Episode 28: Cultivating the Invisible Leader

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Studies have found that people who live, lead and work with purpose live up to 7 years longer, are 42% more likely to experience contentment in life and at work, and are four times more likely to be engaged in their jobs (Gallup, 2013; National Institutes of Health, 1998; New York University, 2015). In addition, organizations who have a strong sense of purpose are more profitable and outperform the market 6:1 (Deloitte, 2014). But what is purpose and how do we awaken it in both life and work? Please join Jeff Smith and Zach Mercurio as they discuss defining your purpose, creating meaningful work experiences and creating a leadership style that allows others to find purpose and meaning in your organization.

Zach empowers purposeful leaders and helps build purposeful organizations that inspire meaningful work. He is an organizational development consultant, transformational speaker, and Instructor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO USA where, as a PhD candidate, he researches meaningful work and teaches courses on purposeful and organizational leadership. He is the founder of PurposeSpeaks.com, the popular blog on purposeful leadership and is a regular contributor for The Huffington Post and other international media outlets. Zach serves as a co-founder of the Foundation for Purposeful Organizations, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and teaching purposeful leadership and management. His research has been featured in the Human Resource Development Review and at the Academy of Human Resource Development International Research Conference.


Jeff: Welcome so glad you could be with us here today. It is an absolutely spectacular day in Roanoke, Virginia. It’s supposed to be 70. I’ve got Zach Mercurio here today who also is in Fort Collins, Colorado. He said it’s a beautiful day there. Zach, welcome to the show.

Zach: Thanks Jeff, great to be here.

Jeff: I am so excited you’re here. I want to give a couple quick shout outs, so first to my friend Maged Khalaf. Maged has been listening to us really since the start and sent us a nice note this week. Majed and I worked together for a Cleveland Clinic on a project in Abu Dhabi and he’s now in Canada. He says he listens to us during workouts and has really been getting a lot out of the show. Another person is Lee West who I’ll be talking to you right after the show so Lee’s probably listening now, so Lee I’ll talk to you in about an hour, but he’s based in Denmark so thanks for all the folks writing in.

They both had suggestions for future shows so if you want to get in touch with us. You can reach out to Jeff@VoltageLeadership.com. Our website is www.VoltageLeadership.com. You can like me on Facebook at Voltage Leadership and then you can connect with me on LinkedIn at Jeff Smith Voltage Leadership Consulting. If you really want to follow me on Twitter, JameUJeff and Zach and I both have that in common.

We both went to James Madison University so we’ll talk about that in a moment, but I’m super excited. Zach is an up and coming star into the field of human resource development, adult learning, engagement, motivation in the workplace. Zach empowers for purposeful leaders and helps build purposeful organizations that inspire meaningful work. We can all use that. Zach and I will go through some of engagement or not engagement scores in our country in the world.

He’s an Organizational Development Consultant, a transformational speaker and he’s an instructor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado where he’s currently getting his PHD. He’s working diligently at that process. He is also the founder of PurposeSpeaks.com. It’s a great blog. I was out there reading a couple of blogs before the show today. I highly recommend it. Again it’s PurposeSpeaks.com, additionally he’s been a contributor for the Huffington Post and other international media outlets.

He also serves as cofounder of the foundation for a purposeful organizations, a non-profit dedicated promoting and teaching purposeful leadership in management. He has been featured in HR, Human Resource Development Review and at The Academy of Human Resource Development International Research Conference. Zach is married. He’s got one child and one coming later this summer so Zach welcome to the show.

Zach: Thanks, thanks for having me.

Jeff: Zach and I—the way we connected is, we are both James Madison University alums and I saw that there’s this webinar that he was going to be doing. I was like wow that sounds like really cool stuff. I reached out to Zach and it was about the time that JMU was going to win the national championship in football.

We were at championship game. We won the championship. Now our women’s basketball team is in the sweet 16 NIT. Our softball team is ranked in the top ten in the country, and our men’s basketball team, well you know there’s going to be next year and we’ll hopefully be better right?

Zach: Exactly. Exactly.

Jeff: Well Zach let me just do a quick review of majors here because it leads to a question for me. You went to James Madison for undergrad and you’re in media arts and design, then you head out west go to Colorado State. You get a masters in student affairs sort of the higher education track and finally you’re this PHD candidate now and this organizational learning performance and change. You’ve got to help me understand the track here. You know what got you interested in what you’re studying and what we’re going to talk about today.

Zach: Yes, well funny enough, my parents and I didn’t like this at the time, but I was interested in everything as an undergrad. What I really got involved in at JMU was a lot of student leadership positions and unfortunately leadership, empowering people, coaching people, and motivating people is not in the course catalog traditionally in undergrads. I was a journalism major just because I liked really understanding people’s stories and I love writing as well. Then I really wanted to work in higher education.

I got a job in an advertising field and really was not feeling a connection to a broader purpose, which led me out to Colorado. I wanted to make sure that students essentially didn’t end up like me in that first purposeless job, and so I dedicated a good amount of time coordinating all of the programs for new students at universities to help them really uncover and awaken that sense of purpose. I did a lot of training and development at the university, which led to a lot of training and development outside the university. This led to a real focus on purpose and meaning in the workplace and led naturally into this PHD program called Organizational Learning Performance and Change where I do study meaningful work.

Jeff: That’s fantastic so there was you know really a sense of you finding your voice and now it’s matching your educational background to just keep learning and fostering both your own growth, but hopefully growth in others as well. It sounds like you’re well on the path.

Zach: Yes and that is often what happens, I’ve found, especially in working with students and working with younger employees that a lot of life and leadership in what we do is trial and error. I think I’ve been lucky to have environments that have encouraged trial and error in that way, and sort of that evolution of how we think about a goal in terms of we’re always. The goal is kind of evolving as we work toward it so I’ve been lucky to have good mentors.

Jeff: Well that’s great. Yes, me too. Mark Warner at JMU is one of my best mentors and in fact I just talked to him last week. They had the big campaign for JMU and he was in the karaoke car with the President of the university and Duke Dog and some other. I gave him a nice shout out, and it was nice to connect and you know he was one of those mentors. I’m sure now you are that force in the folks you’re teaching and leading. You know and what I’m curious about maybe at the outset is we kind of called this the cultivation of that invisible leader.

So what is that invisible leader?

Zach: The invisible leader, it really is a term that I’ve used and some scholars have used actually going back to a management scholar named Mary Parker Follet in the late 1920s where she talked about leadership as not power over, but power with. One of the most powerful leaders and influencers of our behaviors and our attitudes are not actually other people, but actually a common purpose, a sense of shared destiny. A sense of a reason for existence that binds people together and actually influences their behavior. I mean because when you think about it, in the majority of our lives there’s not a person, a supervisor, a leader physically present saying you know you should make this decision next or you should have this attitude right now. That’s why a lot of the psychological research have found it’s this sense of purpose, the sense of reasoning that exists sort of outside the self and actually pulls people through work and optimizes attitude and behaviors. That’s why it’s called the invisible leader that I basically posit in my new book, that the most powerful leaders you know when you look back at the history of human kind are not necessarily people, but ideas by common purposes that bring people together that they share.

Jeff: Do you have an example of that? I’m sure you know with writing a book you probably have an example or two. You want to share an example? Sort of that positive unifier that helped drive?

Zach: Yes, well since we talked about sports, I’ll use a sports example.

Jeff: Sure.

Zach: If you look back right down the road from me is the University of Colorado and an interesting thing happened there between 1988 and 1990. In ’88 they were okay. They weren’t doing too well in their conference. They had just gotten this great recruiting class that the coach that was there had been there.

Bill McCartney had been there for almost five years at the time. They were sort of just on this level of playing field not really progressing and getting over that hump of becoming in the national conversation. Something really remarkable happened with that team is later that year one of their star sort of the future of their program, this guy named Sal Aunese who’s a star quarterback. He started showing up for practice and he started vomiting and having stomach cramps.

The team said, “Okay we got to check this guy into the hospital”, and the next day they learned that he had advanced stage stomach cancer. This was a guy on the team that was the future of the team and the team really rallied around this. You know Sal would come in and he would give you know emotional talks to the team. He would visit the team and he kept saying that we are going to you know, we are going to win and I’m going to be back. I’m going to be back playing again. This is not going to beat me.

Interestingly enough, what started happening is the team started performing better. In fact, you know Sal would come to the games and they would all get together in the middle of the field and point up to where he was sitting. Well that year I think they went 11 and one in 1989. Sal actually passed away middle of that year. In the next year, they won the national championship. When you look back, think about, and you talk to the coaches or you read news articles about the time, nothing really changed.

Like the leadership style didn’t change. Personnel didn’t change. No tactic changed, how they practice, but this had this reason that was bigger than all of them. This common reason for existence, which was called playing for Sal that served as invisible leader that really pulled that team through those two seasons and motivated the results.

There are a lot of stories like that from the business world as well, but just looking from a team perspective, I think Bill McCartney said you know in that year, the team really—the bus drove itself. That’s the idea of the invisible leader that when we have a reason for existence that binds us, that focuses on something outside of ourselves that it guides us and pulls forward. The bus sort of drives itself.

Jeff: Oh that’s great. You know it’s interesting, I didn’t realize we would be talking about that. That’s all 30 for 30. A couple of months ago on ESPN about this and ended up joining in the middle, and watching the rest of it and you know had no idea about it, talking about it on the radio show.

Zach: Yes, yes it’s called The Gospel According to Mac. It’s a good one.

Jeff: Yes, that’s great. You know and I like what you’re saying too. When we talked about meaningful work, let’s just get a definition and then we’ll pick up about how do we find it in the workplace. When you’re saying meaningful work, what does that mean?

Zach: Yes, meaningful work is work that someone feels is significant and that it matters to the world and it matters to people outside of themselves. That’s the definition that’s been in this psychological research for a while. I’ll talk more about that definition later, but work that is perceived as significant and mattering to the individual.

Jeff: Yes. It’s interesting, you know, it’s interesting that I just left meetings this morning at the hospital, and there are some institutions where it’s pretty obvious. You know, right outside of the emergency room department and meeting with the guys in charge of emergency room, you could hear the ambulances coming in, the helicopters, all that kind of stuff. I’ve also worked for a credit card company and so maybe I’ll mention it after break. We can start to talk about what happens when it’s not quite so obvious like where it’s good for mankind so we’ll pick up on that.

Zach: Definitely.

Jeff: Zach Mercurio is going to be with us the whole show so if you’ve got questions, please feel free to call in. In the meantime, we’re going to take a two minute break and we’ll see you after the break.


Jeff: Welcome back. I’m so glad you can be with us today. I’ve got Zach Mercurio on today and Zach is a speaker, an author, a teacher, working on his PHD right now. Really specifically around purposeful work as well as finding meaningful work in our workplace. Before the break, I got to talking a little bit about in health care and in some professions, it’s pretty easy to see the mission. Though I got to tell you—I’m sure Zach, you’ve seen the same. Often they get hung up in the daily life and forget about the mission. You know and their purpose.

Zach: Yes.

Jeff: My question before the break was, I used to work for a credit card company, Capital One. I felt like we had a great team and all of that, but there were certainly days like when you’re calling and collecting money or providing some customer service, and you might get the same question 17 times a day. It was a little hard to see if this was still meaningful work or not. What do you see in your practice, in your studies and research?

Zach: Yes so that’s a great question, and I’ve devoted a lot of my research to this right now because I got asked this question by a lot of people who are in what can be stigmatized by society as meaningless work. I actually study people like mechanics, janitors, bus drivers and people who are doing what has been called in the literature “dirty jobs.” I found that I was recently interviewing a janitor, and she had decided to come back out of retirement to be a janitor again. She had worked 30 years up to this position where she could retire. She was working for the state, but she decided to come back. I asked her naturally as one would why? You know why did you come back?

She told me, “I couldn’t stand the thought of students in the residence hall that I worked in not having that parent figure away from home.” She was a university janitor.

Jeff: Sure.

Zach: That purpose was so powerful for her that it literally pulled her out of retirement. As I’ve been interviewing these janitors and mechanics and I just recently did some work with some school bus drivers who are in positions where socio-economically outside of work, things may not be going well. They don’t get paid all that much. They don’t have a lot of benefits.

Sometimes it’s mundane routine work. What I found is that when people are able to focus on the human being at the end of whatever they’re doing, thinking about that human being with a life as vivid and complex as your own. When leadership and organizations create an environment in which every day that is a part of the fabric of the culture that we talk about, the people. It can be really psychologically powerful for people. Adam Grant, he’s a psychologist at the Wharton School did a study where he took a university call center, basically people who call and ask for money.

It’s a very—it was a high turnover job. It was like a telemarketing job, part time for students. I mean a very difficult environment, you can imagine, to motivate and inspire people. He took one group. It was a control group and he didn’t do anything with them. It was just a shift.

He let them continue calling and doing what they did. He took this experimental group and all he did was bring in a student to talk about how a scholarship helped change their life, one of the scholarships for five minutes and then we studied them over six months. What he found was the students, the shift who heard the story saw the person of how the scholarship made a difference in their lives. Actually, they started off making around a hundred dollars an hour, bringing in per caller, per week.

By the end of that six months, they had brought in about an average of $503 per caller, per week. They spent double the amount of time on the phone, whereas the shift who didn’t hear that story for five minutes actually went down. One of the things that I think management leaders can do, and people who are in these positions can do, is to consistently highlight the human at the end of the supply chain, at the end of the service chains, and bring in people to tell their stories. It can be really powerful, and with these frontline workers in these stigmatized jobs, I have found that the human experience in understanding the human story of whatever it is that’s at the end of the service or supply chain is really powerful.

Jeff: That’s rich. It’s interesting. I’m just finishing Originals.

Zach: Oh yes, yes.

Jeff: The second book, yes, yes, I’ve truly enjoyed it so if you’re looking for a good read that there’s lots of application to real world, but you take it from places you wouldn’t normally think. I recommend Adam Grant’s book, Originals. It’s out in the last couple of months.

Zach: Yes, a study that I just mentioned is in his book Give and Take if you’re interested.

Jeff: Give and Take, yes, yes, I wrote it down. I think I’m going to pick that book up next. One highlight to go back to from last week, Joanne Loce and I talked about storytelling and a lot of what you were talking about right here fits perfectly and you know we talked about it on the show last week.

I thought to myself, this is going to work so great with Zach coming, so if you’re interested in learning more about storytelling, the elements of it, how to create a good story, go back and listen to last week’s Illuminating Leadership. I just shared the example of going to a Goodwill breakfast. You know, they’re one of our clients, but we also like to donate to them. They do this brilliantly. It’s sometimes hard to see their workplace, and some of their work is mundane for some of the folks that they’re asking to do the work. They bring in four to five people that’s impacted and it’s not always the workers. Sometimes it’s who the worker has interacted with at a store, or in you know workplace. I got to tell you, I will resonate with that for six or seven months. The money I give I’ve completely forgotten, but I’m walking around with these stories in my head and so I think they do a great job of showing that meaningful work. It is a great cause and a great mission, but it’s also that they really connect with you and make sure that you understand the purpose of what you’re volunteering in or you’re doing your work in. I think those are brilliant.

Zach: Yes it is brilliant man. I always imagine what if, instead of telling people what to do, we first showed them vividly why it mattered. When you think about onboarding people into an organization or starting people on a job, typically what I see is people, especially in repetitive work, whether it’s people at a call center or people in work where they are more separated from human beings in their everyday life or the output.

What if we created cultures that showed them at the beginning why it mattered through storytelling, through those people? It can be really powerful and then a lot of research shows that when people are committed in that way to the human beings at the end of whatever it is that you’re doing, they’re more than likely to then tell story—the story of your organization. I was working with a group of non-profit executive directors and I always ask them what’s your biggest problem, and they’d always tell me money. That’s really not the problem.

I mean the problem is the problem you exist to solve, the human problem you exist to solve in the world. Not that you need a new building, not that you need money, profit revenue. Those are all solutions to solving that human problem, when you can bring that human problem and that human being to the forefront, into the fabric of the work—of the culture of the organization. It can be really psychologically powerful for people. You know your story with Goodwill reminded me that I work with some fundraisers a lot and I always say, “You know I’m at the dinner table with you. You need a new building. You need money for a new building. What would you say?” They’d usually say well I give you the specs of my building. We need more money for our building. That’s very easy for me to psychologically get myself out of.

You know I’m already giving, I know why you need that new building. Why is it so big versus if say it was a humane society and they were saying, "Oh you know, hey Zach you know we really believe that no animal should be homeless would you like to partner with us?” It would be really hard for me to go home and we like, “You know not today, I’m not really into that today.” Again the psychological power of just slipping that and thinking about the belief that you have about the problem you exist to solve and bringing those real stories to life is one of the foundational elements of fostering meaningful work.

Jeff: Yes, you know it’s interesting, I was reading one of your blogs here about purpose and it’s the one that had some stats in it that almost six to eight and a half percent of US workers are disengaged. It’s even greater, like 87% in the world.

Zach: Yes.

Jeff: The one that really startled me though is that 62% of managers are disengaged. Which I guess makes some sense because they’re the ones that manage those disengaged workers right? You know we’ve got a lot of leaders that are listening to this show. We’ll start here and then we’ll continue after the break. But what’s our role as a manager or a leader? To create an atmosphere where meaningful work and purpose can be sought and found.

Zach: Yes I think that is such a great question and when you look at the definition of engagement, it’s by gallop the organization that does a lot of these assessments. It’s people who are enthusiastic prideful and committed to the workplace, and I think we have to unpack that definition. I think so often we throw around the statistics, but we don’t know what engagement is. That pride and the enthusiasm and that commitment, all of those things are emotional components.

They’re emotional constructs. When it comes to leadership and leaders, we have to think about that what are we doing to cultivate the deep emotional bond of an employee, of a person to the purpose of the organization, and I think cultivating that emotional bond takes some reframing. Especially in a world where we are just constantly hammered and measured on results and things to accomplish. You know the research repeatedly finds that people don’t commit to things because of what they do or because of that data and stats of something. They commit to something because they believe what you believe and so cultivating belief in an organization and the purpose is really powerful. After the break I can talk a little bit more about some strategies to do that from a leadership perspective.

Zach: Yes, that would be great. You know this comes from change to the culture, change to the game that you know you can. If you’re trying to get a different set results, a lot of people just take an action and that’s kind of like the flavor of the month. What you really—if you want to change the culture, you really got to get down in the beliefs and then create a new set of experiences that will change beliefs.

Zach: Absolutely

Jeff: It sounds like we’re going to really hit on that after the break. What we’re going to be doing is talking to Zach for the next half an hour here so if you have any questions, feel free to shoot us an email, if not, we’ll be back in touch in about two minutes.


Jeff: Welcome back. I’m here today with Zach Mercurio. We are having a conversation around meaningful work, purpose. How do we provide that? How do we engage that in our whole world so we’ll continue our conversation? Zach, during the break we did get an email, in so I’m just going to kind of plant that seed for a little bit later in the show. One of our listeners wants to know, “what’s the role of faith in our inner self in meaningful work?” So we’ll come back to that one. I want to continue our conversation. I jot it down so I’ll get back to you. So faith in our inner self and meaningful work so we’ll come back to that.

What we were talking about though and I could hear some of the people out there rolling their eyes. I know who you are. You know they’re like “I’m pounded with deep results. You don’t know my culture and you want me to have space for connecting with a deep emotional bond and make sure people understand our purpose. Come on. Have you heard my schedule today! I’ve got to find time to connect and care about those stinking people. Come on!”

So Zach, help some of those leaders that are like wow, they really are busy. What are some strategies that they can help maybe stay connected to the purpose foster that within their workplace? What strategies would you have for us?

Zach: You know what’s funny? I’m from the east coast. I’m not saying anything because I know a lot of your listeners are on the east coast. I have been known in my other supervisory roles to be direct and results focused. Which is so funny that people think it’s interesting that this is what I have studied, the emotional aspects of leadership, but I just want to you know—there was—I just want to put a quick plug in here.

There’s a neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio who studied emotion versus logical and how it really motivates people’s decisions whether to engage in your organization, to engage in work, to buy your products, to buy your services. It’s a great study. He studied people with damage in the part of their brain where emotions are generated. What he’s found is that they seemed relatively normal except that they couldn’t feel emotions, but what he found which is really fascinating is they all had something in common and that’s the fact that they couldn’t make decisions.

They could describe what they wanted to be doing, sort of in logical terms, but they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions such as what to eat or what to wear. With no rational way to decide, they could not arrive at decisions. This is sort of a ground breaking study that found that people just do not make—we do not make decisions. It’s been repeated and replicated a number of times based on logic, most of the time.

It’s based on that emotional tie, the logic helps to frame the decision, but when we’re making decisions which every day is sort of a series of decisions, employees making a series of decisions. Should I engage? Should I go the extra mile? Should I go above and beyond? Should I commit to this place? That emotion is powerful and when we don’t recognize that as robustly as we strategize these other areas, whether it’s financials or benefits or salaries then we miss out what’s been argued as 70% of human decision making capacity. There’s my little plug for emotion.

I think that you know when it comes down to purpose and really investing and cultivating, this is what I’d call the invisible leader. It just really comes back to human history. You know I’ve got a lot of people, whether I’m doing a keynote or something where they say, “Oh you know, this is just a millennial issue.” I always say you know the search for meaning and purpose is a human issue. It’s not a fad.

It’ll never go out of style. It’s been around since the Protestant Reformation in the late 1500s and the division of labor and the sense of calling. Like it’s not necessarily a fad or a tactic or a strategy. I mean purpose is having a reason for existence, a reason for doing what you’re doing during work, which for work, we spend up to almost 35% of our waking lives there.

I just think that we can’t detach management and leadership from the fact that we’re responsible for almost half of human beings waking lives. Cultivating an environment that fosters meaning, I think, is sort of an imperative of the modern organizations. How do you do this? I mean I think one of the ways is just being really crystal clear about why your organization exists and detach it from results.

I know we’ve probably all had people come in or talk about mission, vision, and value statement. There’s always a new statement coming out in the Harvard Business Review that we need to come up with. I think having a real sense of why you exist attached from what you do is incredibly powerful. You know I think of Southwest Airlines and their initial purpose was to democratize the skies. Their talk had nothing to do with airplanes. They didn’t talk about the space between their seats or all these specs, but that’s that core purpose of why the company was founded.

If you read into them have a very firm belief in that purpose to the point where in 2010 they were willing to forgo $300 million of extra revenue in charging for bags to keep with that purpose of keeping air travel accessible to across the socioeconomic spectrum. They ended up making a billion dollars by doing opposite of what everybody does and doing the back by free campaign. That’s what happens when you have a clarity from the leadership of purpose that’s pervasive in the organization, that’s repeated, that’s socialized within people’s life cycle. I think another way to do that is to create those repeated, shared, and dramatic experiences.

How do people at every level of the organization know and feel the purpose? How do your stakeholders know and feel why you exist? It’s not like a team building retreat or an end of the year awards banquet, but I mean like real up close stories of your customer’s lives being changed by what you do and repeating those experiences over time. You know one quick thing you could do is just look at your meetings.

You know those monthly meetings or our quarterly meetings. Most of the time what I’ve seen is they’re like update fast. It’s just here’s an update, here’s an update, here’s an update, here’s an update and people kind of zone out until it’s their time to give an update. Again that doesn’t tie into people’s emotions. Maybe going around and just having each person share one story of a customer’s life that they impacted that month for one minute.

It could have a dramatic—not only effect on the meeting, but effect on people’s prolonged engagement so that’s a couple of those examples. The third thing I would think about is rewarding purposeful behavior. You know sometimes I always see like—you know someone will come up to me, a client and they’ll say, “Oh Zach, my people, there’s a lot of infighting. You know nobody gets along.” I always say, you know show me what you reward.

Almost always we reward for self-serving behaviors, efficiency, performance, effort, loyalty, and self-oriented rewards often result in self-oriented teams. Purpose by default is other centered. You know we wouldn’t have a reason for doing anything if there weren’t other humans involved. Think about how you’re rewarding for purpose and other centeredness for helpfulness, for going above and beyond, for serving the customer, the person, for talking about purpose. Those things are very cheap and inexpensive to change, but they really can have a profound impact psychologically on people.

Jeff: It’s great so you know I was just pondering as you were talking. This goes back to my Capital One days. We had a leader named Catherine Busser. We called her Bus. I remember her standing up and sharing the story of people you know that used our credit cards, that had gotten stuck and out of the countries and the success story of being able to get them after their car has been stolen. Being able to get to a wedding on time, getting home to see you know someone that was dying and so that call that was just your normal customer service call was no longer just a customer service call. You know that human being on the phone, at the end of the supply chain of our product was a human being now, not call number 72 of the day right?

Zach: Yes, exactly.

Jeff: I worked there right at 9/11 and everyone of course remembers that. I can remember lots from those days, but a few weeks later, most people forget that there was all these anthrax scares. In October of 2001, we were all sitting on parking decks because people decided that they were going to send back in our credit notices. You know, sort of Clorox, bleach, things like that, but we didn’t know if it was anthrax or not so the FBI shut down all of our machines. Our entire management team is opening millions of pieces of mail because all of our machines are not working.

Zach: Wow.

Jeff: We really got in touch with the customer. You know, we’re out there for like ten hour shifts opening credit cards with a letter opener. She kept coming back and really putting the face of the customer so that you know by the time you open 300 you know pieces of mail in an hour, it gets a little monotonous. But she did a great job of really connecting and I got to tell you, that was not the most exciting work that I’ve ever done, but I never felt more part of our purpose.

Zach: Yes.

Jeff: I saw the meaning. I would stay on there for a few more years at Capital One and I think it helped me become such a much better leader in the next two or three roles because I had seen our customers up close and personal by opening hundreds and hundreds of letters right?

Zach: Yes. I think, I mean that’s a great story of this idea—of this invisible leader where that your leader sort of awakened that common cause, but it was the idea of helping others sort of a shared common sense of empathy. I think that this unites people and I think that one of the things is that some leaders, myself included, sometimes we think that that just happens. You know that type of thing happens and I always say that you can strategize that type of culture. You can strategize the investment and that type of movement and cause on a daily basis.

If you know we really think about it as robustly and as intensively as we think about our financial strategy and these other strategies as well. Often times results follow you know the pursuit of something that’s bigger than everybody. I think that that’s something that is sometimes lost in this purpose conversation. Some people say Zach, “Well we have to make money.”

I know we’re about to break, but there’s this really great quote from a guy named Barry Chandler and he owns a consulting firm called Story Forged. They do purpose consulting and he says, “Without purpose profit is meaningless, but without profit purpose is just a dream.” I’m not saying we should dump these financial goals, but knowing that the purpose is what really delivers that and justifies the organization’s existence in the world. Pursuing that first, the results follow.

Jeff: Wow, yes. Zach you know what I really liked from this section was that you get really crystal clear on the definition of purpose, helping people stay connected, doing it repeated and shared, make sure that’s there’s dramatic experiences really you know call those out. Kind of like Catherine Busser in that last story. Then rewarding and celebrating those purposeful behaviors. Don’t let it just happen by chance. Be real intentional about what you’re rewarding, and don’t just reward sort the selfish behavior, which behaviors really supported our purpose and the meaningful work so when we come back.

Zach: Yes.

Jeff: Well have some tools and tips for you to take away so we’ll be back in two minutes for our last segment.


Jeff: Welcome back and so glad you could be with us today. I got Zach Mercurio here for the last part of the show. We’ve been talking about purposeful leadership, defining it, meaningful work in our workplace, and we got in this one question about what’s the role of faith in our inner self in meaningful work. You know Zach, I may even let you take a stab at it first and then I’ll add my two cents in.

Zach: Well you know. It’s a great question and if you’re interested in more on this, I have a book that I recommend. It’s called make your job a calling. It’s by Dr. Brian Dick.

He’s a psychologist here at Colorado State, but he actually studies in the meaningfulness of work from a perspective of calling and it’s really a fascinating read, but I think that’s something that we can’t separate is you know from a historical and spiritual perspective, this modern sort of concept of purpose in work and meaning and organizations can actually be traced back to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s and Martin Luther. Before that, philosophers that had seen work as sort of a necessary evil, a necessary thing to do in order to live, but Martin Luther took a view of work as divine and he sort of wrote in this classic way said the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ in sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field. That changed really how we view work. In fact, probably in your organization or in your educational institution, you see a division of labor, right?

You can go to school for a specific thing and this idea that we can be called and choose where were called to be is what really set up our modern division of labor. It really does have a root in some of these Judeo Christian values and that has sort of kept consistently through in terms of thinking work on the psychological work on calling and meaningfulness at work. I do think that that self-perspective is incredibly important, you know. I’ve always found in my work that the most extraordinary people do ordinary things with an extraordinary perspective.

I think that sometimes people’s different faith bases that are throughout the rest of their lives impact their perspective inevitably on the world. I’ve often heard that people’s personal values very much affect how they view work from that perspective. I think purpose in meaningful work is also about how you craft the work yourself. I think that comes from that inner work, but the concept actually has roots all the way back into the late 1500s.

Jeff: Great explanation I love it. As an executive coach a lot of the work I do is helping individual’s teams and organization get aligned around their values. Often I’ll start the individual level and then it’s amazing how often, once you take it to the team, they’re similar and how similar they’re not always to the spouse values that are on the wall, but they’re the values that build up from individual team to organization. If you sort of take it from so many sort of spiritual backgrounds and not you know.

Zach: Right oh yes.

Jeff: They’re the things that you read about right? I do think there’s something that’s centered in there and closer that we can come to individual matching team and team matching organization then I think that’s where we get the alignment. If we have enlightened leaders that will ask questions and create container where people can live out their values then I think that when we move away from so many people being in this disengaged space, we’d be into this engaged meaningful work. Where people are that enthusiastic and they go home excited and home is more meaningful as well.

Zach: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more.

Jeff: What I’m curious about is, what are a couple tips or suggestions you’d have for us to learn more about this or to you know incorporate into our workplace.

Zach: Yes, you know I’d highly recommend there’s a book called The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst, and that is a great book for those of your who are still thinking in economic terms. It’s a great book that talks about how purpose is the next economy because of our interconnectedness to other people. Our human empathy has actually been increasing over the years, which is why you’re seeing a lot of millennials sort of clamoring for purpose. It really is an interesting read about that interconnectivity and the role of purpose. Then also really check out you know my book is going to be coming out.

It’s called the invisible leader. It’s all about sort of the psychological, historical, sociological work that’s been done on how purpose can influence our behaviors more than any one person. In terms of practical tips I think that one of the things if you’re working in an organization, you’re leading an organization that’s really powerful. It’s just to have people complete this statement. I mean have them write it down on a half sheet of paper.

Print an online survey that says, “I felt like my job mattered when. Have them just fill it out in any way that you want them to. What you’re going to find is you’re going to learn in your organization what makes people feel like they’re significant, that they matter and that they’re doing good. Those are the three components of meaningful work.

I just did this with school bus drivers and it’s on the blog right now and I was just blown away. People had told me that this was going to be a tough crowd, that the school bus drivers really weren’t interested in meaning and purpose. I asked them you know to fill this out and you know I’ll never forget that the first one I read was this person who said I felt like my job mattered. When I was at the funeral of a young student and his parents told me that their son’s ride to school was the highlight of his short life.

That having that impact and how do you create an environment that repeats experiences where people are deeply connected to the human beings that they serve. In any industry, I believe there’s a human being at the end of the supply chain. How do you connect people to that human being’s life? I think it first starts—if you want to create an environment that repeats experiences of meaningfulness, you have to first know what the experiences of meaningfulness are in your specific organization, in your context because every context is different.

A lot of people bring pre-existing personalities and values that influence meaningful work, but and it’s a good idea to get a sense of where you are and where your organization is. That’s a great place to start. Then just having the conversation. Changing the narrative in your organization, talking about some of these things that we’ve talked about today with your leadership team, with your mentors, with supervisees of meaning and purpose can really bring to light some really rich data that you can act upon.

Jeff: Zach it has been a joy. You know, there’s so much more to cover so what I would say is as you get closer to that book being published late summer, The Invisible Leader, we’ll look to maybe have you back on the show at that point.

Zach: That’ll be great.

Jeff: Yes, thanks for being here.

Zach: Absolutely.

Jeff: Let me tell you what was coming up here for our listeners next. We’ll have Petra Platzer on our show. We’re going to be talking about how do we move from this sort of expert leader to strategic facilitator. Move from being a person that has to have all the answers and to a spot where you really are facilitating the right conversation so it will be a little about delegation, a little about how do you shift the mindset.

Once we sort of know our purpose, how do we help others live it out so it will be a continuation of this conversation again with Petra Platzer. If you would like to reach us during the week, please give us a call at area 540-798-1963 or an email at Jeff@VoltageLeadership.com. VoltageLeadership.com is our website. You can like me on Facebook at Voltage Leadership. Follow me on Twitter @JameUJeff. What I really appreciate is Zach you’re coming on the show, bring in such great ideas. Good luck in your PHD and keep up the fantastic work so thanks for being with us today.

Zach: Thanks a lot Jeff.

Jeff: Absolutely and to our listeners, we’ll be back next at 1 pm Eastern Time and we will make sure that Petra and I have a great conversation to help you lead to some illuminating leadership. In the meantime, make it great week and thanks for being with us. Take care.