CLASS OF 1959: Colonel Mike Teague ✯ Bringing People Together
Ever since Michael Teague ’85 reported for his first Army assignment in Germany—a short 15 kilometers from what was then the East German border—he has devoted his career to bringing diverse groups of people together to create solutions.
His approach is simple: “I never have a personal answer to the problem, other than it has to be good for the public,” says the retired colonel.
With that perspective, Mike was the ideal appointee as Oklahoma’s first secretary of energy and environment, a position he took on in September 2013, just months after retiring from a 28-year career as an Army engineer. He was fresh out of his role as Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Tulsa District, an assignment he feels made his transition to state government much easier. “Tulsa wasn’t a traditional military unit,” he says. “There were 750 people, and only five in uniform.” He mostly collaborated with transportation stakeholders, fish and wildlife services, and other agencies.
In Mike’s early days as energy and environment secretary, he says some questioned whether he was qualified for the position. But he was up to the challenge, recalling a lesson that traces back to the Hill. “I had never set foot on Norwich’s campus until the day I arrived,” he recalls. “Norwich was a place filled with diverse people I had never met.”
Differences, he says, don’t have to stand in the way of a solution; in fact, differences often lead to solutions. “It’s about being comfortable with who you are, owning the problem, and then guiding the process,” he says. And that’s how he continues to be “the person who brings people together.” It’s the diversity of the challenges that continues to draw him in. “I like the problems that are a little civil, a little mechanical, and a little bit government affairs.”
Currently, Mike’s biggest concern as secretary involves the rise in the number of earthquakes across the state. In 2015 alone, Oklahoma registered 907 earthquakes above magnitude 3.0, nearly 800 more than in 2013. This dramatic spike, he says, is a result of injecting wastewater into disposal wells.
“My job is to bring the environment and energy sides together to work on this really hard problem,” Mike says. That’s why, each month, he sits down with a range of stakeholders, from oil and gas representatives and university academics, to environmental advocates and state agencies. “Everybody in the room has a different reason to solve this problem,” he says. “We may never agree on why we should solve it, but have to agree it must be solved.” With serious restrictions put in place, Oklahoma saw a decrease in earthquakes in 2016.
As each new problem comes his way, Mike Teague lives by three leadership traits: critical thinking, character, and compassion. “I’m a civil engineer working on earthquakes with PhD-trained seismologists,” Mike says. “You have to be honest and say when you don’t understand something. That’s the heart of being a critical thinker.”
When it comes to character, he credits his years at Norwich for teaching him to own a problem and be part of a team. And above all, Mike keeps an open mind to the views of others. “Different opinions don’t make people wrong, and listening to them will make us better.” – Audrey Seaman ’13