Derek Pangelinan, owner of Derek Rey Consulting LLC

Protect your people: A leader’s top priority

By Derek R. Pangelinan


Business is mostly about numbers and policies. Humans, however, are about much more than that. Those two, conflicting natures have the potential to create powerful friction – and even pain – in the working world. It takes a strong, committed leader to be able to shield employees from the fallout.  

Let’s examine three stories that demonstrate what can be accomplished when leaders protect their people from that friction and pain.

Food for thought

 A customer in a restaurant was behaving rudely toward the waitstaff. The restaurant owner gave his employees an opportunity to manage the situation. However, when the customer made a particularly crass comment, the owner decided it was time to step in. He took over the service for that customer, a move for which the staff was relieved and thankful.  

When the customer proceeded to complain to the owner that the waitstaff had been rude to him, the owner refuted the claim by explaining that he had been observing the entire time. The customer then stood and yelled an aggressively rude comment across the room to where the waitstaff was gathered.  

The owner responded by supporting his employees.  “Get out!  No one speaks to my people like that,” the restaurant owner told the customer. “(If) I see you back here, I’ll call the cops.”

Perfecting performance

 A mid-level manager in a division of a large organization, who traditionally had been a stellar performer, had slipped in recent months. Annual performance reviews were coming up, and the executive of the division was considering terminating the mid-level manager.  

The mid-level manager’s director was candid about the fact that the division executive was not happy. While the director told the mid-level manager that his job was at risk, she also offered to support him and help him improve his performance.

The director counseled and coached the mid-level manager. When all the company reviews were over and a handful of people had been terminated, the mid-level manager remained.  He had turned his performance around with his supervisor’s support. He felt more enthusiastic about his work than he had in years.  He also felt safe under her leadership to take new risks and make innovative changes that dramatically improved the results of the division.  

When he went to his director to offer his thanks, her response was simple. “I’ll always have your back,” she told the mid-level manager. “None of my people have ever been terminated for poor performance at reviews and I intend to keep it that way.”

The best policy

 A talent specialist for a mid-size company was in charge of the launch of a new online portal for managing the hiring process. 

The new software had been pitched as a money-saver for the organization. However, in reality, it was hampered by glitches that made it difficult to use. In addition, in an attempt to save money, the company had arranged for the lowest level of tech support from the software provider.

The talent specialist was the only one who could see that the software wasn’t going to work well. She went to her company’s vice president of human resources and explained that in order to avert frustration and potentially costly problems down the road, the company should either give up on the software or spend more money to increase tech support levels. She offered to explain her position to the higher ups in the company; after all, she was in charge of this software and she felt responsible. 

The vice president of human resources thanked the talent specialist, but declined the offer.  

“I will deliver the news,” the vice president told the talent specialist. “It’s going to get ugly in that meeting. I’m ultimately responsible for it, and it’s my job to take that kind of heat so that you can keep doing everything you can to help us get back on track.”

In February 2018, Melissa Harrell, Google’s staffing service manager, and Lauren Barbato, a people analyst for Google, dug into the results of a 2008 study by the company called “Project Oxygen.” During their re-examination of the project data, Harrell and Barbato realized that when leaders create an environment where their people feel “psychologically safe” or protected, employees’ performances and results rise.  The three stories offer insight into how leaders can create “environments of protection” in their own workplaces.  

As a leader, make protecting your employees your top priority. Your people will reward you with commitment, performance, and results. 

To read more about what Lauren Barbato and Melissa Harrell learned during their revisit of Google’s Project Oxygen results and how it relates to the role managers play in modern-day companies, visit

Derek Pangelinan owns Derek Rey Consulting LLC. He is a management/leadership coach for small and medium business owners in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and runs a variety of workshops to help them build their teams and improve communication and commitment in the workplace.

For more information about coaching or workshops for you company, contact him by email at or visit his website at