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Leadership’s secret ingredient 

I worked for the Hewlett Packard Company (HP) in Boise for over 30 years. I retired when I was elected to the Idaho Legislature in 2018. A group of former HP employees were recently asked to recount their favorite Bill and Dave story (referring to the founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard). 

Here’s mine. It reveals what I believe to be an essential element of leadership, be it in the public or private sector, or in one’s personal life. 

photo of steve berch

Steve Berch

Bill and Dave’s last visit to the Boise site was in the early 1990s.  A “coffee talk” for all site employees was hosted by the two and held in the interior courtyard at HP’s campus on Chinden Boulevard.  

An entourage of executives accompanying Bill and Dave entered the courtyard through a single door. Dave was physically impaired by this time, so it took a while for the party to make its way through the entrance. Many employees (mostly factory line workers) were backed up behind them as Dave slowly advanced into the courtyard. Bill was the last of the executives to enter and politely held the door for those behind him, which turned into an endless sea of employees clamoring to get through. 

Bill continued to hold the door and then subtly changed his stance to that of a doorman — with a pleasant smile — so he could face the people as they walked by. Some people recognized him but couldn’t stop due to the employees pressing from behind. Others just continued through, oblivious of the founder holding the door. 

This lasted for more than a few minutes with Bill silently standing there, holding the door for his employees. The executives were being so attentive to Dave they forgot about Bill. Eventually someone realized Bill was separated from the group and retrieved him to prepare for the talk. 

I was watching all of this unfold from a distance and realized that through his silent action, Bill was displaying an important attribute of a successful leader: humility. Here was one of the wealthiest people in America gladly playing doorman to his employees — and genuinely enjoying the moment. 

How many politicians or captains of industry would do that today? 

This ability to be humble — to be polite, considerate, appreciative and respectful of others — grounds a leader with those they lead and serve. It makes and keeps us human. Bill and Dave understood that, and infused these values into the culture of their company. 

I don’t put myself on the same pedestal as Bill and Dave, but knocking on over 28,000 doors helps ground me in my role as a legislator and a public servant to my constituency. If every Idaho legislator did that, our state government would be far more responsive to the needs of all its citizens, and Idaho would be a more pleasant place to live, even when we disagree. 

We could use more humility from people in leadership positions — and from each other. Here’s hoping there are more ‘Bill and Dave’s out there to lead and serve us in 2022 and beyond. 

— Rep. Steve Berch is serving his second term in the Idaho House, representing District 15. Berch sits on the education, business and local government committees. 

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