Why Are We Unhappy When We’re Working So Hard to Be Happy? Maybe We’re Pursuing the Wrong Thing

Most of us want to be “happy.” As parents we want that for our children as well, but are we in pursuit of the wrong thing? Interestingly, even when we do achieve happiness or contentment or pleasure, it tends to be temporary, particularly if we associate happiness with acquiring something. The reward is short lived.

Also, if we’re constantly in search of happiness we likely find ourselves in a cycle of pursuit, short term reward then back to pursuit. It is not only unfulfilling, but it is ultimately exhausting and includes periods of disappointment and frustration when we’re “not happy.”

If this is correct, and a great deal of research suggests that it is, then what might be a better alternative?

Both my personal experience and a growing body of research suggest that building purpose into one’s life is much more sustainable and satisfying than pleasure, happiness, etc. This does not mean that feeling contentment or pleasure is bad nor that we shouldn’t want those experiences. It simply means that having a life worth living and feeling fulfillment over time is much more likely to come from nurturing a reason for being than from the pursuit of self-gratification.

More than a half century of living, and my more recent work as a psychotherapist, has taught me that enjoying and appreciating life is based on a fairly simple set of human needs. I’ve also come to understand that not very many of us base key decisions in our lives on those needs, which explains at least part of the dissonance that so many people are feeling!

In addition to purpose, having healthy human relationships, some sense of spirituality, gratitude, and underlying health and wellness are genuinely foundational to long term fulfillment and a life worth living. You may have noticed that this foundation is based primarily on internally derived meaning and sustenance rather than external sources of reward. It is also based on our existence being additive and beneficial at some level to others.

Although the model may be fairly simple, unlearning lifetimes of contrary beliefs and behavior is not. And even if we come to understand that we’ve likely been sold a bill of goods about much in life, actually changing how we live and what we value requires deep work and acceptance of new truths. For many of us, it actually requires a life changing crisis to nudge us forward. Regardless, it is possible at any point in life to shift from an unfulfilling pursuit of self-gratification based on external rewards to an internally focused pursuit of purpose and meaning.

And even though we all face different levels of challenge and privilege, identifying our purpose in life, creating some level of human connection, recognizing our relationship to something bigger than ourselves, and acknowledging gratitude is possible in almost all situations. In fact, one of the most eloquent descriptions of this notion can be found in Victor Frankl’s memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, about surviving nearly three years in Nazi concentration camps in World War II. While few of us will experience that depth of existential crisis, it shows the potential of human resilience.

If you’d like more information on how to implement the model described here in your own life, including both purpose and wellness, please reach out to me via a contact form or directly via email at wkp@wallacekpond.com.

Wellness as a Foundation for Mental Health

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I work with a broad range of counseling clients, who present with a wide variety of issues, some relatively benign and others devastating.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my time as a psychotherapist intern is that no matter what else you are dealing with, you will achieve better outcomes in your life if you are operating from a baseline of reasonably good health and wellness.

A good place to start is with a simple wellness inventory, which you can find here or here. Both are slightly geared toward college students, but they’re free and will apply to most anyone. Once you have the results, you’ll have an idea of which areas present the most risk to your wellness and where your relative strengths are.

In addition to the information provided by the assessments, I have created a 15-item checklist of activities to focus on relative to building greater health and wellness across multiple domains. The checklist is also free and can be used alone or with a therapist.

If you’d like to discuss your own wellness profile and strategies for building resilience, contact me directly via email, contact form, or phone at (719) 781-6349.

The Top Task for CEOs in 2022? It Might Be Managing Fear

Image credit: We Know Your Dreams

An end of year survey by Axios found that people of all political persuasions are substantially more fearful about 2022 than they were about 2021. And to be clear, they were already trepidatious about 2021. Overall, we’ve moved from 36% of the population to 54% being more fearful than hopeful—a year over year increase of 34%!

Why should this matter to CEOs? Because the most important lesson the pandemic has taught us is that people don’t stop being human at work. They bring their humanity, including their fears and aspirations, to work. When work itself is a source of stress, and when people don’t feel either safe or valued, their engagement and productivity plummet. The fact that the number one worry reported in the survey is the stability of respondents’ own jobs and the broader economy, CEOs ignore this at their own peril. The “great resignation” of 2021 makes it clear that tens of millions of employees are willing to leave their jobs if the conditions are, on balance, more negative than positive.

After jobs and the economy, the number two fear is for democracy itself, followed by healthcare. Since many Americans get their healthcare through their employer, two of the top four worries are work related!

So, what are executives to do?

First, the lessons of the initial two years of pandemic are as urgent in 2022 as they have been so far. Executives must focus on people leadership and that includes a few central issues.

  • Making the work environment safe and stable
  • Supporting employee wellbeing, including mental health
  • Focusing on coaching and development rather than performance evaluation
  • Recognizing and validating the humanity at the core of employees/personnel/workers

Leading in the current environment is more natural for some executives than others. The reality is that many leaders came up through the ranks in organizations that look little like what is described above and were trained to see employees as an expense line item whose value was measured solely by productivity. In fact, it is fair to say that in many cases people have been seen as disposable, not much different from technologies or marketing campaigns. That approach is proving to be broadly untenable in today’s world.

The most effective contemporary leaders have several traits in common. Probably most importantly, after an uncompromised focus on people, they recognize that they achieve more success through others than through their own efforts or technical expertise, which, of course, requires a focus on people! Secondly, they are comfortable, if not enthusiastic, about decentralizing control across the organization, thereby empowering the human capital under their purview. Relatedly, they reward innovation and risk-taking, which not only meets employee needs for self-efficacy and self-actualization, it also dramatically increases the organization’s capacity to operate in hyperchange, hypercompetitive markets! Lastly, effective leaders use emotional intelligence to know when to engage the people in their sphere with compassion and empathy. They are also comfortable expressing their own vulnerability and humanity, which by the way, is essential to reducing fear and creating a sense of safety. As noted in the title of this article, that may be the most important task of CEOs in 2022.

The really good news is that even leaders for whom the traits and skills described above do not match how they were developed or what they typically lean on in difficult times, it is possible to learn new ways of leading and being. At the Transformation Collaborative™, our leadership development opportunities are frankly unlike anything available elsewhere. We work with small groups to stretch leaders beyond where they’ve gone before and challenge them to consider more than they thought possible. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you transform as a leader, reach out to us here.

The Great Resignation: What We Can Learn from the Employee Exodus

Photo Credit: CFI Education

A recent article in the American Prospect  by David Dayan caught my attention with this simple quote: “You can measure a worker’s worth by how they were treated in the pandemic.”

Mark Cuban made a similar comment earlier in the pandemic to the effect that companies will be judged by how they treated employees in a time a crisis.

Of course, the pandemic of 2020, 2021, and soon to be 2022, has generated a combination of factors that are unique for just about everyone alive today, but one, unexpected outcome has been the rebellion of many workers, across the spectrum of employment, to working conditions that employees previously broadly “put up with,” despite often debilitating effects. Although we’ve seen frequent mention in the media throughout the pandemic of the need for organizations and their leaders to support their employees needs as people as well as employees, my sense is that the “great resignation” suggests that huge numbers of employers have failed the test. Of course, there are almost certainly multiple potential variables driving the exodus, such as increased savings for some families, historically low unemployment (and thus availability of other jobs), stimulus and unemployment benefits, etc. However, what is likely at the core of the massive, collective decision to quit jobs, sometimes in dramatic fashion, is the calculus now shared by so many Americans that even if they have to give up income and make different life choices, working conditions in many cases have simply become untenable to the point that they would rather make potentially substantial sacrifices to avoid the drudgery, disrespect, health-risk, and even abuse that come with many jobs. In fact, we’ve learned that even $15 or $16 per hour is not enough to compensate misery for many workers.

Just how big is the phenomenon?

In August and September of this year combined, over 6% of the entire U.S. workforce quit, followed by another 4.2 million workers in October, for a staggering total of over 12.5 million! That has never happened before in American history. This trend has continued through November and December, but we don’t have official USBLS data yet for the most recent two months. In fact, New York Times estimates that approximately 25,000,000 Americans left their jobs in the second half of 2021. And as Noreen Malone notes in the same article, “When 25 million people leave their jobs, it’s about more than just burnout. Job satisfaction has gone through the floor.”

One thing the unprecedented labor realities of the pandemic has demonstrated is that showing tangible care for employees may itself turn into a significant competitive advantage over time even if it compromises profits in the short term. And in many cases, it will actually drive growth and profits, even in the short term. An interesting example is in the shipping and logistics industry. UPS has experienced a fraction of the turnover during the pandemic experienced by FedEx and Amazon. Why might this be? UPS has a stable, unionized workforce, that not only makes more money, but receives good benefits, and works in more employee-friendly and stable environments. Amazon had to spend billions of dollars in just the second half of 2021 to hire both new and replacement workers and suffers substantial turnover. Only one small part of FedEx’s workforce is unionized, and with the exception of their pilots, have suffered significant turnover as well. To be clear, this is not an argument for unionization per se. In fact, unionization does not make sense in many smaller, modestly paid workplaces. It is an argument for recognizing that workers/personnel/employees/labor also happen to be human beings and that even when wages are low, the work environment can be fair, respectful, stable, and supportive of employee wellbeing. When it’s not, employers will pay a far higher cost in the long run.

If your organization is ready to transform its view of human capital and reap huge rewards, reach out to us at the Transformation Collaborative™ for a complimentary consult on what that might look like for you.

Using What We’ve Learned from the Pandemic to Succeed in the Future

As terrible as the pandemic has been, it has also provided some very valuable insights. In fact, no organization should get through the pandemic without a comprehensive post-mortem on what worked, didn’t work, could have been done differently, and was learned through the entire process. In what ways is the organization stronger? What fault lines were revealed? What are the greatest risks and opportunities going forward? What problems weren’t fixed or are worse? At the very least, a key responsibility of organizational leaders at this point is to carefully inventory everything they have done differently as a result of the pandemic, then assess what changes and interventions should be preserved and potentially optimized going forward. This includes processes and procedures, policies, applications of technology & automation, and ways of thinking and being. It is strategic, operational, and cultural.

One of the most interesting takeaways from the COVID crisis is the extent to which things that many believed were simply not possible beforehand became possible! The pandemic demonstrated the power of context on perspective (and proved that we have likely overstated the significance of time and place). Many people became less risk-averse and more open to experimentation. Many of us also embraced the notion of “good enough” relative to the alternative. We also discovered that, when time is of the essence, we can make decisions much more quickly than we ever did in the past. This may be a watershed for higher education in particular, which has historically been deeply risk-averse and unable to act quickly and nimbly.

A silver lining of the pandemic is not only the realization that some things, both in terms of services and educational delivery, that we previously did not think were possible or advisable, are not only possible, but in many cases have proven advantageous and even preferable. As institutions begin to assess whether or not a change/intervention merits preservation in the next normal, there are multiple potential criteria for such an evaluation. These include outcomes like convenience, time, accessibility, cost & efficiency, efficacy, accuracy, quality, ancillary benefits, and others. If you’d like a free consult on how to formulate and implement such an assessment reach out to us at the Transformation Collaborative™ and we’ll lend a hand.

Lastly, we also need to be cautious about misconstruing the nature of the interventions we have made during the pandemic. The vast majority of change has been incremental and transactional and the product of crisis management rather than genuine reinvention. We have achieved phenomenal things in the face of unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, but we also need to guard against misunderstanding the extent to which what we’ve embraced is a change in how we do something, than changing the something itself. For example, shifting financial aid to an online, self-service modality might be convenient, faster, cheaper, and preferable, but it doesn’t change or improve anything about the tuition model or how students pay for school!

The Three Most Important Things Research Has Discovered in the Last Few Years about Successful Organizations

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Gallup, originally a public opinion polling company from the 1930s, has been gathering data on the U.S. and global workplace for 50 years. Their combination of reputation for independence and quality, as well as their unrivaled database of workplace data, has allowed them to mine significant conclusions about what matters in organizations. Three of the most salient discoveries of the last several years, right up through 2021, relate to the criticality of 1) employee engagement, 2) organizational purpose, and 3) coaching as the single most productive activity a manager can do. In fact, there are likely not three more powerful causative variables for success than these three.


Why does employee engagement matter? Engaged employees are far more productive and the work they do tends to result in greater performance, particularly around outcomes that are most important to the organization. They also tend to be more resilient in the face of challenges, have a greater sense of their own efficacy, are able to work with less direct supervision, manifest a more internalized sense of accountability, and are more likely to feel that they are an important part of the organization. Unfortunately, 50 years of research by Gallup suggests that only about a third of employees in the U.S. regularly display behaviors associated with “engagement.”

Fortunately, there are traits and behaviors associated with engagement, which can be observed in both employees and leaders. They include things such as intentionality, planning, collaboration, internalized motivation and accountability, resilience, and a tendency to play to strengths to get the job done—including accepting challenges that stretch one’s capabilities. Engaged workers are also comfortable working for extended periods without supervisor feedback, but do not hesitate to request input when they believe the boss might have an insight that would be helpful. In other words, they don’t reach out to a supervisor for approval or permission, they reach out for support.


It’s widely accepted that culture plays a powerful role in determining how people in organizations behave, but we rarely talk about an organization’s purpose in the context of its success. While there are many cultural values that support the achievement of strategic objectives and operational KPIs, purpose turns out to be at the top of the list, as reported by Gallup in the fall of 2021.

This trend has been at play for years, but the pandemic has accelerated a seismic shift in how people, both employees and consumers, feel about purpose in the companies they work for and buy from. In fact, majorities of both millennials (now the single largest consumer group in the U.S.) and Gen Zers, evaluate alignment in values as an element of buying decisions and there is a growing expectation that companies don’t just deliver a quality product at a fair price, but that the world is, in some way, better off because the company is in business. And, as Gallup notes, unlike their Gen X and Boomer elders, younger employees have no compunction about publicly protesting their own companies if they feel leadership is failing to meet ethical obligations. One might argue that the flip side of businesses abandoning any pretense of loyalty or commitment to their employees has freed employees of any sense of obligation to the company—even to the extent of protecting an employer’s public image. A genuinely purpose driven culture is one powerful way for management to address that challenge.

This notion of “net-positive” organizations, in which all stakeholders benefit directly and the collective “we” benefits at least indirectly, while aspirational, is becoming part of how both internal and external stakeholders evaluate institutions.


Gallup recently used AI algorithms to process millions of personnel data files and interviews and what they discovered is that the single, number one most important thing managers can do to support success in their employees is to engage in regular coaching.

“Gallup has discovered — through studying what the best managers do differently — that great managing is an act of coaching, not one of directing and administrating.”

In fact, coaching is so powerful that Jim Clifton, Gallup Chairman, recommends getting rid of all performance rating activities and shifting to regular, goals based coaching conversations. Yes, this would be a transformational cultural and operational change for most organizations, but the performance outcomes would be greater than from any other single initiative an organization could pursue.

So, if you are in a leadership role, the evidence suggests that engagement, purpose, and coaching should be on your list of prioritized initiatives regardless of the nature of your organization. If you want to engage in transformative change that generates game-changing results, you know where to start.

If you’d like to talk about transformation, reach out to us at the Transformation Collaborative™, and we’ll help you plan for a relevant, robust, and sustainable future.

Risking the Future Because You’re Too Busy Now

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The vast majority of the 1,500 or so higher education institutions that merged, were acquired under duress, or simply closed since 2010 did not explore or implement options for reinvention. Some engaged in deep expense cuts, layoffs, elimination of programs, or launching Hail Mary new programs, etc., but those were band aids on gaping flesh wounds. They were last ditch attempts to manage liquidity rather than efforts to transform themselves to meet the structural challenges of a declining market and huge shifts in buying decisions by students.

Even before the pandemic, many, many college administrators were engaged in fire-fighting and crisis management—admittedly exhausting work—but not work that solves systemic problems and a diminishing value proposition for customers.

In my work and dialog with a wide-variety of higher education leaders, one very disturbing trend that I see permeating all sectors of higher education, is the decision to delay or simply avoid initiatives that will increase the likelihood of thriving in the future due to challenges faced in the present. In short, most institutions are genuinely risking their futures because they are too busy with the present. While this same phenomenon resulted in the outright closure of over 1,200 institutions between 2010 and 2020, the risk is even higher now because[1]:

  • The number of post-secondary alternatives available to consumers in the market is greater.
  • Public opinions about traditional higher education and its related ROI are worse.
  • Average institutional financial health is worse.
  • Demographics are less favorable.
  • The number of potential students who can or will pay or borrow for credit-bearing, degree programs are fewer than in the previous decade.
  • In fact, the enrollment decline between 2020 and 2021 alone is approximately half a million students, taking the ten year total over 3,000,000.

Tragically, over the last ten-plus years, the vast majority of schools that merged, were acquired in distress, or closed, met their fate without engaging in any transformative initiatives. They simply rode a dying horse into the ground. Potentially more tragically, because we should know better, I see the same dynamic in play today.

Of course, managing through disruption and crisis consumes huge amounts of energy and bandwidth. Moreover, most leadership teams had no previous lived experience of running the daily operation, managing through disruption, and planning for a transformed future all at the same time before the pandemic. However, my greatest fear is that many colleges and universities will win the battle (survive the short-term crisis) and lose the war (enter a state of irrelevance and fiscal paralysis or simply cease to operate) because they were too busy in the present to ensure relevance, sustainability, and prosperity in the future.

In effect, many leaders are currently on a path in which their legacy will be that they kept the doors open during the crisis, but were at the helm when the ship foundered and sank.

A Call to Action

When thinking about transformative opportunities for the future, if you’ve heard yourself or your leadership say things like, “We’re just too busy,” “There is too much on our plate,” “We don’t have the resources,” “We’re too tired from the pandemic,” “We need to fix other things first,” or other versions on a similar theme, BEWARE: you are rehearsing your excuses for when it’s too late. Just change each of the statements above to the past tense and you’ve moved from today’s lost opportunity and leadership failure to tomorrow’s regret.

What I’ve also observed—and this is equally critical—is that although few higher education institutions are both willing and able to engage in the kind of reinvention that will greatly increase the likelihood of surviving and thriving now and into the next normal, for those that are at least willing, there is a path forward. There are ways to “borrow” bandwidth, resources, expertise, etc. for assessing the current state, identifying the highest ROI initiatives, and executing on those opportunities. The Transformation Collaborative™ was designed from the ground up to be an embedded partner, with access to many individual and organizational affiliates, who, unlike typical consultancies, share accountability for execution and results. At least talk to us. Even if you’re busy. There is no obligation and you may be just in time to save your future.

[1] https://www.chronicle.com/article/undergraduate-enrollment-continues-its-slide-dipping-3-2-percent-from-last-year?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_3087091_nl_Academe-Today_date_20211026&cid=at&source=ams&sourceid=



Game Changing Leadership in a Time of Profound Change – Webinar

Recorded Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Higher education is at a critical inflection point. The traditional financial and operational models that have sustained us for decades and that are designed to largely perpetuate the status quo are broken. The depth and breadth of current challenges requires a major rethinking and reinvention of the higher education system. And yet, most colleges and universities and their leaders have little or no core competency in what can be a really difficult and complex change process. What’s more, there are many structural impediments to change including the academic culture and high fixed overhead to name just a couple. That’s a tough leadership challenge!

In this webinar, Wallace Pond, experienced transformational change leader, will discuss how we got here, why transformation is the required path forward for many institutions, and what execution of transformative change looks like in practice.

Wallace Pond has been a transformational change leader for decades, serving in multiple CEO, executive, and partnership roles. Wallace is a founder of Idea Pathway and the Transformation Collaborative, supporting transformative thinking and operational excellence across all segments of higher education and the private-sector. He is also author of the recently released book, Leadership in the Real World: Hard Won Lessons from Twenty Years as a Chief Executive in Turbulent Times (2020).

Get Out of Your Lane

Dr. Joel English, Exec VP at AIM, Centura College, and Tidewater Tech, and Advisor at the Transformation Collaborative™, just published a new blog post on the importance of being willing to frequently step outside whatever you’ve been led to believe is your “lane.”

He astutely notes that, “Stark dividing lines might be good for street traffic. Lanes may be good for bowling. But I don’t think they are great for institutions, nor for impactful leaders within institutions.”


I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Stay in your lane.”  It’s certainly an easy phrase to say, especially when you’re feeling criticism or conflict from someone outside of your department.  “Stay in your lane” is a common phrase used in many different situations—that’s what makes it a cliché.  And using clichéd phrases, because they are familiar, punchy, and commonly accepted, can make us feel like we need no further justification.  When we tell someone to stay in their lane, we have the sense that we need no other argument:  They should stay out of areas where they have no business, authority, or experience.

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A Critical Key to Your Leadership Success: Keeping Your Best People

As organizations become more complex and the success of leaders becomes more tied to what their employees accomplish than to their own technical skills or task completion, building and retaining your human capital is becoming central to the viability and success of all leaders. And, unlike technology or fiscal capital, human capital (and teamwork) is a competitive advantage that cannot be commoditized. If you care about your own success as a leader, you’ll care about keeping your employees and particularly your best people! If you need a financial argument, replacing employees can cost as much as 200% of annual their salary.

There is a spectrum of commitment to employee retention across organizations, with some basically ignoring retention as a purposeful activity and others investing significant effort and resources. What is interesting is that most employers misunderstand what employees actually value most. As a result, even where there are employee retention efforts, they often focus on the wrong things. Most typically organizations believe that compensation and benefits are core to employee retention. While the research confirms that employees need “adequate” compensation and appreciate generous benefits, actual employee retention is usually driven by other factors. And it seems that we fail to get this right early on because over 30% of new hires quit their jobs within six months! Likewise, at any given time, about 25% of all employees are “retention risks.”

What the research shows is that while employees will leave a job for improved compensation and benefits, those are actually lower on the list of importance of what they want from work than other items. Most studies put compensation anywhere from number 4 to 8 on employee lists of priorities.

So, what should you do to keep more of your employees?

Assuming that compensation and benefits are “adequate,” your leadership focus needs to be on the work environment and the work experience. There will always be turnover, but it’s become clear what factors limit the loss of employees over time.

Crunching lots of data, Facebook recently found that people stayed with the company when the following three things were true: They enjoyed their work, they used their strengths more often, and they believed they were growing professionally. All of these factors superseded compensation and benefits. As Lori Goler, Head of People at Facebook says, “If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work.”

Although there is some variability in the research, there is also a strong consensus about what factors support employee retention over time. The most important variables tend to be:

  • Flexibility and Autonomy
  • Appreciation/Recognition
  • Professional Growth and a Visible Career Path
  • Engagement and Purpose
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Rewarding Relationships
  • Job Security
  • Ethical, Transparent Managers

Even though the prioritization is often somewhat different from individual to individual, compensation almost always shows up in the middle of the list or lower. As a manager, while you must compensate people equitably, it is liberating to know that your retention efforts are not only about money. On the other hand, creating an environment and work experience that will retain your people is a lot harder than just writing bigger checks!

The good news is that much of your effort toward employee retention also applies to other leadership imperatives around healthy organizations, empowering employees, sustainability and a number of other things you need to be doing anyway. And, in the end, improving retention is a win-win proposition that provides a positive, re-enforcing cycle for everyone involved.