If you’re a leader of a company in the United States and you see your employees as tools. Tools that you use to earn success for yourself. Then there’s a high possibility that your employees wanted you out. Truly human leadership is to not see your employees as a function to success but it’s to see them as somebody’s precious child. Leadership is such a strong tool that it can be used for the wrong reasons. Learn what it means to be a leader with your host, Steve Farber, and his guest Bob Chapman. Bob is the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. He was also named the #3 CEOs in the world in an Inc. magazine article. He believes that a people-centric style of leadership is the way to go in today’s world. Learn what qualities are needed in true human leadership so that no one gets left behind.
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Truly Human Leadership In Business And Beyond With Bob Chapman
My guest is Bob Chapman, who is a bit of a legend. He won’t tell you that but I will tell you that. I’ve been excited to talk to Bob because of the incredible impact that he’s having in the world of business and beyond. Bob was named the number three CEO in the world in an Inc. Magazine article. He’s intentional about using his platform as Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller to build a better world. Barry-Wehmiller is a $3 billion-plus capital equipment and engineering consulting firm. They’ve got more than 12,000 team members around the world. Bob became the Senior Executive of the organization in 1975 at age 30. At the time, the company was a 90-year-old business, had $20 million in revenue, had outdated technology, and, as they describe it, a weak financial position. Bob overcame those obstacles by applying a unique blend of strategy and culture.Americans don't have a poverty of money, they have a poverty of dignity. Click To Tweet
Since then, he’s led Barry-Wehmiller through more than 115 successful acquisitions. Over the past couple of decades, he’s been through a series of realizations, which led him away from so-called traditional management practices to a people-oriented, people-centric style, which he calls Truly Human Leadership. He’s written about his experience in a much-acclaimed book called Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family. That’s a pretty good tee up for our conversation. Bob, thanks so much for being here. Welcome to the podcast.
It’s a joy to have this opportunity to share the message with you. Each time I have a chance to do this, we reach more people in the world so we can start healing the brokenness we’re feeling in the world through leadership.
Let’s start with that. I want to hear about this so-called series of realizations. What was that all about? Let’s start with what you said because we live in a world that is deeply divided, fraught with peril. We’ve been through and are still going through this pandemic. If you read the articles on the news, watch the news on cable, or whatever it is, you get this picture of the world that says there is no way out of this mess. You have created something at Barry-Wehmiller that characterizes to me what the world should be like. When you say it’s a great opportunity to bring this message to change the world, you’re not talking about the world of business, are you?
No. I speak in all parts of our society from health care, nonprofits, the military, the government, business, universities, and I see the brokenness in every part of our society and the impact that it makes. Before the pandemic, we had in America the lowest unemployment in over 50 years, a strong stock market, and a vibrant economy. We had peace and prosperity. Yet, we had one of the highest levels of anxiety and depression we’ve ever had. We had peace and prosperity, families go vacation, improve their living, and send their kids to school. Why would we have anxiety and depression? It’s because we created prosperity at the expense of human dignity. Tom Friedman capstone it in an article in The New York Times.
We don’t have poverty of money in this country. We have a poverty of dignity. When people don’t feel valued and feel a sense of humiliation, you’ll see anger and unrest like you’ve never seen before. In my humble opinion, what the world suffers from is the word management. I took management classes. I got a management degree and got a job in management. What did I try to do? I tried to manage people. That was the first half of my career. I’m smarter than you. I’ve got a position of authority. I’m going to tell you what to do. People did it and I felt good about it. That characterized the first half of my career.
Did that start when you took over at age 30 or before that?People are self-destructing for economic gain because that's how success is measured. Click To Tweet
I was doing that from out of college because that’s what I was taught. Now, I defy the word. I hate the word management, the word supervisor, and the word boss. I love coaches, mentors, and leaders. What does the word management mean? It means the manipulation of others for your success.
It’s the handling of things.
What does leadership mean? Leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you. A profound difference. What we are suffering from in this world is leadership malpractice. We are self-destructing for economic gain because we have never learned that human dignity and economic gain can be in harmony. They’re not in disharmony. That is the summary of what I’ve come to know that we have not taught people how to care. We’ve taught people how to use others for their success, which is called a me-centric world as opposed to a we-centric world.
It may be obvious to say that when you talk to the typical person on the street, as it were, and ask them to describe their experience at work, they’ll say a lot of things. They may or may not like the work that they’re doing. It’s where they go to make their money. A few people will naturally say, “I go to work to feel dignified. I go to work for people to treat me with great respect, care, and to listen to my needs.” That’s not how we describe what the work experience is.
When my granddaughter graduated from Aspen High School, I was in the Aspen Music Tent for the graduation event. As each child walked up to get their diploma in high school, the family members’ friends were screaming and yelling with joy as they got their diploma. As my granddaughter walked up to get her diploma, I started crying because I knew the world that we were sending these kids into. These statistics, this world that I know exists, are startling. Eighty eight percent of all people in this country feel they work for an organization that does not care about them.
Three out of four people in this country are disengaged in what they’re doing. Sixty five percent of people would give up a salary increase if they could fire their boss. There’s a 20% increase in heart attacks on Monday mornings when people have to go back to work. When I talk to CEOs, I say, “You’re worried about the cost of health care. You are the problem.” Seventy percent of all illnesses are chronic. The biggest cause of chronic illness is stress. The biggest cause of stress is work. We are self-destructing for economic gain. We are pressured to create that economic gain because that’s how we measure success, money, power, and position. It doesn’t matter how you get it as long as you’ve got it. I always tell executives, “Your greatest act of charity is not the money you give to the United Way, the Heart Association, or the cancer site. Your greatest act of charity in this world is how you treat the people you have the privilege of leading.”
Shouldn’t that be obvious by now? Every mission statement of every company on the planet has some variation on the theme of, “People are most important,” whatever label they want to give it, and something along the lines of, “We treat people with dignity and respect.”
This is not an American issue. We operate all over the world. It is a global issue, even in France where we have tremendous government intervention to try and protect workers from management. When I was buying a company in France from a prominent French company, I flew over there to the workers’ councils because they have to agree that we acquire their company. Here’s an ugly American flying over to buy a company in France from a prominent French company.
I met with the workers’ councils, six men and women. They say, “Mr. Chapman, we went up to Paris to study your culture. We met with the workers’ councils. We read your values. We want you to buy our company.” I felt a surge of pride as an American that they had studied our culture and wanted to be part of it. Picture yourself being me. Across the table from me are these six fine men and women of this French workers’ council. A gentleman sitting next to the chairman said, “Mr. Chairman, can I say something?” He said, “Sure.” He said, “Mr. Chapman, we’ve been waiting for you for 32 years,” and they began crying. The government can’t protect your soul. It can’t validate your worth. There’s no law you could pass that would validate the worth of an individual.
Truly Human Leadership sees everybody, not as an engineer, an accountant, a production worker, an hourly worker, or a salaried worker. Truly Human Leadership sees everybody who has the privilege of leading as somebody’s precious child. Knowing as we do now that the way you treat that precious child who’s in your care for 40 hours a week is going to profoundly affect their health more so than their family doctor and profoundly affect the way they go home and treat their spouse and their children.
When we look at the issues we face in our society, what’s wrong with kids today? Where did those kids grow up? They grew up in our families. They grew up with parents who probably had a job where they were manipulated, used, and discarded when they weren’t needed. They came home not present to be loving parents and spouses. The issue we face in this world is that the Industrial Revolution was all about economic gain. As it raised the standard of living, we had better education, and better housing, we thought that it was good for everybody. Unfortunately, we forgot one thing in that equation in the Industrial Revolution, which is to teach people who had the privilege of leading people in these factories and offices how to care about them. That is the problem.
I was interviewed by a university from the organizational development professors and after an hour and a half interview, they said to me, “Mr. Chapman, you’re the first CEO we have ever interviewed that never talked about your product.” I said, “We’ve been talking about our product for the last hour and a half, it’s our people.” I will not go to my grave proud of the machinery we build in our company. I will go to my grave proud of the people who designed and built that machinery. Our product is our people.
There’s something underlying that belies a delusion that we’ve all bought into, which is that economic success, monetary success, and the people’s side of the equation are somehow either/or, or even mutually exclusive that you have to focus on one or the other. It’s either going to be, “We’re going to focus on the money or we’re going to focus on the people.” What folks haven’t quite figured out yet is that they are intimately connected. You focus on the people and the money and that helps the bottom line.Your greatest act of charity in this world is how you treat people. Click To Tweet
Stories tell a lot. Harvard wrote a case study on our culture and was introduced to a global group of leaders, average age 48 from 80 countries around the world. They’re in for some extended leadership development, advanced education. They picked our brand new case study, so they invited me up to sit in on the class. These executives from around the world studied our culture and our business through the case study for hours before the class. I came into the classroom and discussed it. Finally, Professor Jan Rivkin, the Chair of the MBA program, said, “I’m going to ask you a question now. Is Barry-Wehmiller successful because of its strategy or its culture?”
It’s little debate and they voted. Seventy five percent of the people voted because of our culture. Our price has gone up 14% for 25 years. We’re a privately held company but we have a market simulated share price. It’s a fair judge when we have transactions. The professor asked me to come up and react to that. I never heard people discuss that. I went up with an open mind and I said to the group, “I understand why you all feel we’re successful because of our strategy but that is not the case. What we have is a robust, well-designed business model that was creating value well before we were awakened to this cultural journey within.”
Let me give you an analogy. When Ferrari designs the perfect high-performance engine, if you don’t put the premium fuel in that engine so it can run to its potential, it will never realize its potential. Our business model and our strategy is the engine. The culture is what brings that alive and creates value. My statement is, we have validated that you can have great human value and economic value in harmony. They are not in disharmony.
If the statistic I told you earlier is correct that 3 out of 4 people in this country are disengaged in what they’re doing, it only makes sense that if you could get people to bring their full gifts to work, we could perform at much higher levels, we could create much more economic and human value. We’ve been on this journey for over seventeen years. It’s not that it’s bad people, it’s a bad system. It was a system built on the assumption that peace and prosperity were the essences of our government’s goal. Our education system was originally designed to have an informed citizenry.
The Industrial Revolution said, “We need skills. We need engineers, accountants, lawyers, marketing specialists, production engineers, etc.” Universities became a skills factory to feed what the market wanted and not what the market needed. The universities went on and got good raw materials, the best students they could, processed them through the system, and then sold them to the market for the highest price possible. They were successful if the demand was great. What we gave the market is what they want and what they needed.
Unions were formed in the time of the Industrial Revolution to protect the greed created by the huge wealth created. The underlying assumption of our government and people is if we create economic prosperity, we will have happiness. Gallup did a survey of 155 countries for the source of happiness. They said that the number one source of happiness in the world is not wealth, not health, but a good job doing meaningful work with people you enjoy. What do we deny 88% of the people? We deny happiness. That manifests itself in broken marriages. Broken marriages impact the children raised in those families. It impacts their behavior in our society.
To me, what we’ve been doing through our leadership institute is trying to help companies learn to care who believes what we believe. We are treating cancer but we’re not curing cancer. The cure for cancer, which we’re now focused on, the vaccine, is leaders who have the skills and the courage to care. It’s a teachable skill. In our university, when we started from scratch years ago to convert managers into leaders, we taught three simple skills. The most powerful skill of leadership is empathetic listening, it’s the greatest act of caring, recognition, and celebration. How do you let people know in thoughtful, timely ways, appropriate ways that they matter? Also, the culture of service, seizing the opportunity to serve others.
We began to do that and we saw a transformation in our environment from simply economic gain to human gain. People from around the world, as you know, start coming into operations from McKinsey, Harvard, Stanford, Simon Sinek. They said, “I have never seen anything like this.” Even Bill Ury of Harvard said, “I saw the answer to world peace.” I said, “How could you possibly see the answer to world peace in our manufacturing operation?” He said, “I saw a place where people genuinely care for each other.”
You are a self-described product of the system that you laid out. You went through school. You learned the skills to be a manager. You learned the skills to be an accountant. You started to take on management responsibilities at the company. You worked your way up to the senior position at the company all under that training. There was a shift that happened for you at some point. Was it something? Was it some event? Was it a series of events? Was it the proverbial journey? Tell us that story if you would.
I describe them as three revelations and that’s the only way I can explain them. When you hear them, you’ll understand what I mean. The first one was in 1997. We were starting to acquire companies and each one was critical to our success. We bought a $55 million company in South Carolina. I flew down there to be there the first day we owned it. I walked in to get a cup of coffee before the office opened. It was March of ‘97. What did people do in March? They have March Madness, office pools. I wasn’t into that. I didn’t know anybody. They didn’t know me. I was somebody having a cup of coffee in the lunchroom.
I watched people. These people were having fun talking about the outcome of the basketball games, who’s going to go to the final floor, and they were having fun. The closer it got to 8:00 when the office opened, you can see the fun go out of their body. I didn’t know I was having this experience at the time. I was watching people bet on basketball. I’ve retroactively put this back together. What I observed was people having fun. My first meeting was with our customer service team. It was a meaningful part of that business. I wanted to get my hands on it and see what level of customer service we’re providing.
With no experience, I had no agenda other than being with them. Because of what I had experienced in the lunchroom, out of me popped and that’s the only way I need to describe it. No forethought, no experience, no intention. I said, “We’re going to play a game. Whoever sells the most each week will win $100. If the team wins, they’ll win $100.” They had 21 reasons why that wouldn’t work. For some reason, I had 21 reasons why it would work. My only goal was to have fun. When do people express their gifts? It’s when they’re having fun.
By the end of the quarter, the revenue was up by 20%. The joy was up by 1,000%. People were having fun because those people knew every day exactly the score of the game. They knew who was winning. They knew what the team was doing and who had the most points and they had fun. They were texting each other each night. I interviewed them afterward and I said, “What happened? How did it go?” They said, “Mr. Chapman, I always thought I was nice to the customer but now I’m nice because I want to win.” That opened my mind to thoughts I had never been educated and exposed to in over my twenty-year career. I was profoundly touched.
The second event is, I was in church with my wife and my mentor was the rector of our church. He gives powerful sermons. He helped me live a more purposeful life. One day, I was sitting there and the sermon was over and I was getting ready to leave. I looked at my wife, Cynthia, and I said, “Cynthia, Ed only has this for one hour a week. We have people for 40 hours a week. We are 40 times more powerful than the church to impact people’s lives.” As I walked out of that church that day, I had this thought, “Business could be the most powerful force for good in the world if we simply cared for the people we had the privilege of leading.” That was number two.
Number three, the one people remember the most that I can’t believe the way he’s developing. At a wedding, many of you have been there. A friend of mine, his daughter was getting married. He was walking her down the aisle and everybody’s oohing how beautiful she looked, how proud he was, how precious this young man was at the altar. All of a sudden, my mind goes to a different place and I said, “All 12,000 people who work for us around the world are like that young man and young lady. They’re somebody’s precious child who those parents of those children simply wanted them to live a life of meaning and purpose so they could be who they intended to be. We have the power to give their life meaning and purpose.”
That day, I stopped looking at people as a function for my success. I completely turned it around and said, “I will have a profound impact on the lives of the people, in this case, 12,000 people.” When you see them as somebody’s precious child and not as a function that you use for your success, it changes everything, the way you view things, the way you choose the words. That day, I realized that we needed to take these revelations and begin teaching people how to care for those that had the privilege of leading. The beauty is we started with a clean sheet of paper. We taught human skills. The skills we ended up teaching to transform managers into leaders were empathetic listening, recognition, celebration, and cultural service. I cannot believe how this happened to me. I was doing well as a traditional manager focused on profitable growth and those fundamentals of value, which is the way we teach. It’s all about that.
I wonder if there was an unspoken revelation that came along with those three beautiful ones that you had. One thing I didn’t hear you say in any one of those is if we could show everybody that we care, think of how much more money we’ll make. If we could have treated everybody with that knowledge that everybody is somebody’s precious child, think of what that will do to our bottom line. Did you have that thought at all anywhere in that equation?
I’ve never had anybody say to me what you said. It never occurred to me that it would create more wealth or value. It was a revelation. Simon Sinek and I talk all the time. Parenting and leadership are identical. A lot of what I was learning in the same period and the same arc of transformations, I was trying to be a father of six kids and a decent husband. I was learning how to do that. What I realized in this journey is parenting and leadership are identical.
What’s parenting? The stewardship of these precious lives that come into our life through birth, adoption, or second marriage, which everybody takes seriously. What is leadership? the stewardship of these precious lives of people who walk in our building around the world who simply want to know that who they are and what they do matters. We were already doing well. This was not putting premium fuel in the engine. This was a sense of awareness of the way we were called to live and work together where we genuinely care for each other. There’s no economic modeling whatsoever.
It’s interesting that parenting parallels in the same way that you didn’t ask the monetary question along with these revelations. That other revelation was that it doesn’t matter. I’ve raised more than a couple myself. I don’t remember ever saying, “I want to make sure that my kids have the best opportunities and feel safe and trust me. Someday these little bastards are going to grow up and take care of me. The payoff will come when that happens. That’s why I’m doing this.” That never occurred to me. That doesn’t occur to most parents. We don’t do it for that reason. We do for the word that we like to use around these parts, it’s love. Love doesn’t need further justification. It’s something that we should be doing for each other.The number one source of happiness in the world is not wealth or health. It's having a meaningful job with people you enjoy. Click To Tweet
I would say to you from when we first met that the words we choose are important to me in that message. I purposely have found my way to the word care for others. Love is a pretty special word in describing a special feeling with a special individual. I simply care for my children and that does not mean being nice, it means doing the right thing for them so they can grow up and be who they’re intended to be and appreciate it for whatever it is. The words we choose are extremely important. Truly Human Leadership is about caring for the people you have the privilege of leading.
Simon Sinek has a phenomenal quote that you’ll like, “In the military, we honor those who give of themselves in service of others. In business, we give bonuses to people who sacrifice others in service of themselves.” After he says that, Simon says, “In the military, officers eat last. It means we teach our military leaders their primary responsibilities, the men and women in their care. Why can’t we in business teach our leaders their primary responsibilities, the men and women in their care? It never occurred to us.”
Our universities teach technical skills because the market wants technical skills. We don’t teach human skills. What we got is we have an out-of-balance system. Money is happiness. As long as you get money, it doesn’t matter. In fact, money is not the source of happiness. I would say to you that this revelation we had led to how do we care for others. I have given the speech all over the world to every part of our society and I see the brokenness not just in business but I see it in our universities, our healthcare system, and our education system. We have not taught leaders to care. We have hospital administrators. We have school principals. We don’t have leaders. They’re not bad people.
Even in our church, I say, “You can’t say to people go forth in the world and live as God intended you to live.” “Could you give me a little clue on what that looks like?” We can’t ask people to care for others. We can’t demand they care for others. We have to teach people how to care for others. It is a teachable skill that when you do this, grown men and women sob. When we created our leadership development program where we transform managers into leaders to our education program, we had no intention and idea we would touch people’s souls when we thought that.
The amount of emotions that people express when we take them from management, which is manipulation, to leadership, which is caring, is unbelievable. The older you are, the more you will have emotion because you’ll know the more people you’ve hurt in your journey unintentionally. The brokenness we feel in the world is because we have not taught people how to care. It can’t come from our parents because they weren’t taught. Our church tells us to live as God intended but they don’t tell us how.
I was invited into the school one time because they want to embrace our leadership principles. They took me to a class to experience it and it happened to be a debate class. They said, “Mr. Chapman, we welcome your thoughts.” I watched four brilliant young men debate a subject that they were going to go to Chicago for a competition. the teacher at the end of the debate said, “Mr. Chapman, what are your reactions?” I said, “I saw what’s wrong with the world.” He said, “What?” I said, “Yes. They’re future senators, congressmen, governors, mayors.” It’s, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” and not, “Help me understand how you feel.”
We have failed to give our population, our citizenry the fundamental skills to live together in harmony. The economic model that was felt to create prosperity and happiness has amplified the brokenness. At least farmers working in the crops have a sense of dignity. The issue we face in this world is that we have a model built upon economic prosperity and not human prosperity. We can only achieve human prosperity when we learn the skills of caring and it starts with listening to understand and not listening to judge.
The work that you guys did originally was to say, “If we want to create that culture of caring for each other, what should that look like? How should people act towards each other and then let’s teach them how to do that.” The empathetic listening, for example. You then started to teach that as a skill. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not, “Be good to each other.” It’s, “Take these steps.” Part of it is philosophical. For example, the older managers who you’re describing, it’s a shift in perspective from what I thought I was supposed to be doing to what I should be doing, caring for people. The remorse that can come along with that for thinking about how many people I’ve damaged over the years, that’s a shift in perspective. Now that I have that perspective, what are the steps that I need to take?
The other thing that occurs to me, Bob, is when I go around the world in my talks and whatnot and we get into a discussion about what it means to change the world for the better, I never get any disagreement on the value in doing so. “Do you think it’s a good idea to change the world? No. Leave it the way it is. That’s fine. Thank you.” Everybody nods their heads in agreement. The question is, what do we do about it? What you’re demonstrating with your company and the people that you’re influencing is you’re giving us a place to start.
The way that I like to describe it is the world versus the World. I can change the world of my company, for example. Through that, I can create a model and an example for what the world at large could possibly be versus saying, “I can’t change the world at large because that’s too big. I’m not a politician. I don’t have influence. I don’t have connections. I can change the dynamics of my team. I can change the dynamics in my company.” To then be able to say to the rest of the world, like what you’re doing, “Look what we’re doing here.” Through that, we can teach them how to do it.
Remember, those revelations happened. It wasn’t that I read a book. It wasn’t that we brought in a consultant. It wasn’t that we hired some organizational leader who brought these ideas. The revelations awakened us. One day, a young man who worked as part of our organizational development team said to me what nobody else would say, “What is your greatest concern?” I’m an eternal optimist. I had to think about it and I said, “My greatest concern is that we’ve been blessed with a leadership model that could heal the world and it would die with me.”
We got up after that dinner and the next morning, I said, “You’ve awakened in me something I didn’t even know I was worried about.” I’ve seen many organizations fail when the founder of those principles leaves. What do religions do to live over time? They articulate their beliefs, which we have in the Guiding Principles of Leadership. Disciples tell stories that bring those beliefs to life. I said, “How are we going to create disciples?” We need to create a University where we teach people how to care, so they believe it. It’s not Bob’s thoughts. I was the vehicle this came through. This is the way I want to live my life, caring for others and being a steward of those lives.
We’re fortunate to have our jet. If you get close to aviation when you have your own jet, you realize that before you walk on the plane, the pilots have been to the rigor of a checklist. They take nothing for granted. They double-check everything before you walk on that plane. What we decided, I said, “Why don’t we create the leadership checklist?” It’s founded on our principles. As a leader, what do you need to think about every day to ensure that the safety of those people who entrusted their lives to you is going to be solid? That’s how it began.
I was astounded that the first class that this team I put together to teach was empathetic listening. I said, “Why do we need to teach adults to listen? We know how to listen.” They said, “Bob, we’re going to teach it.” They overrode me and they began teaching them. Six months later, I was in Minneapolis and a young lady in her 30s came up to me and said, “Mr. Chapman, I took your listening class at university.” I said, “What was it like?” I had no idea. She said, “It changed my life.” I said, “We taught a class at work that changed your life?” She said, “Yes. I now know how to raise my two-year-old daughter.” That brought my emotions and my intellectual curiosity up to a hyper level.
I began traveling around the country and sitting down with groups of people that took these classes. The stories I heard broke my heart and gave me profound hope. We have been blessed with something that could heal the world to the power that we have in business to influence people’s lives. It is astounding. Ninety five percent of the feedback we get from the people who go through this educational journey is not about running our accounting department, our sales department, or being better foremen or a better second shift team leader. It’s about how it affects their marriage and their relationship with their kids.Stop looking at people as a function for your success. Click To Tweet
Where did these principles come from? It’s heavily influenced by Cynthia and raising six kids and trying to be a good steward to the kids. It’s the harmony between leadership and parenting, the learnings of recognition and celebration, empathetic listening. We’ve been on this journey for over fifteen years. What we’re trying to be now is not an intellectual theory that is validated by scientific studies but a living example of caring. You can create human and economic value.
Matter of fact, it makes sense that if you engage people’s heads and hearts, you will get gifts that you never imagined. There’s an expression, we paid people for their hands for years and they would have given us their heads and their hearts for free if we had known how to ask them. What our leadership principles do is give you the gift to ask people for their heads and their hearts, not for their individual success but the team members to the right and left to them and who they care about. It’s an organizational success.
If I may, let me offer a little observation about your journey. You started that beautiful passage about you didn’t learn this stuff in a class. You didn’t learn this from organizational development people. You didn’t learn this stuff from a seminar. It came from your personal experience. That is where it started for you. You had these revelations because you were awakened paying attention and not having an experience but reflecting on the experiences you were having. Why are they having fun before work and then that fun gets sucked out of them when the work starts? Why does one hour in the church have this impact on us and we have people for 40 hours? Why aren’t we treating everybody the same way that this person getting married is and the feelings that their parents have for them?
You’re asking questions and then saying, “Why can’t, why shouldn’t, or why wouldn’t we do that in the way that we run our business?” That’s a profound thing, Bob, the fact that you asked those questions. You took it to the next step, which is, “I’m not going to assume that everybody’s going to have similar revelations and come to the same conclusions. I got to share those insights with other people and teach them how to do it.” It led to your university, to people coming up to you and saying, “That training changed my life.” It would never have happened if you had any one of those experiences and instead said, “That’s interesting.”
Even though you didn’t learn this stuff from a seminar, other people can. Otherwise, we rely on them to have their own experience and derive meaning from it in a way that’s going to benefit everybody else. One other thing to me, that third skill that you teach about coming from a culture of service is a big part of what service is. It’s not enough for me to have the insight. The service comes from my sharing that insight with other people so they can also benefit from it.
I call them revelations because they’re transformative. I didn’t read a book. Nobody taught me. Nobody challenged me. I wasn’t addressing a problem. We were doing well at the time. How can I possibly walk from having a cup of coffee with people I didn’t know, watch them watch March Madness, and come up with a game we would play? They had 21 reasons why it wouldn’t work and I had 21 reasons why it would. I’ve never done it before. I never thought about it. It’s one ounce of free thought. When you see how it impacted their joy, their sense of team, it was unbelievable. The stories would blow your mind in terms of what it felt like. Those people had an individual component and a team component. When they did well, they knew they’re helping the team and they coached the team.
To me, it was some gift that somebody gave me, the thought. If we did an intelligence test, I would come up with average intelligence. I had an average educational experience. What I’m long on is a positive attitude and creativity. My heart and my mind were open to that awakening. Somebody was using us to show. It was unbelievable what happened with that organization after we did that. We tried it in other areas and then we paused and said, “What are we learning here?” We’re learning how to be leaders. The only thing I can say is that I spent over fifteen years on this journey and everything we’ve done has validated those three fundamental transformational events. It has shown that we can create human value and economic value. They are in harmony and not in disharmony.
I gave a talk to university presidents before and I said, “What is on the minds of university presidents?” They said, “We have an epidemic of anguish.” They have the highest level of depression and anxiety ever in incoming students to American universities. Why? Is it social media? Is that the phone? Is it the family that they came from where the mother and father are not treated with respect and dignity? Remember, the other thing I added to this was when I said look at the world. I’m a positive person. I tend to see things positively. If you turn on any media outlet, they are amplifying the fringes of our disharmony in this world. They’re looking for radical voices to show the radical differences of view. It’s hard to feel good about the world when everybody is being investigated and being questioned.
I always use the example that I said to Judy Woodruff when I was in a dialogue with her, is good news news? That’s a good question. In raising kids and running companies, we know that if we don’t focus on five positive things before we focus on one thing of improvement, it will be difficult for that person. We have a media today that inundates us with the brokenness of the world. We’re divided by issues instead of united in purpose. The people we lead go home every night from a stressful situation of work, which is all about economics and making your boss look good to a media that talks about, “Don’t go to a shopping mall, you could get shot. Don’t go to a movie theater, you could get shot. Don’t go to the neighborhood, the police can shoot you.” We have this media that amplifies the brokenness in this world. How do people feel good in this world that we have right now?
I feel great because there’s profound hope in human potential. We have proven that you can care for people. It’s a skill that is teachable and profound. The mountain is as tall as you provide. My hope is to share this message with people who can read it and help join us and create a movement to create a caring world where people genuinely are cared for who they are and what they do. We have the skill to send them home each night feeling good so they can treat their spouse, raise their kids, and behave in their community as they have been treated.
I can’t think of a better place for us to bring our conversation in for a landing. Bob, I want to say, what a great inspiration you are, your company and your story is. I’m grateful that you took the time to share that with us. What’s the best way for people to get a hold of you?There is little to no difference between leadership and parenting. Click To Tweet
People say, “How can I follow this?” First of all, everything I said is on YouTube. There must be over 30 or 40 of these talks I’ve given around the world on YouTube. We have Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, where we have programs where people can sign up. We’re looking for people who believe what we believe and want to join us on this journey and create a world where everybody matters, which is the intent of the creators of this world. We stop using people for our gain. We start seeing people in the way we can bring them to their full potential and that leaders eat last.
Our primary responsibility is the men and women in our care. It is a teachable and replicable skill that could heal the brokenness that we’re trying to fix. Thank you for this platform to discuss it. I feel profoundly called to share it with every opportunity I can. The beauty is that a movement is developing and we’re working with universities now and schools to bring this to the younger group as we can, so from the earliest age, people learn the skills of caring. Thank you for this opportunity.
Thank you, Bob. Thanks for reading, everybody. Until next time, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.
- Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family
- YouTube – Barry-Wehmiller
- Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute
About Bob Chapman
Recently named the #3 CEO in the world in an Inc. magazine article, Bob Chapman is very intentional about using his platform as Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller to build a better world.
Barry-Wehmiller, a $3+ billion capital equipment and engineering consulting firm with more than 12,000 team members worldwide. He became the senior executive of the organization in 1975 at age 30, when the 90-year-old business had $20 million in revenue, outdated technology and a very weak financial position. Despite the obstacles, Bob applied a unique blend of strategy and culture, and since, has led Barry-Wehmiller through more than 115 successful acquisitions.
Over the past two decades, a series of realizations led him away from traditional management practices to a people-centric style, which he calls Truly Human Leadership – an approach with the goal of making team members feel valued, cared for and that they are an integral part of the company’s purpose. At Barry-Wehmiller, there is a unique measure of success: by the way we touch the lives of others.
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