I’ve Got Your Back!

A person is most vulnerable at their back – they can’t see what’s happening. That’s where the expression “I’ve got your back” comes from. So when someone has your back, they’re protecting you where you are most vulnerable. 3 recent experiences have reinforced this fundamental truth:

1. My wife and I watched the movie “42” over the weekend – it’s about Jackie Robinson and what he endured as the first black player in major league baseball. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had instructed Jackie to NOT fight back – to endure the harassment. During one game, the manager of the opposing team was viciously taunting Jackie each time he came up to bat, causing him to fail twice. The third time, one of Jackie’s teammates walked over and got in the opposing manager’s face. Until then, Jackie had been all alone. This made all the difference – having a teammate protecting his back.

2. The memorial service today for Bob White, a highly respected civic leader in Yamhill County, emphasized how much he gave to his community, and how much the community gave back. By definition, a leader needs to support his/her team, and to have their support. Bob lived that principle.

3. I was reading scripture at a worship service last Sunday. I printed out the passages for easier reading. Unfortunately, I had misplaced the last page, and fumbled and halted, extremely embarrassed. The congregation could see the passage projected onto screens which faced them; I could not. After I faltered, the congregation read the final verses aloud. They applauded when the reading was finished! After I recovered from being extremely embarrassed, I truly appreciated what the congregation did – they had my back. That’s a team at its finest – they applaud and hold each other up during a person’s difficult times.

What similar experiences have you had in your teams? What did that feel like when your team came to your rescue? What did it feel like when your team rescued a team-mate?

Do the teams and groups in your current work environment have your (and each other’s) back? Let’s have coffee and chat.

Gary Langenwalter

Jumping to Conclusions

Several years ago, I was consulting with Division X of a large company; the president of the division had a reputation of being against change. Corporate had decided to implement a new system, starting with 2 other divisions, then coming to Division X. During an initial meeting at Division X, the division president was “not feeling well” and called in by speakerphone. A while later, Corporate created a 1-day workshop for the leaders of Division X. On the day of the workshop, the CEO and COO came to Division X to kick off the meeting; the CEO spent most of the day in the meeting to underscore its importance. When I arrived at the workshop, the division VP Ops told me that the division president was staying home because he was ill. Given the president’s previous actions and attitudes, we both assumed that he was signaling his disapproval of the new system.

That evening, I talked with my business partner about the concrete-head division president – what to do and how to do it. One of my major tasks as a consultant was to help implement the new system at the division. I mentally created lots of scenarios for truly powerful coaching the next time I was able to have a 1-1 with the division president. My favorite scenario was 2 questions:

1. Do you think that the new system will indeed be implemented at Division X? (The only logical answer was “yes”, because corporate was rolling it out across all divisions. It was already working in 2 other divisions, and corporate would insist that our division be on the new system.)

2. How do you want to be perceived by your people, and by corporate: a) fully supportive, b) mildly supportive, c) neutral, d) mildly opposed, or e) adamantly opposed? You get to choose. (I would hope that the light would click on – that anything short of c) would damage his ability to lead his own people in the division as well as his career.)

So, self-righteously armed with that great scenario, I arrived at the division the next morning to hear that the president had been in briefly looking totally green around the gills, then had gone home to finish recovering from the stomach flu. Several others were also out with the flu.

I’m glad I had confined my disparaging comments about the president to my business partner, whom I could trust to forget them completely once I updated him on the situation. Anything else could have seriously poisoned my working relationship with the client.

To put a moral to this story: jumping to conclusions is like jumping off a diving board. Sometimes there will be water, and you’ll be ok. Sometimes, the water will also contain sharks. And sometimes there will be only a concrete pool bottom where the water should have been. Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s down below when we jump.

I welcome your feedback.

Gary Langenwalter


Our governor has been asked to resign by top leaders because issues “have resulted in a loss of the people’s trust.” Governor Kitzhaber is not alone – countless corporate leaders have been forced to resign because of lack of trust. Arthur Andersen and Goldman Sachs went out of business because of untrustworthy behavior.

Trust is essential for a leader to be effective. The best leaders – those whose organizations outperform their competitors by 2.5 to 1 – are honest, trustworthy, authentic, and humble, according to ground-breaking research by James Sipe and Don Frick.

On a broader scale, trust is absolutely essential for our society to operate. The Boy Scout Law states, “A Scout is Trustworthy” as its first attribute. We have to be able to trust that the other person will stop at a stop sign, that the food we buy in a grocery store or restaurant will be healthy and safe to eat, that the internet company will indeed ship the product that we just paid for (and that the manufacturer has made a product that will work according to specification), that the medicine will cure the illness.

How does a person create trust? By keeping one’s word. However, our word is often a promise of future action, dependent on actions of others. I’m co-teaching a certification class for APICS, the operations management association. We had a spirited discussion last night about the continual reschedules caused by late/incomplete deliveries from suppliers, quality not meeting spec, people not showing up for their shift, customers not ordering as they promised, etc.

But reschedules due to extrinsic causes are very different from loss of trust due to lack of integrity. Violating ethical boundaries destroys the very foundation of a relationship. Because are unable to trust the person again for a long time, if ever, they have lost their ability to influence us. In that situation, a leader can no longer be effective as a leader, because the job of leadership is influencing others.

What’s your reaction? How important is trust to being an effective leader?

Gary Langenwalter

Rabid Fans or Civilized?

I was in Santa Clara last weekend during the Pac-12 football playoffs between Oregon and Arizona. My flight from PDX to San Jose Thursday evening had so many Duck fans that we could have turned off the engines, stuck our Duck-feathered arms out the windows, and flapped. That evening at the hotel, a couple Oregon fans and a couple Arizona fans were checking in; the fans were civil to each other, exchanging pleasantries.

Saturday morning breakfast at the hotel revealed Duck fans (still wearing green and gold) and the Arizona fans (wearing their school symbol), chatting as we all got our food. No gloating, no recriminations, no hard feelings. Fans who had spent hundreds (thousands?) of dollars to see a game understood that it is just a game, and that life will go on.

The spirit of civilization trumped blind partisanship. That’s a good thing, because it is the basis on which we can move forward.

I saw the same phenomenon when we lived in Stow, Massachusetts, which was governed by Town Meeting (true democracy in action – only the Town Meeting had the authority to make important decisions, including budgets). At the close of the meetings, I watched to men who had been vociferously opposed on several issues walk out arm in arm, chuckling, and head to the nearest pub to celebrate another “fun” town meeting. All rancor had disappeared.

Where have you experienced this phenomenon? Could this be replicated at work? At home? In other organizations that you serve?

Gary Langenwalter


Unconscious Addictions…What’s the True Cost?

Yesterday, I went to the Memorial Reception of a son of a very dear friend. The son recently died of a heroin overdose. Such a tragedy. One sad aspect was that he’d actually been getting his life back together, kicking the habit, developing new companies and his career, but ultimately losing out to his personal demon…heroin. After processing this tragedy it had me thinking about my own addictions and how I tended to “mask” them over.

I am self-admittedly addicted to TV and food. Funny, I would tell my wife that TV was my drug of choice. It provided an escape. An escape from the chaos and craziness in the world. But never the less, it was still an addiction. And it does provide an associated cost. Wastes time where I could be doing more creative endeavors, reading, learning, playing games, have deep conversations with friends & family.

Now let’s look at another addiction of mine which for 40 years was driving me much more than I’d like to admit and that was …. the fear of abandonment. I was addicted to “fitting in” at any & all cost. What does that look like? What mask am I now wearing? First of all, being a “pleaser”, pleasing people to find acceptance, to fit in, but at what cost. The cost is not being authentic, to cave into others’ wishes, of not truly expressing myself and relinquishing my power.

So, what does this have to do with Corporate America? All organizations are filled with people who have various forms of addictions. From CEO’s to janitors, from administrative assistants to programmers, from engineers to truck drivers. From drug addiction to gambling, from pleasing to kleptomania, from needing power & control to laziness. Our addictions keep us from reaching our full potential. Our addictions keep us from being completely “present” to one another and impairing our communication. Our impaired communication translates into a lack of productivity and quality. That costs Corporate America millions of dollars.

The trouble with many addictions is they are often hidden from plain sight, they aren’t obvious and the individuals’ themselves are actually unaware of them and the true cost to them. Or possibly they’re in denial. But think about it…what if many of the “wellness programs” that many companies are implementing dealt with all of our insidious addictions and not just cessation of smoking or doing more exercise. What if those programs took on a more proactive role with all addictions? What would taking off that “mask” look like? What do we have to lose?

Greg Sievers

Responding to Ferguson

How will your organization respond to Ferguson?

That depends on the vision and mission of your organization. If your organization exists merely to make profits for the shareholders, Ferguson might be at most a speed bump in your drive to achieve your goal.

If, however, your organization has the goal of creating a better, healthier society while making profits, Ferguson can be an opportunity to create dialogue, asking how people of different backgrounds and cultures can form relationships based on mutual respect and trust. In the final analysis, most humans are inherently similar – we want to be treated with love and respect, we want the opportunity to do something worthwhile, and we want our children and their children to have rich, full lives. You can use these universal goals as the foundation for creating meaningful dialogue, inviting people to work together to achieve them.

If you do this, your organization can be a source of healing, of hope, in an increasingly divisive and divided society. Doing this will directly impact all your people, both white and non-white. Your efforts will also inevitably reach beyond your organization. They will also impact your customers, your suppliers, and the communities within which you operate. You will be taking one seemingly small step toward healing the chasm between whites and minorities. But even though your efforts might seem insignificant, they will be joined by countless other acts of kindness that will indeed create the world we wish to see. As Mother Teresa reminds us, “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

Gary Langenwalter

A True Partner

Most organizations pride themselves on how they help their customers. A select few go far beyond the rest. Umpqua Bank is a leader in those organizations that go far beyond the norm.

So how does Umpqua set itself apart? They focus on building community. Other banks say that; Umpqua does it in many unique ways that are valuable to its customers. Here are 5:

· They staff to have no lines. That means that in non-busy times, “tellers” are waiting customers. Actually, that’s almost always the case – no waiting at all. I’ve had accounts at other banks where lines were the norm.

· Want to take out a loan to buy a car? In other banks, you’d need to see a loan officer. And if that person is busy with another customer, you’ll be waiting a while. Umpqua cross-trains ALL its customer-facing employees. They’re not “tellers” – they’re “Universal Associates.” The difference? Each of them is trained to help you get that car loan – they’ll leave their station and take you into an adjacent meeting room to complete the paperwork in privacy. An Umpqua Universal Associate has the training and skills to be an assistant branch manager for any other bank.

· Umpqua is a place to relax a bit. Each “store” (they’re not “bank branches”) has PCs and a printer available for the public to use. They have easy chairs to sit in, and a selection of current magazines and papers, both financial and non-financial. Much more than just the typical cup of coffee. (Oh, and they have their own roasted coffee beans for customers as well.)

· They give back to the community – in spades! Each employee is encouraged to spend 40 hours/year on community service, such as helping at the local food bank, animal shelter, etc. – on company time, for pay! So when you walk into an Umpqua store, instead of the typical nameplate, you might see a hand-lettered sign saying where that associate volunteers. So far, they have donated more than 250,000 volunteer hours! At 2000 hours/year, that’s 125 volunteer years!

· Finally, some “stores” have meeting rooms available for use by the public, free. For a small business or non-profit, those meeting rooms are much better than the local Starbucks. They are closed, quiet, and private. (And Umpqua even provides free coffee!)

Using Umpqua as an inspiration, can you extrapolate how your organization could go the extra mile for your customers?

Gary Langenwalter

Handling Disappointment

After having become laid off from a corporate job in 2008 (during the great recession), I continued to pursue the same kind of position that I had become used to. I’d climb into that Gerbil wheel (as I now like to call it), and run & run & run, working very hard seeking that goal of being employed again. Yes, many say men place too much of their identity with having a job. So, when they lose one they lose their identity. But I have to say it was primarily financial. I knew who I was & what I was good at. I did various human potential programs and was always doing self-discovery work. I was driven by the need to make money, enough money to just pay our bills. Nothing extravagant. The mortgage, utilities, & food. But after so many interviews & getting so many “no’s”, the disappointment came in, in fact, at times depression.

So, let’s look at this disappointment. I had certain expectations of working to make money to pay the bills. The not working & not making money created a gap in my expectations. That gap became disappointment. Disappointment in myself. Disappointment in me as the husband & father, not fulfilling my bread winner role. As I saw this pattern repeat itself over & over, I began to think maybe, just maybe I needed to change my expectations. My expectations of what kind of job I really needed or desired. Or possibly our expenses were excessive.

The best remedy to deal with disappointment is to acknowledge and work through the emotion it evokes. It is normal to feel upset or angry, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, we need to recognize that this is a part of life and although this will happen time and time again, each time it does, you will only become stronger and more resilient. I now realize that life will continue to offer me lessons which I can either view positively or negatively. It’s a choice. It’s all in my perspective. I encourage you to look at your perspective.

Secondly, what has helped me the most is my network of supportive friends. People who I can truly confide in and share my true feelings. Where I’m not judged. So, I continue to nurture friendships, where I support them and they support me. Which will help me deal with the ups and downs that life continues to offer. And provide a clearer perspective on the meaning.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”

Henry David Thoreau

I welcome your comments. greg

Greg Sievers

Handling Disappointment_gos.docx

Be Right or Be In Relationship – Your Choice

Every waking moment, you get to choose: you can be right or be in relationship. This is true everywhere: at work, at home, with your friends.

Life is that simple, and that difficult. Deciding that relationship is more important that being right means you consciously choose to “be wrong”, to be willing to let go of your hard-won truths. In almost all organizations, people are expected to be right – to make the sales forecast come true, to keep expenses to the budgeted amount, to spend only X minutes (or Y seconds) on a customer call… The Goal, Goldratt’s business novel that has sold more than 6 million copies, been translated into 21 languages, and taught in more than 200 colleges and universities, states, “The goal of a business is to make money.” The end of making money justifies the means of doing whatever it takes, as long as it is legal.

However, a little-heralded book (Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, Sipe and Frick, 2009) demonstrates clearly that for-profit businesses that are based on relationship outperform numbers-based businesses by more than 2 to 1 (24% to 11% annual ROI). And Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” companies earned only 17.5% during the same period. The 11 servant-led companies include Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Marriott International, and FedEx.

Being right feeds the need to be in control. It manifests itself in power-over, in hierarchy, in fear. It assumes a zero-sum, win/lose, competitive world. It is based in competitive individualism, “it’s all about me.”

Being in relationship supports creativity and messiness and holism. It manifests itself in peer-to-peer, self-organized teams and groups, and in love (even in the workplace!) It creates a win/win, cooperative world, in which all persons benefit. It creates supportive community.

You can be right, or you can be in relationship. You get to choose, every waking moment.

I welcome your comments.

Gary Langenwalter


Last weekend my wife Janet and I visited many studios in the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County. We spent Saturday in McMinnville, and Sunday in the Sheridan area. At each location, we were able to engage the artist(s) in dialogue. We learned a little of their history; we learned a little about their house or studio (some of which date to the early 1900s). We sampled the munchies they provided, from crackers and cheese to chocolate chip cookies to home-smoked ribs.

What differentiated this experience from a typical art show is that we were participating in building community. As these artists share their stories, there is connection, one human to another. Not a blinding flash or loud cymbals – just two people connecting. It is simple, quiet, effortless, even unobtrusive. Sort of like breathing. And in its effortlessness, its unobtrusiveness, it is profound, even sacred. Can something so quiet, so easy, so natural, be the glue that holds society together? I think the answer is “yes”. It is the sharing, one on one, that creates connection, that is the foundation of community. Community is neither you nor me. It is “us” – the connection. That easy, profound, natural connection.

And yes, this applies directly to the world of commerce as well. People appreciate being treated as persons of worth, rather than a means to a transaction. In commerce, just like the rest of our lives, people want to be connected, to be in community.

I’d appreciate feedback. You can post it here, or e-mail me at

Gary Langenwalter