Personal Growth

Ask Dumb Questions

Why ask dumb questions? For the same reason that Dillinger robbed banks – “That’s where the money (results) is!”

We’re accustomed to “telling” our employees what to do. But does that give us the results we want? What would happen if you started thinking of dumb questions that you could ask your employees?

A customer-facing team was not acting like a team – various team members were complaining to the manager that other team members were not doing their job, etc. So the manager led the team in defining their values, which were the typical values: trust, communication, etc. The next week was more same-old, same-old. While the team believed in, and wanted, the values, they didn’t see how their current way of operating prevented them from achieving their desired state.

So we decided to have the team focus on strengths. Each team member wrote the name of every other team member on individual note cards, then wrote a strength for that person. Example, Maria would write “Pat is joyful”, or “Kim is the go-to person for technical issues”. Then the manager collected the cards and gave them to the named person. The manager asked people how they felt about the praise.

The following week, the manager asked the “dumb question” – “Does anyone on the team have all the strengths of each person?” (Obviously not) Then the manager asked the follow-up question, “Since nobody here has all these strengths, is it realistic to try to expect each person excel in all areas?” (No) “So what do should we do about it?”

Have you tried something like this before? What do you think happened next? (And yes, that qualifies as a “dumb question”) J

Gary Langenwalter

Forget Independence!

I broke my foot when I was hiking recently. My foot is in a walking boot, which is better than a cast because I can remove it when I want. However, the doctor said that if I want my foot to heal, I have to stay off it. Thus, I cannot do myriad activities that I used to take for granted – mowing the lawn and other house maintenance chores, walking (which I really enjoy), etc. To keep from putting weight on my foot, I use a knee scooter, which is MUCH better than crutches! But it has zero sideways mobility, which is really frustrating the kitchen, because I can’t just turn around and get something.

Net/net: I now have to ASK people to do things for me, which I never had to do before. And I am grateful for handicapped parking spaces and elevators, which I never used to use.

How does this relate to leadership? Like most other executives, I still have the underlying mantra of self-sufficiency: “I can do it myself”. My ability to do things independently has been a source of pride. I am now learning a lesson in INTERdependence. A truly effective leader is willing to let, or even ask, others to do things for them.

There are 3 stages of social maturity:

· Dependence (when we’re children)

· Independence (as we move through our teen years into adulthood), and

· Interdependence (when we finally realize that we can’t do it alone).

An Ubuntu saying summarizes interdependence quite nicely: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” John Donne echoed that thought 400 years ago: “No man is an island…” The attitude of interdependence fundamentally contradicts our culture – and most of our ideas about leadership. It is diametrically opposed to “management” – in which the boss tells the subordinate what to do and how to do it. Interdependence fosters effective teamwork, and it supported by facilitative leadership.

One other thought, this time about the old maxim: “Tis better to give than receive”. If we only give, or tell, and we don’t allow others to give to us, we’re depriving them of the ability to use their gifts, to make their contributions, to feel really good about who they are. In this way, the practice of being in control is actually selfish. It lets us feel good and powerful and productive at the expense of others.

What do you think? Does this sound reasonable? Or do you disagree? I’d truly enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Gary Langenwalter

Time Management – an Oxymoron

Time management is an oxymoron. We cannot manage time; we can only manage how we use time. Additionally, when we try to manage by measuring results in a time period, we can unintentionally harm our organizations and ourselves. Let me explain.

Ancient Greeks had 2 words for time: Kronos and Kairos.

Kronos is the root word for chronometer – measuring time by the clock. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some of those divisions are natural: the length of a day, the length of a year. Others are completely man-made, and therefore artificial: months, hours, minutes, seconds.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using Kronos time, as long as we remember that it is completely artificial. Natural processes cannot be forced into a Kronos mold – trying to do so creates frustration on the part of the human, and potentially poor results on the part of the natural process. When we planted tomato plants last year, the package said that we would have tomatoes in 72 days. However, our garden only gets partial sun. So it was 80+ days before the first tomato was ripe enough to eat. And that is the basis of the second Greek word for time: Kairos.

Kairos understands natural processes. An ad for wine several years ago said, “We will sell no wine before its time.” How long a person takes to adjust to a new situation – that’s Kairos. That adjustment period differs from person to person, because we are each unique. Kairos takes the long view.

A company headed by a Kronos-driven CEO fired a VP of sales because the sales for the first quarter did not meet expectations. The VP had told the CEO that 3 major bookings were coming in, but the VP could not guarantee that they would be in by March 31. Sure enough, they arrived on April 1 and April 2. Unfortunately for the CEO, the 3 customers decided to follow the VP of sales, rather than continue to buy from a company that was so short-sighted.

Years ago I worked for a company that was committed to having 15% increase in profits compared to the same quarter in the prior year, every quarter! We could have called the company “Kronos Incorporated.” We had gotten to the point in which we would sacrifice dollars in the following month to save a dime at the end of a quarter. Our suppliers and our customers knew this and took advantage of it. We somehow maintained the artificial earnings predictability for 7 years. Then we finally ran out of ways to make the expected numbers, so we incorporated some of the bad news that we had deferred for so long. When the dust finally settled, we could start making decisions that were in the company’s best long-term interest.

An excellent leader understands Kronos and Kairos, and uses them wisely.

What experiences have you had with Kronos and Kairos? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Gary Langenwalter

Effective Leadership Trait 1 – Person of Character

What do highly effective leaders do? Wrong question – the right question is “what do highly effective leaders BE?” First and foremost, highly effective leaders (whose companies outperform the S&P 500 2.5 to 1) “be” persons of character.

A person of character makes decisions in a manner very different from a typical “show me the bottom line” leader. In making decisions, a person of character:

· Maintains integrity. Integrity starts with honesty, which is the most frequently-cited characteristic of excellent leaders. But integrity doesn’t stop there – it is deeper. It’s grounded in being authentic. Authenticity is about knowing oneself, and being true to your moral compass. Integrity listens to a “True North” moral compass as it makes decisions, realizing that sometimes the decisions will alienate powerful people, and being willing to pay that price. “Principle before profit” could be its motto. Interesting, isn’t it, that companies that have these highly effective leaders outperform the “Profit first” crowd by 2.5 to 1.

· Demonstrates humility. “A position is a role, not a coronation.” This is true for any position, from CEO to groundskeeper. The root word for humility is “humus” – or ground/earth. A humble person stays grounded in the wisdom that each person has worth, and that each person has gifts and graces. A humble person knows that our society needs each of those gifts and graces, and is willing to learn from people of all walks of life. One man I know, who is now worth several million dollars, often wears shoes with no laces to remind himself that at one time he could not afford laces for his shoes. He KNOWS that he is no better, and no worse, than anybody else.

· Serves a higher purpose. One of the best ways to maintain integrity and remain humble is to realize that we are each here in this life for a purpose. Frederick Buechner states, “A person’s call is where their deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need.” Some people are called to social services, others to retail, others to technical professions, others to cutting hair or driving taxis, and others as stay-at-home parents. Persons who are serving a higher purpose receive deep peace, which affirms their choices and gives them the ability to keep on keeping on when the going gets difficult. Intentionally serving a higher purpose enables them to help others to seek their own higher purpose, because it removes the element of competition from the conversation.

This, and the 6 additional traits of effective leadership which will be covered in future blogs, are based on Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, by James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick.

I welcome your reaction, your feedback, your thoughts

Gary Langenwalter

Nobody’s Perfect!

Nobody’s perfect. While that should not be a big surprise, the real question is this: how does your organization deal with mistakes?

The typical reaction, prevalent in most organizations, is to expect perfection, and then to blame a person when they make a mistake. “Next time you do something that stupid will be your last day at our company.” The underlying assumption is that the person made the mistake on purpose, or through intentional negligence.

However, our experience in the workplace is that most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can under the circumstances – incomplete information, lots of pressure, changing and confusing priorities, insufficient resources, frustrating systems, etc. That environment guarantees that mistakes will be made. So why, then, do we blame the person?

A second possible reaction to a mistake is to apply Dr. Deming’s approach (W. Edwards Deming is the father of the quality movement). Study the system to determine the root cause of the mistake, fix the cause, and the mistake will not happen again. That works fine for non-human systems. But human systems are much more complex, because humans carry emotions about past events with us such that they affect our future decisions and interactions. Thus, we might not be willing to trust a person after a major mess-up, even though we have “fixed” the communication gap that caused the problem.

A healthy organization will have a culture of forgiveness, of letting go of the past and encouraging people to move forward. The person who made the mistake will apologize, and the people who were hurt will accept the person’s apology. They will use this experience to strengthen their bonds, to become a tighter team.

Taking this idea one more step: the most successful organizations ENCOURAGE mistakes, because that is how people and teams learn. They understand that being a learning organization is a major competitive advantage. But to get there, they have to create a culture which handles mistakes in a healthy way. In so doing, they are showing us a path forward which other organizations can adopt.

What has been your experience in how organizations handle mistakes?

Gary Langenwalter


Today’s workplace has 2 speeds: Warp Speed, and Warp Speed Max. While organizations have become leaner (fewer people), the work load has not diminished proportionately. The frazzled few who are left are basically in reactive mode, warp speed. No time to think. No time to plan. No time to breathe. This is not healthy for the individuals nor, in the long run, for the organization. Sprints are only effective for the short term; one cannot complete a marathon by sprinting the entire distance.

So, just for the sake of your health, make me your customer. (Because “the customer is always right, and you need to do what the customer tells you.”) I invite you to close your eyes and relax for 10 minutes. You can set a timer on your smart phone if you wish. Ready to start?

Remember a time and place where you were calm and centered. What did it look like, sound like, smell like? Who was there with you? Now, let that calm center soothe your frazzled nerves.

Just stay there for 10 minutes. 10 peaceful, soothing, restorative minutes. If you’re not used to this, it can seem forever. If (when) your mind starts racing, just release that thought gently.

And when the timer sounds, come back to the present gently, staying centered in your special place.

You can practice this daily – this letting go, this grounding. If you do, I guarantee that you’ll be more relaxed. You’ll be more effective. And you’ll enjoy your life more, both at work and with your family and friends. I have practiced this and similar disciplines for years; it, and my family’s love, have kept me grounded and effective when life has been difficult.

Dreaming big for a moment, if most of the people in your organization did this, would your organization change? Would it be a better place to work? Would it be more effective in fulfilling its mission?

This dream is not as far-fetched as it might sound. The practice outlined above is a foundation of the Mindfulness movement that is currently a hot topic. Incidentally, the practice will still work long after Mindfulness is forgotten and replaced by some other hot topic.

Gary Langenwalter


This past year I’ve focused on becoming a consultant. Its new territory for me since I had been a full time employee (FTE) in Corporate America for close to 40 years. As an FTE, you’re assigned a specific role in an organization with specific performance expectations. You execute your tasks and deliverables, and get rewarded for your contribution (or not). Typically, unless you’re in a very small business, you are “cog” in the big machine, somewhat sheltered from all other functions where you don’t always see the big picture, especially with sales and marketing.

Well, as a consultant or a small business owner you wear many hats. You have to. You don’t generate sales (& income), unless you have paying clients. You typically obtain paying clients by performing marketing functions where, hopefully, you generate enough interest where a prospect wants to employ your services. Which brings me to my point about “disappointment”.

I recently spent untold hours developing a training proposal with my business partner. Several meetings were held with the prospect identifying their various needs and requirements. We looked at all aspects of the design, delivery and our approach. We were very thorough and our proposal (in my eyes) was AWESOME! But then came the inevitable email, thanks, by no thanks. They had found another consultant who better fit their requirement. What? We could have done an excellent job with the training! Needless to say, I was greatly DISAPPOINTED!!

But after having a conversation with my partner who has been a consultant since 1987 said that rejection and disappointment are life of being a consultant. Well, I don’t like that! Felt like, and probably acted like, a 3 year old having a tantrum! I want to be successful like I was in corporate life. This is much more difficult. I don’t want to feel disappointed the rest of my life. So, I determined I needed to change things up and come up with a strategy that would help me through my next proposal.

So, here’s my new strategy and I suggest you try it too:

1. Let your feelings out. Get mad, yell, or hit a pillow. Have a good cry! I find them very healing. Get the frustration out of your system. Go exercise, take a walk or talk to a friend. Burying your feelings is not healthy, so please choose to let them out.

2. Change your expectations. As a consultant you will not win every proposal. Maybe it will only be 10%, 1 out of 10. Changing your expectations will help you not be overly disappointed.

3. Be grateful. I am grateful for my family and friends, great conversations, learning and growing, health, nature and God’s endless love and joy! I do not take any of these things for granted. They are a gift!

And as Martin Luther King once said, We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. And I am eternally hopeful!

Greg Sievers


Last week, my wife and I vacationed in San Francisco. It was our first vacation since last April. I should have taken one last fall, but I was too busy on the work treadmill. I was caught in the PUSH trap: Persevere Until Something Happens. Unfortunately, I was also somewhat burned out, so it took me more effort to get the same results, which made me more tired, which required me to work even harder… Sound familiar?

By the time we left for San Francisco, I was a crispy critter – too much stress, for too long.

We decided to take the train instead of flying or driving. Our vacation started when we got on the train – no TSA stress, no traffic to fight, no worry about snow in the Siskiyous. 18 hours on the train, including overnight, from Portland to SF. LOTS of leg room, real reclining seats, so we were very comfortable. By the time we got to SF, I was already half-relaxed. We had a wonderful time! We walked a lot, we took buses and streetcars and cable cars. We saw sights and ate in restaurants. I turned on my phone briefly once a day to check for texts and voice mails from family. I did not listen to voice mails or look at e-mails or texts regarding business. My business partner assumed all responsibility for our firm.

After 9 days of total withdrawal, I re-entered the business world Sunday evening, refreshed, re-energized, and with a better perspective. That’s what vacations are all about – they benefit both the employee and the organization.

In this respect, people are surprisingly like machines – they both need scheduled downtime for maintenance. As the Mr. Goodwrench commercial stated, “Pay me now or pay me later!” I have relearned that vacations, like preventive maintenance, are a lot better strategy than running a person until we break. Thus, the “use it or lose it” vacation policy benefits the employee by forcing them to take time off before they burn out.

When was your last real vacation? And when is your next one?

Gary Langenwalter

Stopping our Negative Self-Talk

I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks with negative chatter in my head. I’ve always been a bit perfectionistic and have set-up quite the high bar which makes it fairly easy to not make the mark. When I receive constructive feedback, even though I desire it, it hits me very emotionally. Then I started trying to figure out where that came from.

My fear of abandonment at a very early age caused me to try to fit in at all costs. Be the funniest, the smartest, most accommodating & collaborative. At the same time I was always seeking external approval. What a setup! Trying to please all those people, all the time. Very exhausting. So, my value relied not on my own self-worth, but how others’ saw me. But now at least I’m more aware and working on myself. But it is a long-term journey.

So, what are some of the causes of this negative self-talk chatter? Four ways emotions are created:

1. Chemicals we consume directly affect our brain.

2. Hormones in the body – 30+ hormones that support the brain function.

3. Damages to the brain – due to an accident or impact.

4. Self-talk and pictures we make up in our brain – our internal dial.

Another interesting fact:

1. 65% to 75% of all emotions are created because of the self-talk and the mental images we create inside our minds.

How does this apply to businesses? Why as manager should I be concerned with my employees negative self-talk? Because you as the primary motivator and leader can directly impact some of this. Think about it. Employees, as any normal human being, desire feedback on how they’re doing? Could they do their jobs any better? And you as their manager, provide them with constructive feedback & hopefully, some effective coaching. Often because there’s not enough time in the day…and we don’t take adequate time to think about what we want to convey to our employees. But even taking 5 minutes before you have some feedback for someone will help you get a little clearer.

And most likely, you have your own issues with negative self-talk. So, what better way to address this issue by working on yourself first. So, following are some suggestions to begin the process:

1. Begin by watching and paying attention to you internal dialogue and negative and positive dial.

2. Become aware of your “negative” thinking pattern or patterns.

3. When you start thinking negative thoughts check in with yourself and try to understand why you are thinking this way – take time to be in the moment of what is happening around you that is triggering this negative self-talk or chatter.

4. Take steps to clear the chatter – talk to someone, write it down in a personal journal, stop what you are doing at that moment and start something new, fresh, positive, etc.

Good luck with staying on the positive path!

Greg Sievers

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