Engagement: Test Question

questions

Luis A. Marrero, M.A., RODP, LLP

CEO Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose

If you have been reading my articles these past years you are fully aware how Meaningful Purpose Psychology (logoteleology) came into being. It came to life through a paradox. Stated as questions, the paradox asks, “How come there is so much knowledge and yet, in significant areas of our lives, we do not seem to make progress?” And, “Why don’t we learn and take advantage of known solutions; and instead continue to do what does not work or benefit us as a species?” Or as I more bluntly concluded in my first book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology,[i] “Mankind… does not suffer from a lack of answers. Rather, it suffers despite the answers being available.”

This is such a fascinating and intriguing topic for me! I am perplexed by the fact that there are tangible and proven answers to our individual, group, organizational, social and international problems; and yet most do not apply them. That is why, as a logoteleologist, I have made it my life mission – with the aid of fellow logoteleologists — to help people understand why this paradox, to discover how to get out of the meaningless treadmill, and to learn how to meaningfully thrive in life.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~ Albert Einstein

To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic. ~ Viktor Frankl

One area where this phenomenon is apparent – among many others – is on the corporate engagement challenge; a topic I have written about on a few occasions. Here is a needless problem that has a solution and yet many organizations continue to do what does not work as the stubborn Gallup statistics continue to so predictably report: “The percentage of U.S. workers in 2015 who Gallup considered engaged in their jobs averaged 32%. The majority (50.8%) of employees were ‘not engaged’ while another 17.2% were ‘actively disengaged.’ The 2015 averages are largely on par with the 2014 averages and reflect little improvement in employee engagement over the past year.”[ii] Over the years this problem has become so Déjà vu – so unpleasantly familiar…

The Meaning of Meaning

I have published extensively about meaning, and I invite you to review my article, Meaning, Meaningful, and Important: The Powerful Three and read my first book to have an in-depth understanding of the psychological role and influence of meaning in behavior.  But, for the sake of those who are not yet familiar with what is ‘meaning, meaningful and meaningless’ in Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP) (and with apologies for repeating myself to those who are knowledgeable of the concept) here are working definitions and examples:

  • Meaningful intentions and behavior enhances, builds, replenishes, edifies, cares for, and respects. The meaningful is always win-win.
  • Meaningless intentions and behavior diminishes, demeans, depletes, restricts, neglects, disrespects. The meaningless is a one-sided win-lose; and when vindictive it can also be lose-lose.
  • Meaning is what is meant, how something or someone is defined or labelled, and an intention.
    1. As what is meant: Exchanging information so that we both can be on the same page.
      • Person One: “I need you to be here tomorrow by 8:00 AM so that we can meet with the client.”
      • Person Two: “Agree. I will be here tomorrow at 8:00 AM to meet with you and the client.” (To be truly “on the same page” Person Two shows up before or at 8:00 AM the next day as agreed.)
    2. As how something or someone is defined or labelled:
      • Something: We both call an object “chair” because we recognize and agree that the object meets the description and function of what a chair is and what it does.
      • Someone: I consider Ed to be a very good friend.

Behaviorally, how something or someone is defined or labelled has a significant influence on the third definition:

  1. As an intention:
    • Meaningful Intention: Because Ed is my good friend, I will encourage him to write his dream book.
    • Meaningless Intention: I do not owe Sally anything. I am not going to help her.

The ancestor of every action is a thought. ~ Ralph Wando Emerson

Central to MPP Method, we all have and are inescapably subject to a set of operating principles, assumptions, values and guiding principles that influence decision making and behavior. The mind does not care whether you are or are not aware of those influencing forces. At the unconscious or unaware level, they still determine your behavior.  MPP calls this content “meaning” – the meaning DNA that gives a meaning to your life and describes who you are; or the operating meaning that guides your decision making in-the-moment. And such meaning can have meaningful and meaningless content; and such content has consequences. This applies to individuals, groups, organizations, and nation states.

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequence. ~ W.I. Thomas

People act on the basis of meanings. ~ Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

Meaningful Purpose Psychology studies and describes the mind’s logoteleological ability to stay the course. ~ Luis A. Marrero

If the consequences – as an output — are unpleasant or undesired, what does it say about the inputs (in terms of meaning assumptions and content) and the process followed (in terms of implementing an approach based on potentially false premises)? If we continuously get data – year after year over decades – that the disengagement problem persists, what could be the obvious conclusion?

The Curse of the Meaningless

What excites me about conducting research in my field; and what gives meaning to my voodoowork, is helping people and organizations realize, If the meaningless does not yield positive personal and business results and life enhancing outcomes, why persist in doing what does not work? And what can be done instead to improve conditions? Could it be, as I have suggested above, that we have a flawed set of operating assumptions, values and guiding principles influencing decision making and behavior? I have proposed, for instance, an explanation to how these types of assumptions – particularly the meaningless — influence our leadership and management practices.

Modern life offers people a wealth of some forms of meaning, but it doesn’t offer clear guidance about fundamental values. This “values gap,” as I shall call it, is the single biggest problem for the modern Western individual in making life meaningful. ~ Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

In great measure, people continue to make the same mistakes because they lack solid, well-founded, science-based, confident, and self-determined meaningful guiding principles to help them regulate choices and to make decisions. Such empirically tested meaningful guiding principles – please understand — are counter to many of our people operating assumptions. Which helps to explain why problems persist and do not go away. Once we embrace what works — the meaningful — the next requirement is to stay the course through effective self-regulation. Psychophysiologist, Dr. Isabelle M. Bauer, and social psychologist, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister described it as follows:

“The answer to the perennial question of what facilitates individual and cultural success might be found in the concept of self-regulation. The benefits of successful self-regulation are great and its costs can be dire. Failures of self-regulation are at the root of many personal and societal ills… The consequences of failed self-control can therefore create enormous social and economic costs, thus placing a heavy burden on society. In contrast, effective self-regulation allows individuals and cultures to thrive by promoting moral, disciplined and virtuous behavior.” [iii] (Emphasis mine.)

Hence, we first need a standard – the meaningful as moral, disciplined and virtuous behavior – which must be preserved through a firm determination to follow the standard.

Meaning has to be imposed on life; it is not built in. ~ Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

Is this approach naïve or courageous? Some might ask. “In the world we live in, is this realistic?” If you hold such questions, I highly recommend you read and study Paul Ballman’s book, Red Pill: The Truth About Leadership.[iv] Among the many wise insights in Paul’s book, here are a few lines worth considering:

“It really is hard to tell a leader what they can do in order to achieve success. I now ask you to go one step further and ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be, independently or whether it leads to success. If we could learn to value character as much as we do success, might that not be a better way to live. We should not be afraid to put morality above success and act accordingly.” [v]

The Meaning of “Engagement”

When we think about increasing engagement, what is the meaning assigned? Is it to make more money? Reduce cost? As a public relations stunt? What about selecting win-win actions because they are moral, ethical, and virtuous? Are your policies, business practices, and relationships built on being so-called “successful” at the expense of being meaningful? Or will your business be guided by meaningful goals and standards as the mean to being successful?

Finally, true engagement goes farther than just committing employees. In our method, genuine engagement has all parties acting responsibly, ethically, and virtuously; for people and for profit. It is important to engage all stakeholders: customers, suppliers, partners and associates, members of management, the community, and stockholders, among others. All these roles have something in common: people. And there is no better way to engage or commit the hearts and minds of people than by creating meaningful work conditions where all can thrive. This requires that workers come to work to fulfill their meaningful life purpose in a responsible way, and for companies to allow them in support of the organization’s meaningful purpose.

Finally, Viktor Frankl encouraged us to understand the difference between labeling human workers as either “being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness.” We believe that current definitions for engagement continue to see and value the individual worker first and foremost in terms of usefulness, and hence creating conditions where his or her inherent dignity takes a back seat. Organizations and their leaders can do better.

So, what is the test question?

Is the action I am about to take meaningful?

“But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer. Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

© 2016. Luis A. Marrero, M.A.,

[i] Marrero, Luis A. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. (Bloomington, Indiana: IUniverse, 2013)

[ii] http://www.gallup.com/poll/188144/employee-engagement-stagnant-2015.aspx

[iii] Bauer, Isabelle and Roy F. Baumeister, “Self-Regulatory Strengths.” Vohs, Kathleen D., and Roy F. Baumeister, Eds. Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory and Applications. (New York, NY: The Guildford Press, 2011), 64

[iv] Ballman, Paul. Red Pill: The Truth About Leadership. (Acorn Independent Press Ltd, 2015)

[v] Ibid. 194

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