Spend just five minutes with Bob Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, and you’ll discover two things: His optimism is infectious and his passion for providing a fulfilling work environment for his employees is palpable. These two traits have been central to the success he has achieved at the helm of the privately-held capital equipment and engineering consulting giant, a thriving $1.8 billion global industry leader. In the post below, Bob challenges leaders to make sure they are doing their best to take care of their teams, everyday:
Too few leaders in business recognize the magnitude of their role.
Many “leaders” simply arrive to work and react to the stimulus of the day—an issue with a customer that needs attention, attending meeting after meeting, dealing with that day’s issues with little time devoted to focusing on what’s truly important.
As leaders in business, we are entrusted with the lives of our people every day. When we walk through the door each morning, we should be aware that we hold the fate of the people in our organization in our hands. Are they walking out our doors at the end of the day as broken souls, defeated by their time with us? Or are they energized, able to live more vibrant lives as a result of the growth and learning that occurred while they are in our care?
Since Barry-Wehmiller is a growing organization with more than 100 locations around the globe, I tend to spend a lot of time on airplanes. And every time I step onto a plane, I am grateful for the way our pilots prepare before each flight, ever-mindful of the precious lives entrusted to them. No matter his level of experience, each pilot always follows a simple checklist guiding him through the essential actions to keep all those in his care safe. Not once a month or even once a day, but each and every time they fly.
As Raj Sisodia and I discuss in our book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family, pilots and their passengers are not the only people who benefit from a checklist. In the United States, hospital- acquired infections affect one in ten patients and kill 90,000 people annually. Such infections are almost entirely preventable. In 2001, Peter Pronovost, an intensive- care specialist physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, came up with a simple, five- item checklist to remind physicians to take basic safety measures. The result: At test sites in Michigan, hospital- acquired infections dropped from 2.7 per 1,000 patients to virtually zero in three months. Over 1,500 lives were saved in the first eighteen months, saving the state of Michigan $100 million.
It is estimated that Dr. Pronovost’s simple idea has saved more lives than the work of any laboratory scientist over the last decade. In addition, huge numbers of people have been spared needless suffering and prolonged hospital stays. Of course, it seems like just common sense, but the reality is that “common sense is rarely common practice.” Even today, many doctors and hospitals ignore this simple practice.
As leaders in business, we may not actually face life and death situations in our leadership, but don’t we figuratively hold the hearts and minds and souls of our team members in our hands? So how do we make sure we are doing our best to take care of those hearts, minds and souls?
Shortly after we had articulated Barry-Wehmiller’s vision of a people-centric culture through our Guiding Principles of Leadership, we realized we needed to find ways to put the principles into action. After all, inspirational culture statements don’t hold much meaning if your direct leader does not embrace those principles. On the other hand, many team members who have reached leadership positions–traditionally called supervisors, foremen or managers—may need coaching and guidance to understand how to effectively lead.
Steve Kreimer was one of those team members. Steve was an assembly supervisor for one of our subsidiaries when we adopted our Guiding Principles of Leadership. At a session shortly thereafter during which we gathered team members to discuss our new cultural vision statement, Steve said, “I believe in the values on the wall, but I have no idea what you want me to do as a leader in this business. I know how to be a supervisor… I have no idea how to be a leader.”
So we began capturing the ideal behaviors of our most successful frontline leaders within our manufacturing operations. We felt that by looking at the “be, know, and do” of our leaders–who are our best leaders, what do they do each day, and what do they know—we could determine the ideal everyday actions that would bring our vision of culture to life.
From this brainstorming that brought forth more than 500 ideas, we mapped 12 essential practices of a Barry-Wehmiller leader and created the following:
I accept the awesome responsibility of leadership. The following describe my essential actions as a leader:
- I practice stewardship of the Guiding Principles of Leadership through my time, conversations, and personal development.
- I advocate safety and wellness through my actions and words.
- I reflect to lead my team in Achieving Principled Results on Purpose.
- I inspire passion, optimism, and purpose.
- My personal communication cultivates fulfilling relationships.
- I foster a team community in which we are committed to each other and to the pursuit of a common goal.
- I exercise responsible freedom, empowering each of us to achieve our potential.
- I proactively engage in the personal growth of individuals on my team.
- I facilitate meaningful group interactions.
- I set, coach to, and measure goals that define winning.
- I recognize and celebrate the greatness in others.
- I commit to daily continuous improvement.
These practices have been taught to hundreds of leaders through our corporate university, Barry-Wehmiller University. Leaders learn to begin and end their day by reflecting on this checklist, considered the essential daily actions of a Barry-Wehmiller leader. With this list as a reminder, they can be purposeful in their leadership, rather than simply reacting to the stimulus of the day.
But the Leadership Checklist is not just for the eight or ten hours people spend in the office or in the factory. It’s for all 24 hours and every aspect of their life.
Although we wear different hats at home and at work, we naturally bring skills and perspectives that we develop at work back into the home and we bring things we develop at home to our workplace. These skills impact our most important relationships.
As a leader, I challenge you to check yourself each day. Do you accept the awesome responsibility of leadership?