undeniable way of life, not based on any book. It was shared by an entire people regardless of tribe or location. There were wise old shamans but no prophet mouthpieces serving as middle men with the inside track on communicating with an all-powerful. No one “owned” the Word, it was commonly shared. Everyone told the stories and legends around the campfire with little difference in interpretation. Even my American Indian Lit class was blessed to share in that tradition.

They / we managed to do that because Native beliefs were / are so strong and they were / are a way of daily life, not just dogma or memorized and repeatedly recited words.

(Right turn, Clyde…) Permaculture and Reconnecting. I am an Iowan. We’re blessed with a large piece of land for being in town, living in what was once the farm house whose original family once owned all the surrounding land that was finally sub-divided into mini-suburbia. Our garden plot is where the hog lot was over 100 years ago, still very fertile ground (pig poop is powerful medicine). The past two weeks the green beans have needed picking every other day and now homegrown tomaters are coming in too. Gourmet dining, and it’s all natural. Not quite enough to get me off meat altogether, but close.

The actual growing and consumption of natural, wildly healthier fresh produce is just a small part of the permaculture system and a very small piece of the personal health and psychological benefits in doing so. The systemic / social benefits are incredible too! The greatest benefit to me is what this stands for. My Native blood drives me to fully buy into this notion of reconnecting with Mother Earth and becoming somewhat responsible stewards again.

Right now Mother Earth is crying from the pain we’ve inflicted on her soul, both physical and social. You have to wonder when she will finally give up on her children.

Two Questions for Later…
(ONE) Was the First Nation Gnostic?
Gnostic Christianity and the Myth of Sophia by Bette Stockbauer

(TWO) Where Do We Go From Here?
Decolonizing Humanity by Reconnecting with the Earth


Workplace Stress-Five Easy Pieces for Leaders

A recent article’s headline caught my eye: High-stress workplaces equal lower productivity, say experts, this line in particular:
“Organisations are finding that work cultures focused towards high pressure and competition environments often lead to high staff turnover and ultimately poorer business results.”

Makes sense to me. The logical causal chain creates a reinforcing loop, more like a whirlpool of water swirling down the drain: stress leads to health issues > health issues trigger absenteeism and lowered productivity from those who work ill > absenteeism and lowered productivity cause increased stress levels from falling behind / catching up / pulling extra weight. All this leads to burn-out and people leaving. Or even worse, burn-outs staying and going into survival mode, a short-term coping strategy at best for the company and the burn-out alike.

The evidence is compelling and I could cram this whole article full of factoids. Stress is not only killing us, but it does incredible damage to organizational performance. Go here for more about Stress by the Numbers-Indicators and Impacts.

Deloitte’s third annual Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the New World of Work (a heavy hitter) reports that “…companies were struggling to decrease workplace stress, simplify business processes and reduce complexity….66 per cent of respondents believed their employees were “overwhelmed” by today’s work environment and 74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem.”

We see the enormity of the problem, yet we do very little to resolve the issues.

Stress Management Makes Good Business Sense

I was born and raised in the Midwest where we are born with the tribal knowledge that contented cows give more milk. Translated: when people are less stressed they perform better, produce more and better results. Beyond that, there are other good reasons to be mindful as a leader of stressors that impact your people. These five stressors are in your control, and there is little to no cost involved in doing something about them.

(ONE) “74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem (Deloitte)”
Systems and processes grow and morph over time when we’re not looking, through a continuous stream of small and seemingly insignificant modifications and tweaks. Tweaks add up. Stress can go through the ceiling from attempting to make over-designed, obsolete, ill-defined processes work. What better reason to analyze and improve the way the work gets done? Lean techniques, especially process mapping, can pay back in buckets by not only increasing throughput and productivity but by reducing stress. Especially if you involve those who know the work best.

(TWO) Confusion over purpose, goals, methods.
Believe it or not this is a genuine issue highlighted in numerous studies. It’s the lowest of low-hanging fruits and is low cost, high impact…for cripes’ sake, lead your people! Show them their target, make sure they understand the importance of hitting it, verify they have what it takes to get the work done: information, instructions, tools, time…all the right resources. Then let them perform and be there if they need you.

(THREE) Feeling unnecessary, unappreciated, alienated.
People need to know how they are doing, need to feel they are part of something that is worthwhile. We naturally assume no news is bad news. Or worse yet, we fall apart under a constant barrage of criticism without specific and sincere thank you’s to balance things out. We will pressure ourselves to do more and worry, worry, worry while we’re at it. Which leads to sub-par performance and even more criticism, pressure, worry.

We’re loyal to a fault, lovable mutts who’ll do anything to please their master in hopes of earning a treat or a pat on the head. We show unconditional love even when we get nothing but scolded for something the damn cat did. When we are conditioned long-term by nothing but negatives, if a rare reward comes along out of the blue it shocks and excites us so much that we may pee uncontrollably.

(sorry, you could have probably survived without the dog analogy even though it’s mostly true, at least up to the “pee” thing)

(FOUR) Forgetting to Feed and Water the Plants.
Most people want to be all they can be (certainly not all!). Most people get stressed out if they perceive they are going nowhere. Worse, they begin to question their worth. Give them opportunities to learn and grow!

(FIVE) Not Letting the Rabbits Run
Squirrels climb trees. Ducks take to water like…well, a duck taking to water. And rabbits run. A rabbit will swim if forced to, and will maybe survive. A duck can exert a short burst of respectable ground speed. But these animals are best suited to do what they do best, and they love doing it.

Poor fit is a major stressor. Unfortunately, a leader does not always have the luxury of following the natural order in making assignments. People are sometimes forced into a role that doesn’t fit them, and they may do a respectable job in the short run. But they are very likely to be miserable and will very probably burn out long-term. Leaders, find out what species of animals work for you and what their capabilities are. And find out what they love to do, which means you may have to talk with them and build a relationship (!). Assign and develop them accordingly, as much as possible. Strengths-based leadership makes a world of difference.

Engagement and Stress are Inversely Related!

All of the above stressors are in the hands of a leader. The reducer suggestions are actionable, and they all happen to be enablers of a high engagement work environment that supports performance excellence. So stress management is good business. Reducing workforce stress increases engagement levels, just as leveraging known enablers of engagement reduces stress, both of which make organizational sustainability more attainable. “Really?” you say…

“Sustainability” is more than recycling, reducing carbon footprints, being mindful of pollutants. Organizational sustainability is making sure the company itself lives a good, long life. And corporate social responsibility is more than an occasional cancer walkathon or read-with-kids program. Social responsibility is tending to the well-being of the community, starting with the community that is your workforce. It’s one big reinforcing loop:

-> engagement -> stress reduction -> sustainability ->

Stress by the Numbers-Indicators and Impacts

(this is support data for another post addressing workplace stress)

Stress Indicators and Impacts

  • Deloitte’s third annual Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the New World of Work: “…66 per cent of respondents believed their employees were “overwhelmed” by today’s work environment and 74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem.”
  • 2012 Workplace Survey (American Psychological Association): 41% said they “feel tense or stressed out during the workday” up from the year prior’s 36%.
    38% of employees can’t stop thinking about problems like emotional, health, financial and job concerns (annual wellness report, Employee Assistance Program provider ComPsych)
  • Stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year (World Health Organization)
  • Stress is the most common cause of long-term absence and several other productivity deflators (CIPD’s 2014 Absence Management Survey)

From ComPsych’s 2012 Stress Pulse Survey:

Effect of stress on daily productivity
41% lose 15 to 30 minutes of productivity a day
36% lose one hour or more each day
23% report their productivity is not affected by stress

Effect of stress on attendance
55% miss one or two days a year to stress
29% miss three to six days a year
16% miss more than six days a year

Effect of stress on effectiveness
46% come to work one to four days per year when too stressed to be effective
30% show up that way five or more days per year
24% say stress does not influence their effectiveness

Effect of personal tasks on daily ¬productivity (FYI)
41% lose less than 30 minutes a day to personal tasks
40% lose 30 minutes a day
19% lose more than an hour a day
Source: ComPsych Stress Pulse survey, October 2012.

What’s Your One Thing?

Dialogue between Mitch (Billy Crystal), and Cowpoke Curly (Jack Palance) from City Slickers
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

We all have that One Thing that gives our existence special meaning. Some people just haven’t taken time to look for it yet. I’ve given it plenty of thought and am certain my One Thing is to connect. It is relevant to me personally, socially and professionally and it’s driven by my vision and values as it should be.

Connecting is the essence of being human, of real relationships. I’ve experienced the impact of personally connecting, and the satisfaction that comes from helping others connect—in the classroom and in more personal one-on-one encounters, spontaneous but deeply meaningful conversations. Opportunities are everywhere.

Connecting also sets the stage for internal conflict. It can be a stressor if empathy crosses over into compassion, but how do you prevent that? A seasoned educator once told me that teaching—and life—is all about choosing your battles wisely, about being able to deal with the reality of not winning them all, and dealing with the consequences if you choose not to fight a particular battle.

Connecting with others is high-reward. But it’s also high-risk. When you are driven to connect, you set yourself up as the great problem solver and wise counselor for others. Can you accept the failures you’re bound to incur?

Broken Connection
I’ve had one particularly painful broken connection. It’s hard to share even years later. I replay it in my mind quite often, it’s a harsh reminder that I need to take time—genuine, caring time—with others.

One part of my job I get a lot of satisfaction from is to simply visit with people on the floor. I must be good to talk with because people have really opened up quite often. I allow myself to take some pride in that.

High reward = high risk.

I can get pretty swamped at work, and this was one of those days. The last couple of times I ran into him, John (not his real name) really unloaded some heavy personal issues on me. A lot was going on with him and he needed to talk. John had tons of charisma, he was well-liked and I liked him, so I listened as much as time would allow, which this time was not much. Not enough.

A couple of days later, John hit that incredibly low point where he ended his own life.

Survivor syndrome smacked me hard. Did I take enough time to listen when he desperately needed someone to talk to? Did he know that I was truly listening and that I cared deeply about him and what he was going through? Would it have made a difference if I had taken more time, if I had made it more clear to him how much I cared?

I obviously can’t get answers to those questions but that doesn’t stop me from asking them.

Today I was talking to someone who, out of the blue, poured his heart out to me in great detail about the things going on at home. I was once again in time-deprived urgent mission mode, and I was teetering on the edge of letting myself get stressed about it. But vivid images of John came rushing in. Then, other failed connections. Powerful, high-impact personal drivers all rushing in at once-that’s what drivers can do to you.

I let him talk, and talk some more. He had my absolute attention until he was damn sure good and done, to hell with my urgencies and stress level. And I’ll go back tomorrow to check in with him, and the next day too.

I pray you found peace, John.

The Bigger Stage
(Originally from December 17, 2012 triggered by the school slaughter in Newtown, CT)

One more addition to the one-is-too-many list of incredibly tragic events….can’t solve it here, can’t find a root cause. Can only reflect and grieve and let it out a little. This is a feeble personal attempt at coping with senselessness.

Things happen that can rudely point out the need for perspective. All that I’m trying to accomplish to promote values-based leadership and engagement pales in the glaring light of something like Newtown. But there is actually a connection in all of this.

What does “social engagement” look like? What does it mean to be a fully engaged member of a community, a good citizen, a good neighbor, a high contributor?

Workplace engagement hinges on up-close-and-personal work relationships. It’s not possible to be fully engaged without a high level of emotional connection to your work environment and those who share it with you. Social engagement also depends on deep personal relationships, even more than workplace engagement. But our fast-food lifestyle prohibits real relationship-building in the communities and neighborhoods where we live, sometimes even at home with our families.

What is the first thing the Newtown community did after the tragedy? They rushed together outside the school, at the fire house, at community churches. They needed to be close to each other. People need people.

What strikes me about Newtown and other senseless tragedies is that someone did not see some kind of warning sign and act. But modern social norms include staying isolated, keeping people at arms’ length, not allowing yourself to care where you don’t “need to”… not getting involved where it’s none of your business possibly because it could be emotionally, or physically, dangerous to do so. The result of all that…we’re a “society” of total strangers.

Did someone not seeing or choosing not to do something cost 26 innocent, beautiful lives in Newtown? This is so overwhelming that I simply need a little gonzo let-it-out time. I know I have a lot of good company in that one.

The news ran the 26 victims’ pictures online the next morning. I read only some of the short tributes to each. While I wanted to remember and pray for all of them, I couldn’t continue reading. I have a picture of my four young grand kids on my desktop, the oldest is the same age as many of the victims. I can’t put myself in that dark place, it’s beyond comprehension. I can’t imagine. How could someone…? But someone did, and it’s not the first time. And God help us, probably not the last.

While norms can be reinforced through laws, policy and peers you cannot effectively legislate values. What’s wrong with society? How could this happen? Was it due to a breakdown of values and norms? How could someone do this? Normal people cannot fathom the whys. But there were mental issues involved with the Newtown shooter, which pretty much takes values and norms out of the picture. “Normal” people cannot do these things.

There is still a good deal of grieving and there are still a lot of questions being asked. There were surely many Sunday sermons immediately after that addressed the Newtown tragedy and I’m sure some of those sermons will put the spotlight on eroding family and social values.

I can only hope the message from the pulpit and the politicians and activists hasn’t been cheapened into yet another platform for general politicizing about which side is more right or less wrong. Same-sex marriage, right-to-life, legalized pot, senseless slayings…they don’t belong on the same page.

“I’d love to change the world…but I don’t know what to do”. One tiny little pebble I can drop into this ocean is simply to connect with other people. Care enough to invest some of my precious personal time in others. Is it possible that something as simple as connecting could somehow keep someone from going over the edge?


I wish writing this made me feel better. But not yet. Or, maybe it’s best that we don’t get to the point of “feeling better”? Remember.

(pssst….Don’t Tell Anyone) We’re PEOPLE! Human Economics, the new Business Hip

A few points to ponder for starters:

  • The human dynamics of change are powerful and can be a deal-breaker whether a new continuous improvement initiative, strategic shift, organizational re-structuring, or even something simple as a new assignment;
  • The importance of a culture and values fit between employees and the company is clear. Yet, hiring and promotion decisions are typically based solely on competencies and achievements;
  • The Blue Zones longevity study, Gallup-Healthways wellbeing index, Engage For Success wellbeing / engagement report all provide increasingly clear evidence of a powerful correlation between whole-person wellbeing and not only increased levels of engagement but that people can live longer, more productive and more stress-free lives;
  • The new, enhanced well-being includes spiritual factors: sense of purpose, belonging, sense of community, values. Yet, focus remains nearly exclusively on eating your veggies and exercise;
  • The obsession over STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in education, at the expense of instilling values, ethics, norms in young people means that the emotional development of young people in the education system is embarrassingly, dangerously short-changed.

But the evidence is overwhelming, experts are in violent agreement: we’re human beings! That realization may be causing a few ripples, but we need a tsunami. I’m going to lay out some “whats and whys”. Would love to see some “hows” from you experts out there.

From a recent HBR article by Dov Seidman From the Knowledge Economy to the Human Economy:
In the human economy, the most valuable workers will be hired hearts. The know-how and analytic skills that made them indispensable in the knowledge economy no longer give them an advantage over increasingly intelligent machines. But they will still bring to their work essential traits that can’t be and won’t be programmed into software, like creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit—their humanity, in other words. The ability to leverage these strengths will be the source of one organization’s superiority over another.

Seidman references findings from a global study by IBM in which over 1,000 CEOs participated, that executives are placing a high priority on hiring people who are “collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexible.” Another study finds “…a majority of executives insisting that “human insights must precede hard analytics.” (Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions)

In The Effective Executive Peter Drucker made this observation:
Direct results always come first. In the care and feeding of an organization they play the role calories play in the nutrition of the human body. But any organization also needs a commitment to values and their constant reaffirmation, as a human body needs vitamins and minerals. There has to be something “this organization stands for,” or else it degenerates into disorganization, confusion, and paralysis.

McKinsey on Meaningful Work
The McKinsey Quarterly ran an interesting piece, Increasing the ‘Meaning Quotient’ of Work by Susie Cranston and Scott Keller January 2013. Note—the download link may require registration.

There are several quotients out there. IQ is, of course, intelligence quotient. Thanks to Daniel Goleman and others, just about as well-established is emotional quotient (EQ).
Intelligence quotient: derived from standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. IQ tests are designed to measure a person’s general ability to solve problems and understand concepts. This includes reasoning ability, problem-solving ability, seeing relationships between things and ability to store and retrieve information. Because IQ tests measure capability to understand not quantity of knowledge, IQ scores remain stable no matter what the person’s educational attainment level.
Emotional Intelligence: human qualities that are widely recognized as differentiating outstanding leaders from competent managers —self-awareness, self-management, empathy, social skills.

Along comes the New Kid, Meaning Quotient, a feeling that what’s happening really matters, that what’s being done has not been done before or that it will make a difference to others. The McKinsey article likens meaning to flow, championed by positive psychologist Mihàly Csìkszentmihàlyi’. (chicks-sent-me-highly, his own phonetic interpretation).

The article does a deep dive into what business leaders can do to create meaning. Meaning is an essential driver of higher workplace productivity: MQ was tapped by executives as the most essential to performance and results of the three quotients. This article is highly recommended reading.

IQ + EQ + MQ = Q cubed
The sum is greater than the parts, and one can be destructive without the others. And all three have attributes that contribute to an environment capable of supporting increased levels of engagement:

  • Intelligence Quotient: skills, tools, systems, capability to do the job, results / contribution;
  • Emotional Quotient: relationships, values, inner harmony / well-being, growth; satisfaction with the job and the work you do;
  • Meaning Quotient: alignment, connection to the top, hearing the calling of the work; immersion in the task at hand because it is challenging and to my liking (Mihaly’s “flow”).

IQ DESCRIPTION: ability to solve problems and understand concepts. Reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving, perceiving relationships between things, storing and retrieving information.
IF IQ IS HIGH: Able to more easily acquire the right skills. Given the right tools and systems, should have the capability to do the job and deliver results.
Low IQ: inability to perform, incapable of understanding more complex task-intensive expectations.
Hi IQ, low MQ: higher order motivation of purpose is untapped. Capability is underutilized, skills are bottled up. Skating by, bored with the work. Personal agendas pursued by highly skilled manipulators when they don’t know or don’t care about the purpose.
Hi IQ, low EQ: survival instinct, reluctance or fear to perform, too paranoid to work with others. “Me first” because I’m better than you and I can’t trust you anyway.

EQ DESCRIPTION: the human qualities that differentiate outstanding leaders from competent managers, but also at the heart of healthy work relationships and environment. Self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skills.
IF EQ IS HIGH trust and respect are both high. Constructive conflict, sense of humor, a general feeling of “we’re in this together,” and a corresponding ability to collaborate effectively.
Low EQ: office politics, bruised egos, avoidance of tough issues, bickering and fault-finding.
Hi EQ, low IQ: inactivity for fear of looking bad, being wrong. The person doesn’t feel capable, whether a personal or support issue. There is significant internal conflict and stress when a high EQ person struggles against these issues.
High EQ, low MQ: feeling frustrated, discouraged. Tendency to take the meaning disconnect personally. If there is a solid emotional connection the feeling is why the heck should I care this much? But I just can’t help myself, it’s the way I’m wired.

MQ DESCRIPTION: a feeling that what’s happening really matters, that what they’re doing will make a difference. Also reference Mihaly and flow: the work is challenging and has personal relevance.
IF MQ IS HIGH it can be a peak-performance experience: high stakes; excitement; challenge; feeling that work matters and it makes a difference at work and in the world. High commitment to achieving goals.
Low MQ: people put minimal effort into their work and don’t fully utilize their skills because they don’t see the point in doing more than getting by. “It’s just a job” that gives little more than a paycheck.
Hi MQ, low EQ: people see and buy into the big picture but may be ruthless in finding their place in it, or in the way goals are attained. For them, the end often justifies any means to get there.
Hi MQ. low IQ: while they hear the calling loud and clear they still need significant, specific guidance for things that need to be done. They may try harder but they simply lack the capacity to deliver results.

The McKinsey article ends with this:
Of the three Qs that characterize a workplace likely to generate flow and inspire peak performance, we frequently hear from business leaders that MQ is the hardest to get right. Given the size of the prize for injecting meaning into people’s work lives, taking the time to implement strategies of the kind described here is surely among the most important investments a leader can make.

Of all the human needs beyond basic survival needs the most powerful is purpose. We need to feel that what we do matters and that we are making an impact.

I have a vague memory from my higher education days, way too many years ago. It was the belief way back then that the New Millenium would be the age of humanity, of realization and attainment. That vision has so far been a delusion, but it may finally be coming to fruition. We must first divorce ourselves from our love affair with making stuff better—a transformation that requires heaping helpings of change management, especially for the human dynamic elements.

The Knowledge Economy is dead, long live the Human Economy. I can’t wait for the coronation.