Be Patient With Stormtroopers

October 30, 2013
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

“What about the people who don’t get it?”

I’m amazed at how often I get asked that question as I share Barry-Wehmiller’s journey of Truly Human Leadership.

Whenever I describe our people-centric culture to a new audience, they go straight to the negative. Certainly there are some who resist a work environment where care, concern and emotion are commonplace. What do you do about them, they ask?

We focus on the positive. We focus of those who get it.

The truth is, I am an optimist, so I tend to spend my energy on what’s going right. I always tell people that I am sure there are people who don’t get it, but I couldn’t tell you who they are. We simply don’t concern ourselves with them and hope they come around on their own terms.  We realize that when we acquire a company, the people within that company are a product of their experiences. They may have experienced great leaders in their past or, more likely, they have had some negative experiences. Consequently, some have difficulty trusting our leadership message.  That’s okay.  We’re all at a different point on this journey, and we have to be patient and trust that the skeptics will eventually see the transformative power it can have—on both their work lives and their personal lives.

That’s what happened with Randall Fleming.

Randall worked in the fabrication area of our MarquipWardUnited (now BW Papersystems) facility in northern Wisconsin. At six foot one, this ex-Special Forces soldier was an imposing figure.  “People used to say I had two emotions: mad and angry,” Randall shared. “I was like Darth Vader back in my area, and all the other guys were my Stormtroopers.  I wouldn’t say you didn’t want to meet me in a dark alley, but if you were in a dark alley, you’d want me nearby.”

Randall had a great deal of talent and key technical skills. He was a craftsman, excellent at what he did.  Moreover, Randall was a leader.  He may not have been leading people toward our leadership and cultural vision, but he certainly had many followers.

Instead of identifying Randall as a “problem,” one of our continuous improvement leaders (what we call Living Legacy of Leadership, or L3) made it a regular practice to stop by Randall’s area to talk to him.  He applied constant but subtle pressure, encouraging Randall to consider opening up to what we were doing.  Randall resisted. Eventually, he reached a turning point.  He had had enough, and was considering leaving the company.  At this, the Manufacturing Leader recommended he talk to a couple of people in the organization whom he trusted to get a better understanding of the L3 journey. Randall decided to give it a try and ultimately made the decision to stay.  He embraced continuous improvement events, eventually attending two weeks of training to lead these events himself.

“I had come to a point in my professional life where I wanted to do more than rolling frames together.  I felt called to help people. I saw a path to do that as a leader through our L3 program. So I went to my leader and he said ‘We have been waiting for you to ask.’”

Today Randall is one of the highest rated professors in Barry-Wehmiller University, teaching his peers the power of inspiring passion, optimism and purpose.  He is a valued member of our L3 team, leading continuous improvement events throughout the organization.

“Once I made the decision to stop fighting the culture, to embrace it, my leaders opened the door for me to achieve what I want. They didn’t tell me how to do it. I had to determine my path but they gave me the freedom to make changes.

“It has affected me so positively that it is difficult to remember the way I used to be. My daughters still can’t believe the change in me. It has made our relationships so much better.

“I don’t think about retiring anymore because helping people grow, helping my team members be their best selves—just helping people—this is what I want to do every day.”

Welcome aboard, Darth Vader! May the force of Truly Human Leadership be with you.

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