Early in my career, out of college just a couple of years, I received a phone call from a long-time friend of the family who told me about a job opportunity. He said the position was something I would enjoy doing, and he encouraged me to send in my résumé. I found the ad and read it with a critical eye. I understood some of the job responsibilities and knew I could handle them, but wasn’t so about some other aspects of the job. My hesitation to apply was grounded in fear of the unknown; I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I’ll always be thankful for the answer I got when I shared my misgivings with my friend. “If you know everything the job requires you’ll be bored in six months,” he told me. “This position gives you an opportunity to learn new stuff.” I sensed the new job was might start me on a career path. I’d held jobs before, and I was looking for a career when I hired on As it turns out, what I didn’t know, and had to learn, turned out to be the most interesting part of the position. I was able to use what I learned at every subsequent position I held in the company. From my first day at this new job, I was interested in learning. My position wasn’t high level, but it was one where I could make a positive contribution quickly and on an ongoing basis. What I was told during the interviews and job orientation concerned the tasks I would be doing. No one mentioned making a contribution; I had to figure that out along the way. Some of my new co-workers had been told of the opening before the company advertised it, but no one applied. I soon realized my fellow employees showed up every day, but they weren’t engaged like I was. Years ago The Gallup Organization survey more than one million workers and issued a phrase that they use to define most of my coworkers: disengaged. This survey data is regularly updated, and according to Gallup’s current numbers, fully two-thirds of the U.S workforce falls into the category of the disengaged. What differentiates engaged employees from the rest? Here are four areas of distinction to consider. 1. Initiative. People who are engaged in what they are doing are proactive; they don’t sit and wait to be told what to do. They see a problem, or an opportunity, and they tackle it. Individuals with initiative aren’t afraid of hard work; they actually enjoy tackling difficult tasks that others won’t touch. Why is this? It’s an attitude to apply what is known to get a job done. If they lack a specific skill or need more knowledge, they are not afraid to learn what they don’t know so they can do more. 2. Leadership. A second significant difference is demonstrated through a capacity for leadership. Leadership is conferred in the form of a job title, but in reality it comes from earning the respect and confidence of coworkers. True leaders know the capabilities of those they lead and monitor their progress and results accordingly. Most importantly, when assigning a task, a leader is fully capable of explaining why something needs to be done and when it should be accomplished. 3. Change. Being able to handle change is the third significant difference between the engaged and disengaged. Disengaged employees fight for the status quo because that’s where they’re most comfortable; they see change as negative because they might lose something. The engaged employee may be concerned about change but generally sees it as an opportunity. 4. Perspective. The fourth difference can be found in how employees view success. Consider asking your employees these questions to determine how each looks at their responsibility and role in your company: “Can you give me some examples of how you have demonstrated initiative in your job this past year?” “Can you give me some examples of some problems you have faced this past year and what plans you took to address them?” “Can you give me some examples of the results you have achieved this past year through the efforts of others in the company?” The engaged employee will provide example after example. The disengaged employee will struggle to answer, even if provided ample time to prepare. If you want to have a company that performs, increase the ratio of engaged employees you have on the payroll to those who are simply collecting a paycheck. Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at Ken.Keller@StrategicAdvisoryBoards.com. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.