Truly Human Leadership – Everyone Matters


Share on LinkedIn

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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


  1. Annette,

    There must be at least 2 dozen individual statements in your blog that I wholeheartedly agree with…but I am afraid that I can’t agree with its central theme. In my mind, it is not the purpose of a leader to make her employees happy or fulfilled. It is the purpose of a leader to create value for the organization…pure and simple. It is that singular purpose that should guide everything that she or he does. When they take their eyes off that prize, nobody in the organization wins. Now that said, a vast majority of those in leadership positions across the global landscape are missing a critical link in the value chain…which is engaging their people to the fullest and making the work they do meaningful, appreciated and rewarded. If you put those 2 dozen individual statements about worth, fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness under that banner of employee engagement to create value, then I think your thoughts and ideas make great sense.

    But it cannot be the purpose of a leader to make his employees happy or fulfilled…or even to save their marriage. A leader cannot take responsibility for those things (important though they may be), because in doing so, they would snatch the responsibility for all of those personal values from the one who rightfully owns the responsibility ….the individuals themselves. That’s right…I am responsible for my happiness, my fulfillment, my satisfaction and my marriage…not anyone else….certainly not my manager. You are right in saying that when things are out of whack at work it is pretty major… it is one-third of our life, at least. But again, my long term happiness at work is my responsibility, not my manager’s. If something is wrong there, I need to be proactive in trying to change it, by dialoging with my manager, HR, other leadership or some other change agent. If I don’t like my work, or my organization or my manager, nothing is keeping me from unlocking that chain. I have had a bad boss and probably most people reading this have (I actually learned more from them than anyone else!). However, even when I was going through some tough times at work, I still was responsible for my happiness.

    I am not trying to take leaders off the hook for bad behavior. Again, I agree that one of the best ways for a manager to create value is through the best people leadership…getting everyone on board with a vision and then motivating and coaching them to be a vital part of that vision. But again, it cannot be my life’s goal as a manager to make everyone happy, satisfied and fulfilled. Because as sure as the sun shines, whatever I try to do to make one employee happy, will almost certainly make another one miserable.

  2. John,

    Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful comments. I agree with what you’re saying. You are absolutely correct… no one else can make you happy, fulfilled, engaged, etc. except yourself. That is totally up to the individual and comes from within, as I’ve written in the past.

    But if conditions are right, it’s certainly much easier for those feelings to occur. And I think, ultimately, that’s what Bob was getting at. I don’t believe he means that he is personally responsible for each individual’s happiness but that he is the person who can set the tone, set the stage, provide the tools and direction – define the values and purpose that lead to the desired culture – within his organization to facilitate an employee’s feelings of engagement or fulfillment. In that regard, I believe he is spot on.

    I also believe he takes it to heart – he gets it. He cares about his employees. And perhaps, at that level, he feels personally responsible for the individual.

    Thanks again for your comment.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here