effective leadership

Scariest Part of Leadership

The scariest part of leadership is letting go of control and trusting others to do the right things and make the right decisions. The concept of control underpins hierarchical organizations – the person above controls the actions and decisions of the persons below. This structure has been used for millennia by military, religious, and commercial organizations. These people are managers; they “manage” persons and other resources.

But what if a leader, instead of insisting on detailed control, does something entirely different? What if a leader co-creates the vision and mission, and goals and objectives and strategies, with his or her people? What if a leader then turns them loose to be as great as they can be, and supports them as they try new ideas? What if a leader gives a prize annually for the best new idea that failed? What would that type of organization be like? Unstoppable. Because in that organization, each individual will feel supported and challenged to be all they can be. They will bring everything they’ve got to work every day. And they will collaborate with colleagues to create programs, products, and services that delight customers and increase profits.

So what’s so scary about this? The leader has to give up the illusion of control. It’s an illusion, because we can only truly control those things over which we have one more degree of freedom, which we obviously do not have with fellow humans. However, our society expects and even demands that leaders “be in control” of their company or department. So the leader needs to change from creating controls to insure proper behavior, to instead being effective at inspiring people and nurturing guiding principles.

This transition is a little like learning how to float and swim. When I was younger I was deathly afraid of the water; I would stand in a corner of the swimming pool and shiver. My parents insisted that I take swimming classes. I finally decided to quit fighting the water and trust it to hold me up. It was scary, but it worked! I got hooked on swimming and even earned my lifeguard certificate. Once a leader quits controlling the employees and trusts them to help the organization thrive, they get hooked on the results AND the process – the only question they ask is why they didn’t do this sooner.

I welcome your feedback

Gary Langenwalter

Wisdom – Worth More Than Gold!

Most decisions in organizations are made (or at least are purported to be made) based on logic. And while logic is absolutely necessary, it is not sufficient to assure good decisions and therefore successful results. Logic ignores the deeper truths that wisdom incorporates.

What is wisdom? How does it work? Wisdom comes from your inner being, your gravitas. It can be a still small voice which draws on experience and integrates that experience with knowledge. “It can reflect a deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as the ups and downs.” (Psychology Today) It takes the long view and provides a sense of balance.

Wisdom understands a connection with other individuals, organizations, and our earth. It values intangibles, such as beauty, harmony, and joy, which logic cannot measure and therefore excludes.

Wisdom understands that the world is not binary, not either on or off. It embraces nuance and multiple (potentially competing) perspectives. “Wise people specialize in what Roger Martin calls integrative thinking – ‘the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads’ – and reconcile them for the situation at hand.” (Psychology Today)

Wise people seek to understand, rather than judge. Instead of immediately criticizing, they ask “why” and listen, then work with the other person to understand underlying causes (which they then seek to remedy).

Wise people focus on their purpose in life even if that means putting their personal happiness on the back burner for a little while.

Wise people have a much greater impact on their organizations, their communities and society than smart people or otherwise “successful” people. They make a difference in people’s lives. And isn’t that, ultimately, what life is all about?

I welcome your feedback and comments.

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

Effective Leadership Trait 2 – Puts People First

What do highly effective leaders do? They put people first. They help others meet their highest priority development needs. It seems counterintuitive, but the data prove that putting other people first makes an organization more profitable. An effective leader puts people first by:

· Displaying a servant’s heart

· Mentoring

· Showing care and concern

Servant’s Heart: A servant leader cares deeply how their decisions and actions will affect others – they want others to benefit. So they don’t make decisions purely on financial grounds. They realize that for a company to thrive, the communities in which it operates must also thrive. They inherently use a win-win rather than a zero-sum win-lose model for making decisions and operating. Example: the executives of Burgerville volunteer an hour a week reading to local elementary schoolchildren, because they know that if a child is not reading by the 3rd grade, that child is destined for a life of struggle and poverty. In fact, the slogan of Burgerville, a privately-held for profit organization, is “serve with love”. They don’t talk about “customers” – they talk about “guests”.

Mentoring: I was grateful to have a mentor as I was starting my career – he was more than just a “boss”. I would like to have had more mentors as I changed fields and professions. I’ve found that mentoring others is truly rewarding. Even (especially?) if you didn’t have a mentor, becoming one provides benefits to both you and the mentee. It’s a great way to pay it forward. Everybody wins!

Showing Care and Concern: This concept is countercultural, even revolutionary. Competition is so engrained in American culture that we don’t even consider its cost. Competition for the promotion; competition for the raise; competition for the customer. Negotiating to get the best possible deal for me, or for my company. But when we were children, our mothers taught us to care for others; they taught us to share. Every well-established religion has care for others as one of its foundations. Our companies, and our society, cannot survive, let alone thrive, if we do not actively care for others. Care for others expresses itself in win-win, instead of win-lose.

Next week: Skilled Communicator

Comments? Feedback? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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

#1 Job of a Leader

The #1 job of a leader was clearly illustrated at a high school choir concert last night. Actually, there are two intertwined #1 jobs that every effective leader must do consistently.

1. Inspire – inspire the rest of the organization to bring everything they’ve got, every day, to do their absolute best. The young men and young women on stage were inspired – they were doing their best, in spite of their nerves. They watched their director (and I’ve been in too many choirs that DIDN’T watch the director!), because they trusted their director to lead them successfully.

2. Encourage – the root of the word encourage is Old French “couer”, meaning heart. So an effective leader “heartens” the people. For one song, the choir did not come in properly. The director stopped the beat (and the singers stopped, because they were watching her). The director smiled at them, gave the downbeat again, and this time it worked. What could have been a VERY embarrassing situation for high school students was treated as inconsequential by the director. No wonder the students follow the director – she gives them courage to keep on keeping on, even when things go wrong publicly.

So, kudos to the various choirs of McMinnville High School, and the two directors. They demonstrated leadership – and they got wonderful results.

I welcome comments and feedback.

Gary Langenwalter

Empathy is the #1 Leadership effectiveness trait!

Empathy & Leadership Effectiveness (excerpt)

What are leaders good at? What makes them the most effective?
· Business aptitude 1. Empathy
· Responsibility 2. Trustworthiness
· Clarity 3. Business aptitude
· Internal attunement 4. Depth

Excerpt from a study of 8,000 respondents rating 1,405 leaders in 47 countries. Blessing White, 2009.

How does empathy translate into competitive advantage?

It’s been said that employees join companies, but leave managers. To realize an organization’s full potential, leaders need to understand the power they possess to affect their employees’ level of happiness and engagement. Empathy is the catalyst for building positive workplaces and moving employees up the engagement ladder because it meets a primary human need: to be valued and recognized as an individual. The greater your employees’ engagement, the greater their loyalty and productivity and the greater your competitive edge.

I attended a very insightful Emotional Intelligence workshop recently conducted by Susan Zabriskie. She did an outstanding job with the content, exercises and facilitation! The role play Susan & I did is permanently etched in to my memory. The first part of the exercise with non-empathetic listening (interruption, dismissed, sharing her story, etc.). The second part, was true empathetic listening as shown by her true caring & genuine interest (acknowledging my feelings, my story & truly being present). Now, I am much more aware of how I might not be as empathetic as I thought I was.

Best Regards,


Greg Sievers, PMP, CPC

C 503-833-2016

Secret Sauce of Employee Engagement

One of my clients in rural Massachusetts wanted a team of mid-level managers and professionals to work nights and weekends to implement its new computer system. This caused the team members to miss their kids’ soccer games and other special family times. When the system was successfully implemented, the owner planned to pay for the new system by laying off half the team. The company was too far from any major population center for the laid off employees to commute to any new jobs, and the company was the only employer in town, so houses were worth almost nothing and could not be easily sold. Not so surprisingly, the software never met its goals, so the owner was not able to lay off any of the team.

The problem with employee engagement, as it is commonly viewed, is this: it’s all company-centric. Companies use every tool and technique in the book to try to engage their employees into enhancing the company’s well-being.

This also used to be true of how companies treated customers – customers were supposed to buy what the company wanted them to buy. However, companies finally learned that customers will buy what they want to buy, so companies have gotten much better at listening to their customers, so they can sell what the customers want. However, companies have not yet realized that they can do the same with their employees – that they can ask their employees what they really want, and help them get it.

In my consulting on 4 continents, I have found that there is a common thread the grounds what most people want: they want a good life for their children and their grandchildren. If that is the case in your organization, the question that would truly engage employees would look like this: “How can we use our products and services to help make the world a better play for our children and their children?”

Do you agree? Disagree? I would welcome feedback and pushback. I learned a long time ago that I only learn when somebody disagrees. My e-mail is gary@portlandconsultinggroup.com  Hope to hear from you.