Turning Leadership On Its Head


Can you imagine a workplace where you are listened to; where your thoughts and ideas are pro-actively sought? Can you imagine a workplace where you feel appreciated for your gifts and are encouraged to continually find and improve, not only your talents, but also the systems and processes with which you work? Can you imagine going home each evening to your family and friends saying ‘I love my job’ because of the way your team members and leader cared for you?

Well, this was my experience from my recent visit to the corporate headquarters of Barry-Wehmiller in St Louis, Missouri (USA). Barry-Wehmiller is, on the outside, a global organisation which makes industrial equipment and provides engineering consulting and has grown through acquisition of smaller manufacturing organisations. However, on the inside, it is an organisation that develops people and provides meaningful work and the opportunity for fulfilment for its team members.

Meeting Courtney and Ania, two of the younger members of the Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute, filled my heart with joy as I listened to their stories of what it is like to work in the organisation. It made me think of my two teenage daughters and how wonderful it would be if they were to experience the opportunities and be cared for in the way that Courtney and Ania are now, and in the future.

In listening to the CEO, Bob Chapman, what stood out for me was the story he shared of being at a wedding where he watched a close friend accompany his daughter down the aisle, about to give away his precious child. In that moment, Bob felt in his heart that ‘everybody that works for us is somebody’s precious child, and we have a chance to profoundly impact their lives.’

Later, in answer to the question ‘who was your inspiration?’, Bob shared the story of his mentor Ed Salmon, the minister of his church who would stand up each week inspiring the congregation. Bob realised that the minister was with them for only one hour a week, whereas his organisation had people in their care for 40 hours a week. He realised then the significant impact he and others in positions of leadership could have on people’s lives through business if, they could accept the profound responsibility for the precious lives in their span of care.

So, how did I come to visit this unique organisation and meet this extraordinary gentleman? Well, last year my husband, Ed, was studying at Harvard Business School and he met Bob, following the class on the Barry-Wehmiller case study.  Whilst his classmates were queuing to ask for Bob’s signature in his book Everybody Matters, Ed rushed back to his room, grabbed a copy of my book and gave it to Bob as a thank you. From then on, I began a dialogue with Bob about the impact of listening and its power to create an environment both at work and home where others feel heard, can think and be at their best because of the way we, as leaders and parents, behave around them. I immediately purchased and read Everybody Matters and wanted to learn more, both from a professional and personal perspective.


I am fiercely interested in helping others develop their leadership and create environments where their team members can perform at their best. In my role as an Executive Coach in the UK, I work with individuals who want to develop their leadership skills, engage their teams and achieve results. My work is underpinned by post graduate diplomas in Human Resource Management and Psychological Coaching.

Prior to becoming an Executive Coach, I worked in Human Resources within the professional and financial service industries. My leadership studies have been inspired by Stephen R. Covey, Benjamin Zander, Bill George, Nancy Kline and Miki Walleczek through attending his Executive Leadership Retreat at Cranfield Business School, UK. Given my interest and curiosity to learn more about leadership, I was keen to experience the Think Like a Leader programme, run by the Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute.

My experience attending the programme was transformational. So, what happened? I joined the programme with an open mind, looking forward to what I would learn and who I would meet. We were expertly guided, thoughtfully facilitated by Sara and Matt, through a journey of what it takes to create a culture where everybody feels they matter which in turn impacts the quality of their work and the results they achieve. We were given the opportunity to get clear on our ‘Why’; our purpose as leaders, how we engage our followers through the art of listening, how to improve the system in which we work, how to develop ourselves as leaders and how to recognise and celebrate the gifts and talents of those in our span of influence.

Because of attending this programme, the people I met and worked with, I feel a greater connection to my purpose, an acknowledgement of my gifts and talents, and most significantly a liberation to be vulnerable in the sharing of my stories which have informed the person I am today. I experienced what it feels like to be in the presence of truly human leaders.

I am now inspired to be even bolder in sharing the message of the courage it takes to care and the responsibility we have, as leaders and parents, to create an environment in which our children will continue to find and improve their gifts and talents, so that they can flourish.

It was a moving experience to join the Alumni meeting of the St. Louis chapter of ‘Our Community Listens‘ delegates. I listened to stories about how the Communication Skills Training offered through this non-for-profit organisation had impacted their relationships with their spouses. How they had discovered the art of listening in a way they that not experienced before. How they feel inspired to make a difference in their community by encouraging others to attend the training and how they can, together, create a more peaceful world.

Spending time with Bob was a privilege. Having the opportunity to witness the way he connected with everyone he met during the day was a gift. From the moment he entered the building and engaged the wonderful receptionist, to the gentleman who ensured the grounds and car park were kept immaculately, sent a clear message of how he cared.  Despite his busy schedule with back-to-back meetings, he seemed to make time for everyone. He asked meaningful questions and gave them his attention.

My experience of Bob is someone with the courage to care, the compassion to listen, free from judgement, and the insight of what it takes to create an environment for those in our span of influence to feel that they matter and can flourish in who they are and in what they do. A gentleman who exemplifies and models what he stands for: Truly Human Leadership.

In case you are wondering about the impact of this culture of caring on shareholder value, the impact is positive. Barry-Wehmiller has weathered turbulent markets and the economic downturn and yet continued to grow. With its acquisition strategy and caring for its people, the organisation has continued to realise an annual 16% stock appreciation.

My visit concluded spending time with the gracious Diane, Bob’s Executive Assistant. Diane generously took the time to show me around the office and introduce me to Callie, Weston, Sandy, Kim and Jennifer, team members from different parts of the business. Diane had the most amazing way of connecting people through her thoughtful introductions.

I was struck by the consistency of what they told me. How they are listened to and their thoughts and ideas are pro-actively sought. How they felt appreciated for their gifts and are encouraged to continually find and improve their talents and the systems and processes with which they work. How they go home saying ‘I love my job’ because of the way their team members and leaders care for them.

As you think about your own leadership, let me  invite you to take a moment and ask yourself:

  • When was the last time I offered genuine appreciation and recognised the talent of those on my team?
  • When was the last time I listened, free from judgement, to those in my span of influence?
  • How differently do I treat those in my span of influence at work from my precious family members?

In summary, as I leave you to digest this refreshing approach to 21st Century leadership–or Truly Human Leadership, as they call it throughout Barry-Wehmiller, consider the alternative. When we don’t care about those in our span of influence, we see higher absenteeism, increased staff turnover and troubled relationships. The good news is that you have the power to prevent this. Having the courage to care enables your team members to fly and your results to flourish.

To discover more visit http://www.trulyhumanleadership.com

And if you haven’t read the book, enjoy Everybody Matters:  The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People like Family.


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