Truly Human Leadership – Everyone Matters

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I recently stumbled upon a TedxScottAFB talk titled Truly Human Leadership, which was given by Bob Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc.

If you don’t have 22 minutes to watch the video of the talk, I’ve recapped the highlights here;

you’ll see why it made an impact on me. If you follow this blog and have read my recent writings about the employee experience, you’ll recognize immediately that this ties in well with my content. As if I need to reiterate: We know the value of employees. We know that the employee experience drives the customer experience. But let’s not talk about them as “employees” for a moment – let’s think of them as the “people” that they are. Humanize the employee.

In a nutshell, Bob talks about the impact of people-focused leadership on the lives of employees – not just on the individuals but also, ultimately, on their relationships and their families. He draws the path from people-centric leadership to the success of your family life in a very straight and direct line.

He starts off the talk by saying that we have a crisis of leadership in this country and supports it by quoting the statistic that 130 million people (or 7 out of 8 employees) in our workforce go home everyday feeling like they work for a company that doesn’t care about them. The reason: leadership and leadership’s misguided focus.

In the “good old days,” business schools taught that a company is in business to create shareholder value/profits. Bob grew up learning that capitalism, profits, shareholder value, and your success (as a leader) are the end game – all with no regard for the people you lead every single day.

Through a series of stories Bob tells, he shows that leadership has this awesome responsibility over the lives they lead. People leave their offices every day feeling like they’re not valued or cared about. The evidence lies in broken marriages, broken families, and broken lives. You know that if you have a bad day at work, hate your job, or don’t feel fulfilled in the place you spend more than a third of your life, then you take it home with you. And it affects those around you.

How can leaders make an impact? They must validate the work of every individual. Everyone matters. Bob’s goal is to create an environment, a world, where everybody matters rather than where people are viewed as objects for a leader’s success. He feels responsible for his people and wants to send them home every night with a sense of fulfillment. He believes capitalism means to create value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

In 1988, Bob began an initiative to develop a truly human organization: a vibrant business model and a vibrant culture that validate the worth of every individual and allow people to be who they were meant to be  and a common purpose that creates value. He wanted to create an environment where people can discover, develop, and share their gifts – and be recognized and appreciated for doing so. As a result, they go home to their families every night and have a more meaningful life.


Very simply, we all have the need to feel that we matter. When you go home feeling fulfilled, feeling appreciated, feeling proud of what you did at work, you will treat your spouse and your family better. A strong relationship and a solid marriage will yield good, loving kids because they were part of a loving family. And so the cycle begins – and continues. He decided that the biggest metric for him to track in his organization was the reduction in the divorce rate among his employees. Leaders, is that a metric that shows up on your scorecard today?!

This initiative or concept is called Truly Human Leadership? It’s summarized with these three attributes and in this order because it is, after all, about putting people first.

People: everything starts with people.

Purpose: meaning around a common vision.

Performance: you have to perform to create value for all stakeholders.

Listening to this talk reminded me of the blog I wrote about Kudos, whose mission it is to change the world, one thank you at a time. There were a lot of similarities. Bob has this strong sense that we can change the world. It’s up to us. It’s not hard to do. It doesn’t require any money. It’s about the way we treat each other everyday. Like the folks at Kudos, he believes that recognition and celebration are key, both of which help to create the sense of fulfillment.

“We have been paying people for their hands for years, and they would have given us their heads and hearts for free – if we had just asked.” -Ken Blanchard

I did a bit more research on the culture at Barry-Wehmiller, and their Guiding Principles of Leadership are best summarized as: “We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.” The principles are outlined in the image to the left. The bottom line is:

We are committed to our employees’ personal growth.”

What are your thoughts? A concept to aspire to? How can we all start (or continue) this movement to change the world? What does your company do to truly show appreciation and recognition for employee contributions?

Here’s a link to other videos about people-centric leadership at Barry-Wehmiller. Definitely thought-provoking.

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