The Crisis of Disengagement—A Tip Sheet by Adam Fletcher

Personal Engagement is the sustained connection a person has to the world within themselves.

—Adam F. C. Fletcher

In places throughout our society, people are wrestling with a challenge that feels insurmountable: People just don’t care, they aren’t showing up, or they’re not doing what we need them to, what they’re supposed to do, or even what they want to do.

Causes of Disengagement

First obvious in schools, in the 1970s this was originally identified as a dropout problem. After struggling through early community action agencies, Rock the Vote type projects, and national service programs, in 1999 a sociologist named Robert Putnam put a face to the problem when he published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Putnam successfully diagnosed the problem with society’s social capital, which is a metaphor for the interactive networks people keep with other people who live and work around each other. Since we’re constantly exchanging these visible and invisible gestures in conscious and unconscious ways, social capital is what allows our society to actually work.

What Disengagement Causes

Wonder why it feels like our society doesn’t actually work? According to Putnam, its because social capital isn’t being circulated like it used to be. Given the emergence of anarchistic capitalism and hyper-libertarianism, I believe we’re reaching a fever pitch and revealing the real problem, which I am calling the Crisis of Disengagement.

Psychologists talk about this as a phenomenon that needs addressed through intrinsic-extrinsic motivation theory and goal theory, and the need to investigate the gaps between people, as well as what possible ways to maintain or stimulate peoples’ motivations to exchange social capital. They believe environments can be intentionally maintained to enhances the self-concept, social efficacy, and a sense of volition as well as self-determination to circumvent the demise of social capital. And all that’s fascinating to me, and I’m going to continue studying it to learn more.

Essential Learning

Adam training youth at Eastern Washington University in 2012.

However, I think we need an accessible approach to the Crisis of Disengagement for everyone, not just academics. So let me name and define what I think we’re talking about here:

  • Engagement is any sustained connection anyone has to anything in the world around them and within themselves.
  • Disengagement is the absence of sustainability in our connections.

That said, the Crisis of Engagement is a solvable problem, much like poverty and war. As Nelson Mandela said,

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

Disengagement is a solvable problem.

My work is about helping YOU solve the Crisis of Engagement. Check out the rest of the Personal Engagement Tip Sheets to learn more!

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10 Ways Motivators Stay Motivated


What drives the people who encourage people to stay motivated?

Recently, I’ve been considering what keeps motivating people motivated. Whether you are workplace supervisors, social workers, professional speakers, parents or classroom teachers, if you are a motivator you have to stay motivated. How do you do that?

I have spent a career working with people who motivate people. Sometimes they do it on accident, and other times they do it on purpose. In my workshops with more than 10,000 motivators over the last decade, I’ve learned many ways these people stay on top of their game. Following are some of them.

1. Avoid the Motivational Traps.

There are three traps facing every person who motivates others: 1) All style and no substance; 2) Knock but nobody’s home, and; 3) Believing the hype. About the first, don’t try to be something you aren’t. With the second, practice being there for others by being present and avoiding distractions. And regarding the third, remember that the seductive powers of flattery are always looking for a victim; you can stand beyond their reach by staying humble, practicing gratitude and constantly acknowledging and accepting your mistakes, and correcting them if possible.

2. Lookout for Cynicism – Your Own and Others. 

Unmotivated people look for fraudulence and gimmicks using cynicism as a knife. They see through fakery and deceit quickly, and challenge incompetence. If you know the subject you’re working on, constantly seek to expand your knowledge, gain practical experience however you can, and be empathetic to learn from the people you’re serving.

3. Find the Motivation BEHIND the Motivation. 

There is always something within us that drives us. If you are reading this article, there is something driving you. But behind that drive lies a deeper reason. Through concentrated self-reflection, you can find the motivation behind the motivation for you. When you’ve found that place, you’ll be able to relate to others in a more genuine way.

4. Get Real.

Stay away from anything that’s too intellectual or theoretical. Avoid speaking in hypotheticals and veer away from hyperbole. People want what is real, because that’s what they can relate to. If you want to stay motivated you have to stay grounded on the earth with the people you’re trying to motivate.

5. Don’t Try to Motivate Other People. 

Speak your truth, and others will be motivated by you. If you seek to motivate others, you will come off as shallow, disrespectful and even callous. Share your authentic self by sharing what drives you, what fears you have and how you actually overcome challenges, instead of spouting out cliches.

6. Don’t Try to Be Positive All of the Time.

Somedays even the most motivated people wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Motivated people are merely focused on what drives them; positivity is a happy by-product of living your passion. Don’t try to be a happy machine; be a real person, and let yourself have bad days when they come. Challenging times don’t mean we’re not motivated; they mean we have another motivation beyond the obvious.

7. Let the Well Run Deep.

People who motivate people have something within them that’s deeper than what shows on the exterior; however, that doesn’t mean motivators need to wear that on the outside. On the contrary, sometimes we have to hold our cards close to our chest. But we should still acknowledge to ourselves what the deepest things inside us are that drive us and allow us to motivate others.

8. Recognize Different Responses. 

Some people are motivated by flash and bang, while others are motivated by depth and substance. Some people have loud, abrasive or aggressive approaches while for others, their presence is presence enough. None of those are right or wrong; they’re only different. Motivated motivators recognize different responses and make appropriate adjustments that fit their own styles.

9. See that Everyone Has the Potential to Motivate Others.

Some people run away from their potential while others actively suffocate and smother it. Others embrace it and flash it so loudly so brightly it burns out. Still others walk with it, gently and consistently, building it and stoking it slowly and with consistently until its a constant in all of their life, all of the time – and that’s what I’m working for. Whatever your approach is, see that everyone can motivate others, whether they’re doctors or fast food workers, poets or presidents.

10. Live Your Truth.

Whether you motivate clients from behind a desk everyday or walk the streets trying to motivate a sale, live your truth as much as you can. Don’t be two-faced, tell lies or act like you’re something that you’re not. If you don’t think you can motivate people today, stop trying for the day. But remember the rest of the steps I outlined here, then get on your horse again tomorrow. If you think you can motivate others but aren’t, stop waiting and get to it! Starting with your kids or friends, be a motivated person whose example enlivens and motivates others.

These lessons aren’t just made up.

I know these are real partly because they’re based on my conversations with other people and learning from what they’ve done. However, I also know they’re real because they are the lessons I’ve learned. I have stumbled and fallen, felt unmotivated and disappointed people before. I learn though, and that’s what I want to share here.

Do your work and be who you are, and if you motivate others they’ll let you know. If you want to motivate others, don’t set yourself on a pedestal and expect your followers to be instantly motivated. Instead, spend time building your expertise and deepening your know-how. There will come a point when you’ll know its time.

If you’re already a motivator, I hope this article has reminded you how to stay up. If you want to become one, I hope this has given you some ideas.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!