Pursue personal growth. I’m constantly looking for chances to improve, discover new perspectives, and enhance my abilities. Personal growth isn’t only for my benefit — it also enables me to back my team and make sure they’re flourishing.

Quiet quitting is the emerging phenomenon of employee disengagement, essentially quitting on the job. What strategies do high-impact leaders deploy to motivate themselves and those around them to move from quiet quitting to quiet committing? Because, at its core, there is no change without commitment. Commitment to change ideas. Change beliefs. Change perspectives. Change routines, rituals and boundaries. Organizations change one commitment at a time. One leader at a time. As part of our series about “Quiet Committing: The Top Five Commitments High Impact Leaders Make & Keep To Themselves Daily”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zack Hughes.

Zack Hughes is an entrepreneur who’s built a business portfolio of success in a short amount of time. He’s a former US Army Special Forces soldier who earned valedictorian of his Special Forces class. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree and has led teams in the hundreds. Zack currently employs Navy SEALs, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms and veterans. Zack has coached hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years. He owns businesses in multiple verticals and leads teams here in the United States and leads teams globally.

Thank you for making time for our visit. What was the first job you had, and how did that job shape the leader you are today?

I’ve worked since the age of 14. My first job was working for my entrepreneur and veterinary uncle, scooping poop from dog kennels. My uncle grew one of the largest veterinary practices in the DFW area and scooping poop and getting attacked by his angry cats while watching him build this empire was awesome for my development early on. It showed me how to work hard, how to do the things that matter and it showed me that if you build something over a long period of time, it can work. And my time in special forces is where that idea of hard work really thrived for the first time in my life and now in business as well. So that first job shaped me as a leader because I witnessed my uncle doing the small things as well. He was also walking dogs, he was also shoveling poop, he was also working seven days a week. He was also the only veterinarian in the office, and now he’s got one of the largest firms in the city and this is the eighth largest city in the United States. So it was awesome watching him do that.

We’re talking about quiet quitting in this series. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from a job you decided to quit?

So quiet quitting, I think, is a large problem. And as leaders, that’s sort of our problem, right? This isn’t a culture problem. This isn’t an age problem. This isn’t an outside problem that’s on employees or citizens of the country. As a leader, we gotta put that problem on our shoulders and we gotta fix it. And so the truth is quitting a job can feel great and it really can help you individually in your profession but I would argue that quitting things and kind of jumping around does some damage internally to your drive and to your self-worth and to the idea that you’re a hardworking person. And so, yes, it could help you professionally because maybe you go to this next job and you get new skills or you get paid more but fundamentally, you’re not building a network of individuals that want to help you along the way. You’re kind of burning bridges, right, by quietly quitting, which is essentially ghosting in my opinion. I would argue here that it could help you professionally but it does more harm than good because you don’t have the confidence of knowing that you crushed something and you left it well and you have the confidence of knowing that you skated out the back door when nobody was really looking. And unfortunately, subconsciously, our body and our mind needs to know that we’re winning on all fronts. We need to know that we helped people and we left on good terms. We may not know that but our body and our mind wants us to do that. That’s when we know we’re at peak and we’re working really hard. And so quiet quitting also burns the bridges with the team, with the stakeholders, with the employers, with the entrepreneurs. If you look back in your 20 year career and you’ve accumulated people that want to help you at every stage of your life that you worked for or worked with or teams you’re with, you’re going to go much further in life and that’s just a fact. It’s not really debatable in my mind. I’ve seen that through special forces, through being an entrepreneur, through leading companies and running organizations of tens of hundreds of people. And if you consistently burn bridges, you’re going to be a person that does that and you’re going to be conditioned to think that that’s the way to do it. And it’s not. If you want to go further in life, you gotta go with people. If you want to go fast, you go by yourself, right? Quit one job, go work at another. And so if you want to go fast, you go by yourself. If you want to go far in life or deep in your profession, you need people to help you. Quietly quitting is actually doing more damage than it is helping.

Employee Engagement is top of mind for most organizations. How do you define an engaged employee?

All right, so stakeholders, a great employee does their job. They help the team and they’re committed. So they have ideas, they have concepts, they have questions that they can bring to the organization. They 
think of things in terms of responsibility. I’m responsible for this department. I need to make it work well. I need to help our customers. I need to find efficiencies. I need to think about it a little bit differently, right? So that’s what an engaged employee is. A normal employee comes in, he checks in, he does his job, he tries to leave as fast as possible. He doesn’t care about the mission, he’s not excited about growing it, he’s not excited about the people, he just wants to do his job. An engaged employee looks for ways to bring efficiencies into the workplace, finds things better, asks questions, and delivers for the customers, right? And then they can bring in other key stakeholders into the community. This is where the difference is, I think, between an engaged employee and not. They help you find better hires, they look for things that we should reach out to people and invite them to things or we should hire new people, or we should have these new ideas, or we should collaborate with somebody. A good, engaged employee will bring in other key stakeholders into your organization that will help you get to the next level.

Say more about your Employee Engagement portfolio. What’s working? What’s not working? And what are you piloting now to address the Quiet Committing trend?

In terms of employee engagement, what’s working is giving people leadership; what’s working is giving people core values; what’s working is handing over an organization to your employees that cares about them, that shows them if they work hard, they can manage teams in the future. They can have something to grasp onto, that they’re valued, that you want them to ask questions and be that engaged employee. You need to tell them that matters. You need to steer them in the right direction when they have ideas and concepts. You need to use them if they work, you need to publicly tell people that they’re helping. I think one of the things I’m doing really good is when somebody’s doing something well, I try to tell it to the whole community — that’s customers and clients and a lot of our business. “Hey, Kai’s doing well. Hey, John did a good job. Hey Johnny, I appreciate you building this,” and you tell everybody out loud. What’s working is giving people runway and showing them that they can think and they can be a contributor. And you’ll find out really quick if that person wants to be that type of engaged employee, if you allow them to, or they won’t. And then you need to move on because that’s how that works.

What’s not working is thinking about employees as a cog in the wheel. And what do I mean by that is a person that has one step, one assembly line process. “I’m going to pick up this part and I’m gonna put it over here.” That’s not working. They need depth, they need a runway, they need a future, and they need to see that we’re growing. What’s not working is getting them in one specific role, never changing it, never developing them, and never providing an area for them to learn new things, to stretch their mind, and to try new projects. It’s not going to work. That’s how people quietly quit over time because they don’t feel valued. Even if they don’t know that they don’t feel valued, they don’t feel valued, and subconsciously, they’re always looking for something else. They’re trying to get that dopamine and that excitement from finding another job because they don’t have it internally.

I haven’t had a big issue with the quiet committing trend. Maybe it’s because of how we lead from the beginning on our onboarding. But one of the big things that I’m using right now to address this is just constant communication early on with new hires. I’ve got people inside my teams that try to reach out to them. We try to do good onboard, and we try to lay the vision that, “Hey, you know, you’re coming into a role that we don’t know yet, and we’re hiring you because this is a new role, and so we expect you to take responsibility, we expect you to lean into it and we expect you to do these things.” Giving them the confidence and telling them exactly what their role is, or even the other way, telling them that we haven’t defined the role and that they need to be adaptable and they need to be responsible. They need to come in, take ownership, find problems and pitch solutions. And so clarity of their mission upfront is one of the best things that you can do to eliminate this quiet quitting. Sometimes people come into the company and they don’t know what they’re doing, and they may not have enough work or maybe have too much work. They need that conversation from a key stakeholder: a founder, an entrepreneur, a director, a manager early on.

As goes the leadership, so goes the team. How do you hold leaders accountable for their own level of engagement?

When it comes to making an organization work well, the leaders are the ones who set the pace, and it’s crucial to hold them accountable for engagement because that’s the key to a great work environment. It’s important for leaders to have clear expectations, and to make sure they have the tools, training, and resources for their own engagement and growth. So, when they feel supported, they will be more engaged and motivated and then they can create an environment where open communication and feedback matter, with which leaders can get honest input from their teammates.

Celebrate leaders who show great engagement and commitment, and check in regularly to discuss progress, challenges, and achievements. You can offer guidance, support, and coaching to help maintain high levels of engagement, right? Using these strategies ensures leaders stay accountable for their

engagement, which leads the whole team to success. Remember, a leader’s engagement sets the tone for the whole team, so keep them on track and watch the awesome results happen.

The first phase of the pandemic ushered in the phenomenon called The Great Resignation, where employees left organizations to pursue greater meaning and purpose. Then came The Great Reshuffle, where employees left organizations to pursue promotions, pay and perks. Now we’ve entered a third phase, Quiet Quitting, where employees are deeply disengaged. What do you believe to be the key drivers of Quiet Quitting?

Well, technology has put millions of jobs into our hands and a smartphone. The rise of technology, hyper productivity, and hyper efficiency has made it to where now, for the first time in the world, we can find new jobs while laying in our bed. We can look at other countries remotely, we can do all kinds of stuff, and we can find new roles that fit us very easily. At least given the history of human employment, now it’s the easiest and that’s a fact. So maybe it’s a scenario where technology has a big play in this. The pandemic has shown people that they can work from home. You know, we’ve got a lot of key drivers that have kind of put us here. I think there’s a number of reasons that we can see quiet quitting, but I will always go back to the fact that as leaders, we don’t need to discover and understand why the world has led us to these three phases as they described. We need to take ownership as entrepreneurs, as leaders, and employers, and figure out what’s going on for us. Globally, what’s going on with quiet quitting is different than what’s in ‘Zack’s organizations’ because I’m the one driving the leadership and I’m the one driving the culture. The world culture can be great, there may be a lot of quiet quitting, but nobody’s quiet quitting on my teams. I haven’t seen that once this year and I mean that. So I believe the key drivers are not as important as the key actions that we should be taking as leaders. I think the drivers here are access to opportunities at a moment’s glance in our cell phones, the evolving nature of remote work, the evolving nature of hyper productivity and the rise of artificial intelligence and hyper productive scenarios. There’s a lot that’s driving this, but I want to be clear: the focus needs to be on how we can fix it inside of our organizations and not the why.

What do you predict will be the next phase in the evolution of the employer / employee landscape?

I think once again, hyper productivity. We’re now in 2023, the era of hyper productivity. And so this next phase, in this next evolution of our landscape as employee/employer, what we’ll see is less employees inside of organizations. If you look at the tech companies right now, they’re doing massive layoffs here in the United States. We will see teams that are smaller and employees that are multitasking with technology a lot better and more efficient. Your employees will be more connected to technology, more understanding of technology, and as a byproduct of that, they will be more productive. They will not be somebody that’s only pigeonholed into one position, sort of back to our assembly line. It will be somebody that can multitask on a wide array of topics, industries and even what used to be multiple jobs. They’ll be doing one job, but they’ll understand a lot of it, and they’ll be using tools, AI and hyper productive technology in order to execute that.

What leadership behaviors need to evolve to improve employee engagement in a sustainable way?

My job in special forces was the communication sergeant. I was the communications guy on my special forces team. One of the areas that means I was in charge of was keeping up with involving technology and keeping up with evolving practices. That was my job. Depending on what country we’re running in, I need to make sure that I understand the tech and the evolution of that. So I gotta be clear now that we’re living in 2023 and the world is where we are right now. Leadership behaviors need to evolve to understand the technology aspect that’s coming for us, the hyper productivity and the fact that one employee doesn’t need to just be focused on one specific role. They need to be focused on understanding the hyper productivity options that we have right now so that they can be good at multiple roles, not just one. As a leader, we need to empower those engaged employees to give them confidence to go check out new things and to try new arenas that we know would help us and our business and our customers. And so leadership wise, you need to tell your employees, in my opinion, to be adaptable because the world is coming out as super quick this year. There are all kinds of crazy efficiencies, zaps, connections, plug-ins and artificial intelligence spots that can help us. But you have to let your employees know that they need to spend their time understanding those. That’s the big change that we haven’t seen before.

Change requires commitment and happens one choice at a time. What are the top five commitments you make and keep to yourself daily that have a material impact on those you lead?

1 . Exercise. That’s a non-negotiable in my life. I truly believe that as a leader, I need to set the tone in all the companies that I do by being a fit person.

2 . Upfront leadership. I’ve got teams and leaders inside of my organizations that have people that they’re responsible for and that they’re pushing down and my job is to kind of empower those leaders. And so understanding leadership and being in front of my managers or my team leads is one of the most important things that I do. I speak more to my team leaders than I do anybody else in the organization so that they can go talk to the rest of the organization. Having that and being in control like we do in the military is very important, especially if you trust your team leader, which I do.

3 . Pursue personal growth. I’m constantly looking for chances to improve, discover new perspectives, and enhance my abilities. Personal growth isn’t only for my benefit — it also enables me to back my team and make sure they’re flourishing.

4 . Encourage open communication. I do my best to be open, real, and upfront with my team, always up for listening to feedback or giving a few pointers. The idea is to create an environment where everyone is comfortable sharing about their thoughts and any concerns they have.

5 . Empower and support. I’m all in for providing my team with everything they need to excel — the right tools, independence, and a healthy amount of support. By being there for them and recognizing their accomplishments, I contribute to an upbeat and inspiring workspace.

What’s the most effective strategy you’ve discovered to get back on track when you break a commitment you’ve made?

We do daily accountability here. We have an app that we use everyday that we go in and it takes less than two minutes. The whole team does it. It shows us what we’re grateful for, ask me if I did my workout, if I’m eating healthy, what are the things I’m focused on. That’s a daily thing for us, it’s a daily commitment. Whether you’re putting it into an app or you’re writing it down in a journal, those types of things are important. One of the most effective strategies that I’ve found to get back on the “X”, as we call it in the military after you kind of had a breaking commitment or something that kind of threw you off, which happens all the time is to have a daily non-negotiable that you’re doing. A lot of people journal; we use this daily app. It asks “What are you doing today? Are you back on track? Are you eating healthy? What are you grateful for? We lead with gratitude. That one app that takes us less than two minutes is the best thing you can possibly have for getting back on track because you’re doing it every day. If one day, you get rattled, well, guess what? The next day you have to fill out this app, it takes 90 seconds in the morning and you’re back on track. Every company should have something similar for their employees, customers, and community. That way you have a daily check in the box that you can be committed to. I found that most people want to be committed, but they don’t commit and that’s true.

Thank you for sharing these important insights. How can our readers further follow your work?

My name is Zack Hughes. You can find me on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. You can also visit my website: https://www.thezackhughes.com/ for updates on projects, articles, and events. And I look forward to sharing valuable insights, engaging in discussions, and contributing to the community.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!