Pat Langer’s Trustworthiness Makes Change Easier

“Pat Langer is a calming presence.  Partly it’s because she’s very thoughtful and measured in her responses; partly it’s because she’s such a great listener.  But I’m convinced that it’s primarily because she’s so entirely trustworthy: in dealing with her, you immediately relax – you feel safe.

The first time I ever met Pat, she had just been brought on as the head of HR, Legal and Business Affairs for Lifetime Television.  I knew nothing about her or her background: all I knew was that some woman named Patricia had been hired to oversee these key staff functions.

We spent most of that first fairly brief conversation talking about the work that Proteus had been doing with Lifetime over the preceding 3 or 4 years.  As we said goodbye, and I left her office, I realized two things: I had complete faith that she would respect the confidentiality of anything I had told her, and I was quite sure that she would follow through on her commitment to set up a second meeting.

Over the years, that initial sense of Pat’s trustworthiness has been affirmed again and again.  And it’s not just my sense:  when I mentioned to one of her colleagues that I was planning on using Pat as a “trustworthy exemplar” in this book, this person’s response was, “Good choice – Pat’s picture should be in the dictionary under the definition for the word ‘integrity.’”

             — From Chapter 8 of Leading So People Will Follow

I enjoy seeing and experiencing the effects of Pat’s trustworthiness.  Since January of 2011, Pat has been the EVP of HR for NBCUniversal, and it’s been a wild time. She joined right around the time Comcast became the majority owner of NBCUniversal, and so walked into a situation that involved huge change, massive uncertainty and high anxiety for all involved.

I was sure, though, that those around her would quickly come to see her thoughtfulness, honesty and fairness, and that it would have a profound positive influence on the situation.  I’ve seen that happen: both the HR community at NBCUniversal and the folks in the business units now regard her as a core point of stability and clarity as they continue to define their new world.

Observing and working with Pat in this situation has really reinforced for me the importance of having trustworthy leaders during times of great change.  Change is tough for people, and one of the things that makes it hardest is the heightened level of ambiguity. When a leader is trustworthy people can rely on the fact that he or she will tell them the truth about what’s happening and what will happen – which reduces the degree of ambiguity significantly.  A really trustworthy leader will even tell you when he or she can’t tell you!  I’ve seen Pat do this a number of times over the past couple of years, saying some version of, “I’m not free to talk about this yet because of confidentiality issues (or legal issues, or personnel issues); I’ll speak more about it as soon as I’m able.”

Knowing that you’ll get the straight story when everything is up for grabs is enormously reassuring.  It frees people to keep moving ahead and go through the needed change, vs. getting paralyzed or resistant. Given the level of change in nearly every industry right now, trustworthiness in our leaders seems more important than ever before.

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About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

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