The Human-Side of Leadership




I prepared for a career in business by taking management classes, obtaining a management degree and getting a job in management. My education was about me learning the basics of business so that I could be successful. In the early part of my career, I thought that my education and experience allowed me to tell people what to do and to see people as ‘functions’ and not as people. My work in the public accounting and business sectors afterward affirmed that it was all about creating shareholder value and ‘my’ success.

In the early part of my career, I thought that my education and experience allowed me to tell people what to do and to see people as ‘functions’ and not as people

And successful I was! I did well as a manager and boss. Under my leadership as CEO, we built a track record of shareholder value creation. We transformed a 100-year-old struggling capital goods company with revenues in 1987 of $20 million into a $1.6 billion revenue company today. For 25 years Barry-Wehmiller has generated a 16% compound return to our shareholders. The combination of 60+ acquisitions and organic growth created a vibrant company—a success in terms of how our society views success.

Then in the late 1990s while attending a wedding, I observed everyone celebrating the special young man and woman. At that moment I realized that everyone is someone’s precious child. So, as a leader of those precious lives, wasn’t it my duty—my profound responsibility—to provide the care and nurturing employees needed to be all they were meant to be? Leadership calls us to be stewards of the special lives entrusted to us every day.

Wasn’t it my duty to provide the care and nurturing employees needed to be all they were meant to be?

Not long afterward, I was awed by a rector’s sermon during a church service. I thought about the rector’s opportunity to inspire the lives of those attending the service for an hour each week and realized that we, as business leaders, have the opportunity to inspire our team members for 40 hours each week. What an opportunity we have been granted to inspire and influence and positively impact employees’ lives!

The combination of these revelations made me see that business organizations have the opportunity to be the most powerful force for good in the world if more leaders would recognize their role as stewards of those they lead. The impact leadership can have on our team members—and their families– is tremendous. Surveys show that 88% of all people working today feel that they work for a company that does not care about them. By creating caring, empowering, fulfilling work environments, we let our team members know that who they are and what they do matters. When they feel a genuine sense of fulfillment through their time with us, they return home better spouses, parents and children.

Surveys show that 88% of all people working today feel that they work for a company that does not care about them

Our traditional education system does not prepare future leaders to recognize their responsibility for the wellbeing of all of their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. To foster and sustain a people-centric culture throughout Barry-Wehmiller, we created our own corporate university through which we teach the principles of Truly Human Leadership to our team members.

Traditional education system does not prepare future leaders to recognize their responsibility for the wellbeing of all of their stakeholders

It is my sincere belief that if more leaders would adopt Truly Human Leadership practices, we could profoundly shape the future of our country and address many of the problems faced in our companies, homes and communities today.

redrockerz / 123RF Stock Photo

Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $1.5 billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting company, Barry-Wehmiller prefers to measure its success by the way they touch the lives of people.

  • TedCoine


    What a powerful post! First of all, whenever a message like this comes from a highly successful chairman, CEO, owner, or other top company leader, it resonates with exactly the portion of the audience I’m most compelled to work with: willing doubters (“I’m skeptical that The Human Side of Business isn’t just fluff, but convince me,” they seem to be thinking when I begin this conversation). So for that, I am very grateful for your example – and I know from ongoing conversations with our community members that many of them enjoy taking this type of message back to their boards, bosses, or business partners as well.

    Regarding this line: “…88% of all people working today feel that they work for a company that does not care about them.” I think the very thinking, “the company,” is where a lot of the problem lies. Leaders of all level hide behind the anonymity of “the company” to make decisions or when sharing those decisions with those they lead. But I’ve noticed that there are no organizations that are not composed of people. When “the company” makes a distasteful or unfair decision, my question is, “in whose name?” Ultimately, every decision can be traced back to one leader (like a CEO) or a small group of leaders (like a board) who has authority to overturn unwise or unfair decisions if they choose. “The company” is a coward’s way to lead. The 12% of employees who do think the company cares about them? I have a strong hunch that if you ask those individuals, they will name you a specific leader who they see as embodying “the company.” A very human arbiter of justice. There is nothing more important that a sense of fairness to we humans.

    Finally, the most important point of all: Truly Human Leadership. I absolutely love it, and I agree with you wholeheartedly about its potential effects on the entire world, not just one company’s performance! After the success of my first company, I immersed myself in the nonprofit realm for two years. It was an absolutely priceless experience, without question. But at the end of that sojourn I happily returned to the business world because I was convinced, without any question, that the for-profit realm can drive more positive change than charities or governments: that’s where most of us work and that’s where the money (thus influence) to drive change lies. I’ve been on that mission ever since.

    Thank you for this important post! I’m looking forward to reading what the rest of our community thinks of what you’ve shared today.

  • John Bennett

    As an emeritus professor, may I add my total support for your characterization of the “traditional education system.” Indeed, very consistently, most educators (K-12 or post-secondary) don’t recognize their responsibility for the well being of their STUDENTS – and thus don’t consider helping those students understand such responsibilities in subsequent careers!!! Any “preparation” in such instances (agree most educators don’t make the effort) is merely efforts quickly forgotten.

    The good news is that words like “traditional” and “most” acknowledge for me at least the growing number of educators who do practice / mentor empathy and responsibility to seek to make a difference in effective learning and effective problem solving that are at the heart of education.

    • Margy

      Thanks so much for your response. You might be interested to know I recently started a company that focuses on encouraging expressions of appreciation. Most people I share my mission with are intrigued and often add, “I wish my former company had appreciated me.” I completely agree with your comment above that all people want to know that what they do and who they are matters. We all want to belong, to feel valued, and to be heard. My goal is to help companies create a culture (like yours) where people love to work and where clients and customers enjoy doing business. If you’re interested in learning more about Moving Messages, my website is I’m excited and inspired by your work.

  • David Shaw

    Agree completely with this posting. That’s why I believe everyone deserves good management and why I work on developing managers.

  • @TheKnoxvilleLab

    Great post… I think John & Ted covered most of what anyone may have wanted to highlight or expound on.

    I guess a thought I have and what is similar to what those in the midst of any “battle” may feel is that unless you can speak to them at the very level they are at that moment in their lives, very little you do or say will resonate.

    People can feel when you are “with them” as they can when you are not… to be of any significant importance to others – on the human / personal level – requires one to bring their emotions and compassion into the game, especially where leaders are concerned.

    Thanks for your part in shining a light on this very important subject.

  • Margy

    I’m delighted to “meet” you! I read about you and your company about a year ago and was so touched by how you run your company that I wrote a blog about you.

    Your words, “By creating caring, empowering, fulfilling work environments, we let our team members know that who they are and what they do matters. When they feel a genuine sense of fulfillment through their time with us, they return home better spouses, parents and children” completely resonate with me. I’m inspired by the culture you have created and delighted to know about the impact you have on those who work with you.

    Thank you for your article and for the wonderful work you do.

    –Margy, Moving Messages

  • Ben Simonton

    Thanks for bearing your soul Bob. You were spending your time managing the work instead of managing your people. I did that for 12 years and like you was considered to be very successful. But then I changed to managing the people by helping them to become the Superstars they all wanted to be. I found them more than capable of managing the work as Superstars including improving strategy. As Stephen Covey wrote in 1992, the possible performance gain is 500% to say nothing of having a workforce that loves to come to work and a workplace free of frustration and stress.

  • Ruth

    A great post. Stewardship is such an important concept for care of others as well as use of resources. And we need to be affective – from the heart – as well as effective.

  • Lisa Shelley

    Thank you so much for sharing your powerful story Bob! You and your business are an inspiration to all of us who believe in a different way of doing business. I loved your reference to the larger business system in this line. “Our traditional education system does not prepare future leaders to recognize their responsibility for the wellbeing of all of their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. ” It is my belief that our over-focus on shareholder has in fact limited the growth of the overall system. The opportunity for a business is to engage with all stakeholders by creating aligned motivations around a common purpose. Interestingly, of all stakeholders, it is the employee that provides the most connection of the system. Employees highly motivated to help your business succeed are a powerful force! Your Truly Human Leadership, sounds like just the right ticket.

  • Tom Wilson

    Business school doesn’t teach leadership. The Harvard MBA program is not a leadership program: it is designed to produce the corporate equivalent of the military warrant officer: an expert in a narrow management field.

    Military service, on the other hand, is a leadership laboratory. All the soldiers coming back into the civilian economy acquired the values of servant leadership as part of their basic training. Speaking from experience, the hardest thing in the world is trying to adjust to the profit motive of the corporation from the Mission Men Self orientation of the military milieu. I doesn’t take a mid-life crises for most combat veterans to embrace the qualities of Truly Human Leadership: they bring it to the office from the battle field.

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  • Ron Strieker


    You are speaking to the choir as an executive coach I work with executives on a regular basis who know what you are saying is true in their hearts, BUT the culture they live in, the analysts on Wall Street or one of the many other reasons that come up, they do not spend the time and energy on the human side. In my view, it’s all the human side, but then what do I know.

    Thanks again and keep building and attracting the talent into your culture that gets it.


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  • Al Smith

    Thanks Bob. CARE is critical. Love your honesty and willingness to help.


  • TedCoine

    John, I’m so with you. There are a lot of terrific teachers at all level, including professors, who do get it, and more every year. How we turn this into a systemic change… well, that’s something else (and something I hope our education experts like you, emeritus or not, continue working on!)

  • @TheKnoxvilleLab

    Hi John,

    I am in the process of reaching out to those in the education field (all levels – grade K – 12 & beyond) in an effort to identify those that consistently have a positive impact on their students. We are also seeking to identify students that have managed to achieve and persevere “against all odds”.

    If you have in-roads that could expedite this process it would be greatly appreciated.

    Feel free to contact me via the CONTACT page you can find by visiting the link in my profile info… my name is Jim.

    Thank you

  • Bob Chapman

    John .. I had the opportunity to ask a dean of a gratudate business school what their ‘vision’ was for the two years that graduate students were entrusted to them. His answer was that we have ‘beliefs’ on the wall and we offer classes that the ‘market wants’. I told the dean that if I was on the board of that fine education institution, I would shut it down tomorrow until it had a vision for the outcome on the students entrusted to us. I beleive we shoudl teach leadership around People, Purpose and performance .. it ALL starts with our profound responsibility for the lives entrusted to us, and then we need to inspire them to share their gifts and then we need to perform .. to create value for ALL stakeholders and ALL the classes should be organized in this priority to that we are creating great ‘leaders’ in our higher education. I beleive we cannot change the momentum of ‘management’ and transform to true leader until we get the education system on board with People, Purpose and Performance, Bob

  • Bob Chapman

    AS you know Ben, you can’t ‘manage’ anyone . you can only inspire people. I had to learn this myself and most of my learnings came from being a father of six kids! .. I find the lessons of parenting idential to the lessons of leadership. Leadership is the stewardship of those under our care. It is that simple ot me and it drives everthing we do and everything we want to become! . thanks

  • Bob Chapman

    I was interviewed by a graduate professor in the field of organizational development and we talked for two hours. At the end of two hours he said to me that I was the first CEO that he had ever interviewed that didn’t talk about his product .. I paused . thought for a moment about this comment and replied . oh yes we did, we have been talking about our product for two hours. OUR PEOPLE are our product! . The most profound thing I have learned on this leadership journey is that the two most power feelings ALL people seek is to knwo that what they do and who they are ‘matters’. When you acknowledge both, you touch their sould and you create a Truly Human organization. Your releasee true human potential towards your vision! . Bob

  • Bob Chapman

    Thanks for our acknowledging our efforts and I just want you to know that the momentum is building and organizations all over the worrld are ‘listening’ and ‘dreaming’ .. can this be real. We have found that the more we genuinely care about our team, the more our team cares about each other. This caring creates a thriving organization and we hear all the time from people who hear our message the statement “someday I hope I get to work for a Company that cares about me!” .. We are destroying our culture and creating the conflict in our families, our communities and out country because we send people home feeling used and unappreicated. Truly Human Leadership is simply how we would want our loving family member treated in any organization. It is so basic to how we are called to live together but it is so distant from the reality of the numeric/self-centered world we live in today. Truly Human Leadership is the ‘natural’ way were are meant to live and work together. Bob

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