To me, one of the greatest success stories on the web these days is David Zinger, who started the Employee Engagement Network. I had a chance to ask David a few questions about his experiences the other day. Here’s what he told me about discovering that he now finds himself leading a “movement.”
What do you think your role has been in helping create the employee engagement movement?
I think my role has been a bit improvisational and haphazard. I love your statement in our conversation:
‘It didn’t seem to me you set out to create a movement, but you’ve got one. In my mind’s eye I see you turning around one day and noticing that it’s not just a few friends you are walking with, but a whole street-full. Wow! How did that happen?’
I am passionate about employee engagement and have been involved in social media and blogging for just about 5 years. One snowy Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg I wondered how this NING thing works. Best to learn by doing and I thought wouldn’t it be nice if I could get about 20 to 50 people together.
We are now over 1370 members [1408 as of today].
I hope it looks easy but it requires a lot of love. I have welcomed each member individually. I try to read as much as I can. I have banned spammers. I have tried a lot that hasn’t worked. I keep the content fresh. I keep in contact with the members every week and I am honored to learn from each of them. It is like a Master’s Degree in Employee Engagement spending the last 18 months with such a great group of people.
How do you feel about the leadership role your website and your work as a consultant/trainer have placed you in?
I feel honored that so many people will get involved in employee engagement. I want employee engagement to be for all. It can’t be the sucking out of discretionary effort from overtaxed workers. I know that is a strong way to say it but I want everyone to fully benefit by engagement. I am not overly fond of pairing engagement with the role of employee by calling it employee engagement but that is the accepted term and I will work with it for now. It seems sometimes leaders and managers and owners forget in many ways they are employees too.
I work at leading by following well and creating a safe environment of caring.
I have developed a new model for employee engagement that I will unveil in September. I think it makes engagement so much more inclusive and connected. We need results, strategies, organizations, community & relationships, customers, personal and professional development, energy mastery, and genuine happiness. All of it for the benefit of all.
What is the most important gift you bring to your leadership?
I bring love. I love engagement and I love the people there. I want to connect with the members.
I am a good host and a welcoming host. I can seize a nugget and run with it too. Michael Stallard, one of our fine members, suggested the “movement” focus and he was spot on! I don’t just want this to be a collection of resources.
I hope that the network can be accountable for a 1% enhancement in worldwide engagement. Having said that I am not sure I want to measure it but I do want to monitor it. There is far too much survey work in employee engagement work already. I want action.
I want the employee engagement members to let us know who they are engaging with, how they are engaging with people, and the impact it is having. I hope to create opportunites for the various members to make meaningful contributions to employee engagement, the employee engagement network, and their own engagement.
I am a sucker for an anecdote and I am thinking right know of Tina, the cashier at my local gas station and how incredibily engaged and engaging she is. I just filled up the van two hours ago, so Tina is fresh in mind. She is so efficient and so connected to customers and staff. I know this sounds hokey but I want to share Tina wisdom. I will be interviewing her in the very near future. One real Tina is worth 1,000 consultants or 1,000,000 survey data points.
How do you think this work will change your life?
It has already changed my life. I will not teach what I do not live. I am challenged to engage with others and my work more fully everyday.
I have lived my life in reverse. I retired at 20 until 35. I was in semi retirement until 55 which will occur on September 24 and I will move into a working phase from 55 to 75. I very much wanted to be around home while my children were growing up and they are now 21, 18, 18 and I still need them and they still need me but I can do a bit more global work. I plan for my wife to join me as people who engage fully also re-energize through family connections and intentional disengagement.
I have found some great models of teachers and leaders who are 75 so I know I can do this too. I was so fortunate to study with Keith Johnstone who was 75 when he taught us a 10 day improvisation course last summer in Calgary Alberta.
By the way retirement and semi-retirement do not mean you don’t work; it means you work in different ways and with different motivations — more dabbling, experimenting, no racing, no need to have to acheieve. I was very improvisational from 20 to 55. By the way I am talking about the principles of improvisation, not actual on-stage improvisation. I will still be improvisational for the next 20 years but blend that into strategic-improvisation. And I love the contrast of those two terms standing together.
What wounds does it heal for you personally?
I spent 25 years being involved in teaching counselling psychology at the University of Manitoba. I always loved the wounded healer model. I think Robert Bly stated: Our wounds transformed become our gifts to our community. At times I am prone to both disengagement and procrastination. At times I can disengage from someone I care for. At times I have been quick to judge organizations, leaders, employees. Employee engagement for all keeps me moving and transforms all wounds into a gift to our community! One phrase I made up and tried to teach to my counselling students was: Life is not a problem to be solved but an experience to be lived. I want to help people fully live their experiences and part of those people ‘is me!’
I assume as someone teaching counselling psychology, that you’ve done a lot of personal work on yourself over the years. Is that right?
You are right.
As a counsellor and counsellor educator there was a lot of self-development and personal work over the years. Years ago I would have answered that question differently but today I do feel quite secure. I am ready to die happy today. I even played with that as a website for a while: www.diehappytoday.com.
I have grown slowly and ‘bumpily’ into who I am. I really do see life as an experience to be lived rather than a problem to be solved and I am more and more okay with not knowing while also expressing what I know at this point in time. Mindfulness and being more in the moment have helped. Great mentors, I’ve had different ones but I have always had one since about 25. They have all been important to me. My wife keeps me honest, gounded, and challenged.
I read somewhere that all you need for happiness is an income of about $24,000 or something like that (can’t remember the exact number) so economic security is easy for me. Work is an expression of who I am and there is a secure fusion of doing and being. As I write this I also know this has really developed a lot in the past 5 years. I love getting older and I can’t wait to grow up and be childlike forever.
To me, David models a flow of such positive, effervescent, inclusive energy that he is perfect for what he is doing — and it shows in his “results.” This is a man with a great heart, generous, deeply engaged and alive in a way many of us want to be. Communicating with David, I get the sense that he helps everyone feel successful. That sort of presence is naturally inspiring and awakening. It is a pleasure and a privilege to record some of his continuing story here.