It’s always exciting to see our message of Truly Human Leadership take hold in many different types of organizations, all over the world. This week’s guest post is from Rob Coulston, a good friend of ours in the UK who has written about his experiences with our BW Leadership Institute (now Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, read more here)
January 2016 was the start of an amazing journey…
The past 5 years had been extremely challenging. I had been coaching and supporting a wide number of people who had been deeply affected by the behaviours of their managers and the impact it has had on their lives.
I have spent most of my career mainly working in learning and development with a wide range of organizations over a period of 30+ years. In that time, I had the honour of developing high performing teams from scratch, mentoring and coaching people to help them find their true potential. I have worked with leaders and managers at all levels on work that related ultimately to building better cultures for their people and better teams.
The thing that has always fascinated me about organisations is the culture, the huge responsibility of being a leader and the amazing resourcefulness of people to deliver high levels of services in the most challenging circumstances.
I have found that taking the time to build relationships and ultimately trust you really start to connect with people on a level beyond job descriptions and functions, you start to discover some truly amazing things.
People have always been at the heart of everything I have done and it’s where I have got my greatest satisfaction, connecting totally with my purpose; the reason for this started way back when I was very young.
I was nine and a half years old when my grandparents came to visit my brother and I. There is a memory of my Grandmother taking us aside and saying “Your father is ill so why not come and live with us until he is better?”
Many years later I found out that my father suffered from Bipolar Disorder brought on by a breakdown caused by over-work and stress. As a family, we lived with our father’s condition through the good times and bad until he passed away nearly 4 years ago.
When I went to live with my grandparents something happened that sparked a change in me that turned the course of my life in a very different direction. On reflection I can clearly see that my grandmother was the catalyst of all of this change.
When I came home from school everyday my grandmother would make time for me and would sit with me and ask me how my day was. At first, I would just make a noise and use one word replies like “Okay.” “Fine.” My grandmother would persist gently and patiently by asking what now would be described as perfect coaching questions. “So, what specifically did you get involved with today?” “Tell me more.” “How did your exam go?” “What were the questions you felt most confident about?” She was curious and interested in me and through that curiosity and patient listening, built an unbreakable bond.
As time went on, this patient women slowly encouraged me out of my insecurity and protective shell. I started to describe my day more. I put detail in when answering the questions, I started to enjoy these conversations with someone who I felt I could really trust, but most important of all, cared for me and, listened on a level that very few people had ever done in my own limited experience. My Mum and Dad loved us, I knew that, but the illness overshadowed a lot in our lives and so there always felt very little time, in truth, for us.
For many years of my life my grandmother had set in motion great things that ultimately encouraged me to find something amazing: my true self. To discover my talents and skills, how I could get better and most importantly of all, a true sense of my purpose. My Why.
As I got older I discovered the opportunities to give back to people who were just like I had been — who might lack courage or a sense of who they were — helping them discover their true potential through encouragement and conversation. Sometimes it’s about empathy, just putting an arm around someone who is feeling broken or lost, when there are no words.
Over the years I have persevered to support people who were feeling broken by the organization they found themselves in. I would make it my mission to feed back to managers the truth of how behaviours were making people feel and how it affected ultimately the culture of the organisation. I worked my way through the ranks of managers; along the way writing down the real stories people told me of the impact of the culture and behaviours on them as people.
I felt on many occasions, I had come to the end of the road and must admit defeat. Maybe others were right, perhaps it was impossible to change organizations who are too embedded in their old ways and thinking. I have felt exhausted and broken myself at times. At one point I had ended up phoning the wellbeing support help line one organization had kindly funded to help those affected by its culture. There is a strange irony there somewhere.
I had started to write my resignation letter — you have probably been there yourself — which you write for your own sanity and then put in the drawer, planning to bring it out someday and put on your managers desk when the last straw is broken.
One particular day I was showing a TedTalk video of Simon Sinek to a cohort of managers on a leadership programme. I have shown it many times to groups to encourage them to think about creating Simon’s circles of safety within their own areas of reach.
On this occasion, and at the same time contemplating my future, I heard Simon Sinek tell for what must have been the hundredth time the story of CEO Bob Chapman and his company, Barry-Wehmiller. I loved this part of Simon’s talk as the story of Bob’s view of everyone in his organization being someone’s precious child really resonated with me. The question was how to bring this type of culture to life in other organisations that didn’t demonstrate this type of culture.
When I got home that evening, I web searched Barry Wehmiller and immediately found Bob Chapman’s Truly Human Leadership blog. Spotting the book Bob had written, Everybody Matters, I bought it that evening and it arrived the next day.
I read Simon Sinek’s introduction in the book with great interest and excitement when he mentioned that Bob Chapman had created an organization that demonstrates caring and treats everyone as family. I didn’t get very far into the book before emotion got the better of me and I realized that I had found a company that lived and breathed what was beginning to feel to me like some kind of elusive Holy Grail. The fundamentals of what Bob Chapman was describing, in a simpler context was similar to what my grandmother had done with me over 45 years earlier.
I read the book very quickly within a day or two then, found myself reading it again and picking out the essential ingredients of what Bob had done to create such an organization. For me, it reinforced that the very things Bob had done was what we could do in our own organization to make real change happen.
I was so inspired I wrote to Bob and a short while later got an email reply from Matt Whiat, Partner in the Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute. Interestingly when I got Matt’s reply (“Bob thanks you for your message and is there anything we can do to help?”) a slight cynicism set in, not knowing who Matt was. My initial thought was he probably wanted to sell me something. Matt came back and offered me a Skype call to talk some more if I felt it would be worthwhile.
We had the most amazing conversation, where from the very beginning Matt was just interested in me, there was no sell, only “how can we help?” What was demonstrated in that one-hour call was everything talked about in Bob’s book. I was overwhelmed.
I started buying more copies of the book and giving them away to people I knew would really benefit and be inspired by the BW story. With my son Josh’s help, we put Bob’s quotes on mugs to give away. A combination of the book and the mug has really connected people with this amazing message in ways I could not have even imagined could happen.
Later on Matt invited me to come over to Germany to meet him and Sara Hannah (BWLI Managing Partner) as they were running a 2-day leadership workshop for some of their European people. I took a colleague with me and we had the most amazing and inspirational few days with the BWLI team. It was life changing for me. It came at absolutely the right time and reconnected me with my purpose.
Looking back this period of my life has been a real rollercoaster of amazing highs and the most incredible support from Matt, Sara and Mike Redwood (Vice President of Culture and People Development for EMEA) who I met in Germany and has become a real mentor and friend.
We had the absolute privilege and honour to welcome Rich Diviney, BWLI Director of Outreach, and his lovely wife Kristen to the UK to give us 2 days of his time. Rich gave us inspiring workshops and motivational talks on the subject of trust and realizing your people’s potential. His visit had the most amazing response and it’s fired up so many people to be brave and speak up. ‘Speak Truth to Power’ is a quote many just want to put on a t-shirt!
Earlier in the year I had the privilege of being supplied with a copy of the pre- released Everybody Matters film to use exclusively in our organization. Armed with this — a screen, projector, speakers, and a lot of popcorn — I started on a mini tour of our organization.
I held “Pop-Up Cinema” events to show the film and use the excited conversations and debates that followed to encourage people to talk about our leadership charter and how we can bring it to life, just like Bob Chapman and his team has done with their Guiding Principles of Leadership. Four people turned up to the very first screening. On average, 25 or more have pitched up to ones run since, and I constantly get requests to do more.
A small group of us visited a Barry-Wehmiller Factory in Nottingham — thanks to Mike Redwood — and experienced living proof of Bob’s people centric culture. Again, what people had brought back to our own organization were rich learning approaches and ideas we could use to make things happen in a positive way.
Matt Whiat introduced us to Listening Sessions which have been successfully rolled out to different areas of the organisation, to give our people a real voice in making real and positive change happen. It is helping influence our conversations and language, and setting us on a very exciting journey.
All this has happened in just over 2 years thanks to the inspirational work of Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller.
Recently I was speaking to a colleague who has been greatly touched by the BW story. She felt it was helping set in motion an amazing opportunity, a new movement of people, to challenge and change our own organization’s culture, she described it simply as Hope 2.0, a second chance even for those who have felt lost and in the wilderness for a while. I think it’s a very powerful and apt description.
For me, it’s what’s next with Barry-Wehmiller; the connection with Matt started a journey that I am still on. I feel part of the family and personally very proud to have found such a company that stands out in demonstrating care for its people. The results, I have personally experienced, speak for themselves.
Thank you, Bob. I have never met you in person but I feel I have met you through the people I have come into contact with in Barry-Wehmiller, who authentically live and breathe your vision and values everyday.
It has changed the lives of so many people around me; think what we could do in the next 5 to 10 years and beyond. It’s the most exciting journey I have personally been on in my lifetime.
I want to finish by going back to the beginning, because it’s the legacy of good leadership that has changed and influenced me for the better. My wholehearted thanks goes to my grandmother, Violet Sansom, who believed in me in the first place and helped me discover my true self. She did it with love, patience, care and simply listening; now we can all start to do that in our own organisation’s can’t we?
Culture Change Leader and Barry-Wehmiller Advocate
Devon, United Kingdom