Expert Interview: Star Dargin

May 08 2018 / by Mari Ryan

Star Dargin is the CEO of Star Leadership, LLC. In her roles as speaker, teacher, facilitator, consultant, and coach, Star and her associates have worked with many leaders, executives, managers, and business owners in all phases of their personal, professional, and organizational growth. In this interview she shares her expertise in the science of gratitude and its application in the workplace. 



Interview with Star Dargin

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I’m Mari Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It’s my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Star Dargin. Star has been inspiring and changing lives for decades. Star has been coaching and teaching since the year 2000. Prior to that she had an eighteen-year career in the corporate world, starting as a software engineer and then quickly being promoted to Director of Engineering. Star is a highly interactive, nationally recognized presenter, coach, and workshop leader, specializing in building strong, successful, and grateful leaders, who lead from the middle of businesses. Whether she is delivering a keynote speech or a workshop, her straightforward, common sense approach always yields positive results. Welcome, Star.

Star Dargin: Welcome, Mari! What a wonderful introduction. Thank you so much.

Mari Ryan: It’s all about you, and it’s so exciting to have you here. I just want to mention your book as well – congratulations on your new book, Leading with Gratitude, and that’s our topic for today, gratitude. Generally, gratitude falls into two categories that we use within the area of wellbeing and when we’re talking about this in the workplace. One is around connection, and the other is around community. Can you define gratitude for us so we have a level set on what gratitude is?

Star Dargin: Absolutely, thank you. Connection and community – I love that flavor to it. My focus is gratitude in the workplace; it’s gratitude for leaders in business, and the title is the word engagement. I may use the word engagement, connection -- kind of the same, a little bit different. I’ll start with the definition and see if it matches what you might Say. Gratitude is the feeling of being appreciated. Does that make sense?

Mari Ryan: It makes perfect sense.

Star Dargin: Yeah, feeling appreciated. I actually defined three levels of gratitude, what is, and what not gratitude is. Is it okay to talk about that?

Mari Ryan: Sure, let’s explore that.

Star Dargin: The three levels of “thank you” is what I call it. The first level of thank you is it might have been something that your parents taught you. What do your parents say? Say “please” and “thank you.” Grandma gives you a really ugly sweater? What do you say? Thank you. Exactly. Not gratitude, it’s a bit of a culturally instilled form of quasi-gratitude, but not really.

The second form of “thank you” is when somebody gives you something and something is expected in return. Well, thank you for paying me my salary. Thank you for doing the work. It’s what we call in organizations – you’ve probably heard of this – organizational currency. Reciprocity. Not gratitude.

The third level, which I call gratitude, because it’s a little bit of a different definition is when you give something from a place of gratitude, a feeling good, appreciation, and you don’t expect anything back. I think that’s an important distinction that I would add to the definition, a feeling of appreciation and from that place, giving without expecting something back.

What does that do for community and connection? Giving without expecting something back creates this whole positive place, giving without getting something back. Paying it forward, if you will.

Mari Ryan: I really like that. That’s really great. As we think about gratitude, sometimes people think about this as in relationship to the workplace and think this is one of these touchy-feely woo-woo kinds of things. In reality, is there science behind gratitude?

Star Dargin: You’ve hit my nerve. Stop me if I go too far, okay? It’s a good nerve. That bottom line is gratitude belongs in the workplace. Time and time again, from the science, from the stories, we can prove that it belongs there. Cold, hard science. When I first started looking at gratitude, doing the research for my book, I got overwhelmed. I literally looked at every research. There’s tons of science that shows how gratitude is great for the individual, it helps people heal better, depression is less, people feel better, it’s just incredible from a personal … but let’s bring it to business – wow. There are two types of sciences, and stop me if I’m ranting and going too far. There’s social sciences, experiments with people, and then there’s the type where we put LEDs, and draw blood, and measure chemicals in the blood; neuroscience. You can measure gratitude in science using neuroscience, chemicals, and blood, or we can do it with social science

Simple social science is if, for example, a waitress gives an authentic – and it has to be authentic because we can read if someone is not grateful – authentic appreciation, shows them to the people, guess how much money they’ll get back in a tip? Authentic gratitude to our clients. Any guesses?

Mari Ryan: No.

Star Dargin: Twenty-three percent more. So think about that in the workplace. There’s a direct correlation there if you authentically appreciate the people around you to get a twenty-three percent better tip. What does that translate to in the workplace? There’s that whole class of great, but the other one I like for leaders in the workplace; this is a study in the UK, where they took two groups of people and one group of people they said Step A, Step B, Step C, and you’re going to go play a game. Very straightforward, really clear. The second group they said oh, we’re so glad you’re here, we appreciate the time, you guys are great for doing this, and they really upped the gratitude in the environment. Two groups playing the same games. Guess which group won every time?

Mari Ryan: The gratitude group.

Star Dargin: Of course, and the reason is because they took more risk. They were happy, they took risks, and didn’t worry about taking risks because things were good. I can go on and on in the social science, tons of great, cool experiments. They don’t always translate directly to work like for tips and playing games, but we can make them tie in really well.

The second side, neuroscience, which I think is at the beginning in terms of studying gratitude, yeah it’s kind of an intangible, fluffy word, I get it. I even have something called the [inaudible - 0:07:13.6] of Gratitude, I’m going to bust for you. It belongs in work, and we can show … I can go on and on, but the simple thing, the simple one, is gratitude is contagious. If I yawn, you might yawn; if I’m grateful, it’s contagious for the people around the room. We can actually show that when we hook up those little, you know, those things you see on people’s heads when they measure that, the different parts of the brain that light up. tool just to build these cultures and connections. And, we get more clients!

Mari Ryan: I’m really excited that there is good science behind this because I think it’s important in the workplace to be able to help people understand that there is research, there is science that shows the benefits of this. What does it take to create a culture of gratitude in the workplace?

Star Dargin: Well, it depends where you’re starting from, where’s your baseline, because I work with so many companies, and some are starting way down here, and other up here. It does start with senior leadership. Are they grateful? Do their behaviors … do their words, is it in their mission statement, is it in their vision, do they reward? In one company, they do engagement surveys. There are pros and cons to that, so I’m not necessarily suggesting that, but it depends where you start. Start at the top, and if it can’t start at the top, it starts with the individual. The individual, because it’s contagious. We know gratitude is contagious. Imagine if there is three people on a team, and two are grateful, running from a place of gratitude and the other isn’t, it may rub off, or it may not; the person may leave -- who knows? It’s great if it starts from the top, and if not, you can start where you are. That’s the great thing about it, start wherever you are.

I do have a bunch of suggestions, too. I’m trying to think about all the suggestions. I had a “Twelve Ways That You Can Do Gratitude in Business.” For example, here’s another person I interviewed for the book, Dr. Mary Love, nicest, sweetest person, but she deals in pain, she’s a chiropractor. She believes gratitude has helped her in her business because she has no turnover in her office. What she does and how she built the practice of gratitude and culture is every day, at the end of the day, she’ll get the whole team together and ask what are we grateful for today? What went well, and what do we need to do better? It’s a real, practical thing that she was able to do and bring it into the workplace.

Mari Ryan: So, it sounds like we could spend hours, worrying this topic that we’re both passionate about. Is there anything else you would like to add for our audience to hear today?

Star Dargin: The only thing that I thought of when you talked about the definition that I wish I had said, so I’ll add it now, is that gratitude can exist when things are difficult and complex. Pain, difficulty, and gratitude -- it’s not that we are all grateful and happy. It’s one of the myths I tried to bust. The worst of circumstances can happen; our clients don’t like us, they are leaving, this or that, and we can be grateful. They are not mutually exclusive ideas, it is something you can pull out and use any time and still own the hard, the yucky, the difficult, the complex, the stressful.

Mari Ryan: I love it.

Star Dargin: I think that’s an important point, especially for businesses.

Mari Ryan: I think it’s very important, and you’re right, especially for businesses. I’m curious, in terms of the work that you do it sounds like you’ve got a lot of great tools and approaches that you use. How can your audience find out more about the work that you do?

Star Dargin: My focus is middle managers in business, practical stuff. I am a certified coach and I have a bunch of other coaches that work for me. Star Leadership is the name of the company, and Star Leadership has been in business since 2000, for quite a while, and the website is the same name, it’s That’s what you can learn about our coaching and speaking, what I do, the speaking and the coaching.

Mari Ryan: Wonderful, that’s great. Thank you again, this was a delightful conversation and I’m grateful for the interactions that we’ve had, and I know that we will continue to have. Thanks, Star, for being here.

Star Dargin: Thank you so much, Mari, it’s been a pleasure, all my pleasure, thank you.

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Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, workplace culture, gratitude at work, wellness, employee happiness, company leadership, ceo, c suite leadership, employee wellness, worksite well-being, millennials, productivity, benefits, managers, hr, leaders, employee engagement, intrinsic motivation, managers and wellbeing, healthy workplace, employee performance, communication, employee camaraderie, wellness strategy, wellness program, strategy, job security, work stress, stress management, stress, engagement strategey, authentic happiness, purpose, happiness, science of happiness, gratitude

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.