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Zombies to Zealots
Reawaken the Human Spirit at Work!
By Darelyn 'DJ' Mitsch
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 Darelyn 'DJ' Mitsch
All rights reserved.
Zombie or Zealot?
Here's the scary truth.
The Zombie Apocalypse is upon us, signaling that this is our time to awaken the others and get moving from darkness and daily despair back into the light.
A viral epidemic of numbing out is taking place in most organizations, which have been overrun by people who have lost their inner spark, motivation, and zeal for their work. Silently trudging through the hallways, stumbling hollow-eyed through the workweek, many people have sold their souls for a paycheck and are experiencing little meaning on the job. You know who these zombies are and maybe can even relate to them. It really doesn't matter what positions they hold. They share their doom, despair, and misery — sometimes shouting or mumbling directions so other people also become dazed and confused — in ways that contaminate or infect their teams and the larger organization.
Recently, I received e-mails with raised flags and cries for help from executive and human resources clients I've coached over the years in global organizations that are navigating big changes in their strategies. They are sensing the zombie apocalypse, even if they don't have a name for it, as evidenced by the language in their e-mails:
"Ugh! It's like the walking dead around here given the news last week!"
"Our teams are being blown apart and disembodied weekly."
"Well the new company that acquired us is saying all the right things, but their actions are not congruent. They are actually rude and dismissive of all the things we have done to build a company worthy of their attention.
"Welcome to this week's 'Soul-Sucking Sh#& Show'"
"I have no connection to the people around here anymore. I sit in the cafeteria, staring out at a sea of people I don't know, and I am hesitant to connect because the emotional costs are too high. I know that some of them will be on the cut list next week."
"It's like Groundhog Day around here. Same old crap from the same old sources."
That kind of commentary is not unusual these days. These people, like you, are working like crazy, asked to do more and more, feeling like they can never do or be enough. Most of you don't know what enough really means, but you know in your gut it includes a brain drain, and you've recently noticed that your feet are dragging and many of the people around you are sleepwalking through the day. That's how this contagious virus of the disembodied works. It does not discriminate. It hits executives, leaders, and employees at every level. Even if you are still happy or in a new job and are not a party to predatory acts, you can see it happening around you and fear you may become infected!
If you feel like you have become a working zombie, you're not alone. A 2014 Gallup Workforce study found that seven out of ten workers, a full 70 percent of the U.S. workforce, identify themselves as disengaged, with only 30 percent reporting that they are actively engaging in fulfilling and meaningful work. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that the U.S. workforce, as of November 2015, is around 149 million workers, that means that over 104 million workers — your friends, your family, your colleagues — are not happy. Many are not giving their best effort because they don't see any link between their work and meaning. They're not contributing their wealth of talent and resources because they don't see the point of doing so. This is one of the biggest problems any company or executive faces.
No one takes a job with the intention of being miserable and dissatisfied. The fact that the majority of workers do end up being so unhappy begs a couple of questions:
1. What are we all going to do in response to this epidemic?
2. What can an individual — what can you — do now?
One option is to personally shift your perspective and get your groove back at work: You can pursue the right work and become a change agent — a person who risks courageous acts of enthusiasm and helps to unleash possibility every day — right where you are now. Or you can run and hide as you await the next round of mergers, take a package, and be on your merry one-year hiatus while you retool to take another job, where you will encounter these same people and situations.
That's right: The second option is only a temporary solution, because if you look around, most organizations have the same types of people, regardless of what products or services they offer. And the workforce engagement studies are global, so if you are considering running away to another country, take a look at the unemployment rates and the engagement scores there first. No matter where you sign on for your next job, you are going to bump into workplace zombies. They are, indeed, everywhere. When you think of it this way, reengagement, or finding your zeal where you are now, becomes an option worth considering.
My observations and research are derived from over twenty years leading a dynamic company of coaches to support leaders to resuscitate historically great and high growth organizations through culture-changing initiatives. We accomplished this in part by challenging leaders to get real — become more authentic — and to focus on energizing people as their key business strategy. Their own heroes' journeys, turnaround efforts, and vulnerabilities inspired me, and it is time to share what I have learned in hopes that doing so will help others find their inner spark and shift from zombie to zealot.
Over the years, we have framed many of the coaching initiatives by challenging our clients to see work as an extraordinary game. In the process, we have found that people everywhere are ready to play such a game and to help drive the changes needed to lift their organizations. They step up, communicate requests instead of complain, and take the lead when it's time. Everywhere we go, that single shift of focus from "work" to "game" has helped to change the water cooler dialogue throughout organizations from "I can't" to "we can" within a few short months.
We have discovered that not only are people ready to get their game on, they are longing for someone to actually listen to them, heed what they say, clarify who they really are, and help them find their way back to life. When they are given these gifts of attention from those around them, especially their leaders, people become excited, working zealots who have a genuine sense that they are in control of their destinies and that they can and are contributing to the organization.
Work and Play: Same Game
The word work comes from the Middle English word weorc, is related to words like travail and wreak (as in havoc), and was once closely associated with struggle and torture. I hope that doesn't give you comfort.
Work became more commonly used about two hundred years ago to define the shift in energy through the introduction of a change agent in the field of physics. It was a verb that captured the manipulation of energy. Now it is a verb, a noun, an adjective, and central to all of our language, and people assume everyone means the same thing when they talk about work. But do they?
My children attended Montessori schools when they were really young. Montessori teachers interchanged the word work with play, and each morning and afternoon, my kids took their game boards, puzzles, modeling clay, or art to mats where they would "work" until they were ready to change their projects or lessons. Work and play were the same thing because they were young and impressionable. For my kids and many others, including me, this concept stuck because it is more fun to view our work through the lens of play or creativity. I intentionally interchange work with play within these pages. I also refer to what we individuals do with our days as "the game of work!" Approaching work as a game allows employees to play with ideas instead of struggling to get it all right. The notion of a game allows for magic in the spaces where stress on performance might otherwise stop workers. We can be lighter. We can be more creative. We can break some stupid rules. We can make up new agreements. We can pretend. We can go for outrageous new goals. We can call it quits when our approach doesn't work anymore. We can morph the game plan. We can own the rules of the game. We can celebrate winning whenever we want to for whatever we deem worthy, because it is our game and it feeds our souls. If this book calls to you, I hope it is because you are ready to play a new and more meaningful game. You know deep inside that to rehumanize work, we all have some work to do together. It is beyond time for a conscious reawakening of the human spirit, that corporeal intelligence that comes from deep within us and that connects us to each other, flowing as an energetic stream of information and master intelligence.
Z2Z Archetypes: Zombies and Zealots
Once happy people, working zombies ultimately perpetuate fear and breed discontent, dissatisfaction, and passivity, feeding on the brainpower and energy of others. No one is born a zombie. Yet we can all numb out, lose hope, or become infected when we abandon our sense of meaning and purpose. So how do we define Zombie?
Working Zombie: An overworked, dehumanized soul and shell of a once full-of-life human being; one who lost enthusiasm, zeal, and passion for work; an infectious saboteur who has disengaged at work; s/he commiserates with others, fueling tensions, ritualistically sucking the life out of the company. Also known as a 60-80 hour a week sleepwalker who stares at their mobile devices over dinner with family and friends, unable to break away from the tethers of a demanding role.
In contrast to zombies, let's consider those folks who operate from a place of zeal. These exuberant people start from a place of happiness wherever they are, and they show up that way at work. Their workday is not without challenges, but these folks have a sense of purpose that keeps them motivated to work through the challenges, in spite of bullying bosses or frustrating circumstances like having their team consistently blown apart and reconfigured through organizational changes. Zealots are able to find or create meaning in their work. They look for the lead. They look beyond the internal operations and consider the possibility that what they do really matters to other people and the planet. Zealots don't feel trapped or alone at work because they attract and create a community of like-minded others to work alongside them. The fact of the matter is zealed-out employees do have one characteristic in common with zombies: They are contagious. This contagion is the antidote for the ick, and this zeal energizes people in ways that great leaders hope and pray will go viral.
Zealot: A champion for the human spirit. Zealots are passionate, exuberant, courageous human beings; they are contagious enthusiasts who make no distinction between labor and leisure, vocation and avocation, heart's desire and imagination. Masterful in the art of living, they celebrate every scary step, path, and job they take — learning from every experience, relishing the victories, rising to any challenge, and leaving others to decide if they are working or playing. In their experience, it is always both.
Becoming a zealot is not about turning into some uber-enthused activist who jumps up and down on his desk or a stage; instead it is someone like you and me who knows in their heart that they can live and work in a purposeful way. As for those of you who find yourselves in leadership roles, you are now part of the Zombie Rescue seam, like it or not. In order to help with the rescue, there are some things we will all need in our Zombie rescue kits. First let's understand and recall some reasons why people slip into this frozen, numbed out discontent.
The Slippery Slope to Becoming a Zombie: Tripping Down Memory Lane
Have you ever stopped to consider the reasons people disengage and become dissatisfied at work? Everyone starts a new job with some level of enthusiasm and hope. Unless they are taking a job to nowhereland just to pay the rent, the job holds some promise that a dream will be fulfilled. But when people experience the chaos of change or feel out of control, they go within and play smaller. When we start out enthused, we can see the challenges, changes and chaos around us as part of the work — things that we include in our daily celebration of life. But when we go over the edge and slide down the slippery slope to zombie, these same challenges, changes, and chaos send us into despair and eventually we smell or help spread the dirt and doom.
Where would you plot yourself right now on the Workplace Energy Scale that follows? Are you somewhere on the curve up or somewhere on the slippery slope down to sleepwalker, brain-sucking zombie?
This curve is not intended to represent a traditional bell curve where the majority of the population falls in the middle with a few straggling outliers on the right and left; rather this curve represents a graphic illustration of the stages we may go through on the way up from zombie at the bottom of the graph on the left side to zealot and the stages we encounter on the way down the slippery slope back toward zombiedom on the right hand side. Note how this scale captures on the left side your energy for work and life. The space in the middle represents the picture of the daily onslaught of changes, challenges, and chaos. The right side indicates the states of emotion and reactions to changes, challenges, chaos, and other obstacles when our energy and focus is off. Pick a scenario at work and you can quickly identify your energetic response to it in one of those words, such as avoiding, fearful or disengaged.
Starting at the bottom left side, the scale moves from a status of inertia (zombied) to surviving to exuberant — to zealot — with other stages identifying when our energy and capacity for work increases. Pay special attention to the words "I'm fine" as a benchmark. "Fine" is what people typically say when they really aren't fine but cannot muster the energy to say how they really feel. How to move beyond fine to engaged is a daily endeavor of conscious choices for many people and a conundrum for those who lead them. Moving from engaged to thriving, inspired, ignited, and exuberant requires internal motivations and perspectives, in addition to a dose of positive, external stimulus. Take account of your current status and notice your responses to others when they ask how you are doing today. Then ask yourself, "Where is my energy focused when it comes to my performance?"
Now let's consider how a person can get pulled down the right-hand side of the scale: the 5 lippery slope. Most of us start at the top, with being resilient, which is the state in which we naturally function to navigate the onslaught of changes and chaos we experience each day. Yet, being resilient at all costs for a stretch of time can send you sliding, especially if it pulls you away from your values, vision, or desires. When you grow weary of being so resilient, you can become nostalgic, reminiscing about the good old days, and move to avoidance and bump up against many of our biggest fears. Those fears include, but are not limited to, how we feel about a lack of resources; loss of position, power, or love; possible death of the ego or physical death; or threats. People easily lose footing when running full force into the workweek. We can all become dispirited as we slide headfirst into overwhelmed and zombie states, without looking up to even question reality, the truth in a situation, or where we got tripped up.
If we are in a healthy state and are engaged, thriving, inspired, and on our way to our happy, zealed-out space, we can bump into challenges, changes and chaos and see hidden possibilities. If we are trying to move back up the slippery slope and encounter similar situations, they can become debilitating. It's as if we are constantly running up a down escalator that has been set on high speed.
The truth is that most people who are now acting zombie-like were once full of vigor and life. Some were zealots for their company or a noble cause served by their company, and some were activist leaders who set out to play a big game on this planet. Over the course of our careers, we've all experienced chaotic and frequent changes in leadership, gotten lost in mergers and acquisitions, worked for ill-equipped or bullying bosses, had insufficient resources, had expectations dashed, sensed a general lack of meaning and vision, and witnessed a disregard for humanity. As a result, we have grown weary, losing hope that things could or would ever change. Becoming compromised and dehumanized has infected otherwise bright and energetic human beings, leaving many as dull versions of their once brilliant selves.
Excerpted from Zombies to Zealots by Darelyn 'DJ' Mitsch. Copyright © 2016 Darelyn 'DJ' Mitsch. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsHow to Read or Use This Book, ix,
Introduction: Why I Wrote Zombies to Zealots, xi,
Zombie or Zealot?,
Identify where you are on the slippery slope to Zombiedom, 1,
Four Paths Back into the Light,
Come back to life: call your spirit backinto your vocation, 27,
Amaze yourself: learn from stories of others who came back to life, 51,
Full integration, body-mind-spirit; reconnecting with others, 93,
Shifts to make as you start or join the movement to rehumanize work, 125,
Resources: Zombie Rescue Team Toolkit, 177,
Recommended Reading List, 179,
Soulful Gratitude, 183,
About the Author, 187,