Looking back on lessons learned

By John Langhorne / Guest Column

This is John Langhorne’s final column for the CBJ.

As I approach the end of my consulting career, it occurred to me sharing observations about how the organizational landscape has changed since 1984 might be of value. After culling through a long list, I was struck by the fact that most of the changes are for the good. Here are some for your consideration.

For some time, I have shared the fact that the three women in my life reflect the profound changes in American women’s roles in the 20th and 21st centuries. My mother went to work when she was eight years old, retired after a lifetime of hard, physical work when she was 84, and lived to be 98. My social director went to college when the career choices for women were teacher and nurse. She eventually obtained a MLS, was an administrator in the public schools and an adjunct faculty member in the UI Library School. She was a part the profound changes taking place in gender roles. My daughter has degrees from two prestigious universities and works as a manager for a high-tech American medical company in London.

I often advise young men to surround themselves with intelligent, thoughtful women and do what they suggest to have a great life. Women are profoundly changing every aspect of American life.

Technology has made the instruments of education and commerce widely available. I have been successfully working from a home office for 32 years. The tech I need has been available, inexpensive and accessible, and I cannot imagine working without this base.

The younger generations are impressive. They are tech-savvy and have a short fuse for mistreatment in the workplace. This is driving organizations of all types to treat their employees better. My daughter has had more jobs than I and owned as many homes.

On the organizational landscape, it appears that more managers are adopting a principle-centered leadership style. I am always amused by articles positing our declining productivity, written by people unaware of the gains that can be unleashed by inviting people to become active participants, not just drones. However, there are still too many abusive managers. This results from a failure of courage. Everyone in organizations know the problem managers and are bewildered by the unwillingness to confront the issue. A colleague and friend who co-owns and operates a successful small company has a no a**h**** rule, and it works well for them.

Management and employee development programs that engage people have improved the overall performance of entire workforces – no more “sage on the stage.” For a dramatic example of the power of on-the-job education one only has to look at the quality of graduates from medical schools. The local community college is also an active participant in creating learning spaces modeled on workplaces.

Accompanying this is a shift toward introducing leadership as an important learned skill, although too many of these programs are not based on explicit and tacit knowledge. Peoples’ opinions are not better than thoughtful studies of performance. This has led to empirical studies identifying the elements of various types of successful lives. This area of research, on a topic first discussed by Greek philosophers, promises interesting insights about how we might better ourselves throughout our lives.

A new area has emerged in applied psychology by focusing on what high-performing people do and disseminating this knowledge. Much of this work is happening in programs with MBAs, a rich environment to engage in research with practical applications.

Although the national data suggest otherwise, my impression is that entrepreneurial activity is on the rise in the Corridor. This has been driven by the area-wide rebranding, and by the Corridor Business Journal. The CBJ is a fine “good news” business publication and I recommend people read it alongside the Wall Street Journal.

My final and most important insight is a strong belief that what people need above all else is to be treated with respect. Any person in any private or organizational role cannot fail if they believe and practice this value.

Finally, I would like to thank John Lohman for his encouragement and support since the CBJ began its successful run. Mens sana corpore sano.

John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates, www.langhorneassociates.com. His most recent book, “Beyond IQ: Practical Steps To Find the Best You,” is available digitally on Amazon.