Good Leadership: Why Leave It To Chance?

March 14, 2016
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

Are leaders born or made? It is one of the world’s longstanding debates, with no shortage of commentary on the subject. Google the question and in less than half a second you get 7.3 million hits.

At Barry-Wehmiller, we support both sides of the argument. We believe everyone is born with the capacity for leadership. But while some people seem to naturally understand how to lead, others need help understanding what it means to be a leader. The good news is that the behaviors of good leadership can be learned, practiced and mastered.

The more important question to ask is this: what are the behaviors of good leaders? In other words, what exactly should a leader do when he or she walks through the door every morning?

It was that very question that Steve Kreimer, a master assembler and expediter who was promoted to supervisor in one of our BW Papersystems facilities, asked that ultimately inspired us to create our Leadership Checklist. For years, Steve had approached leadership like his predecessor, making sure people showed up on time, processing rework and expediting parts. After we acquired his company and introduced our people-centric leadership culture Steve said “I get the vision; in fact, I love the vision. But what exactly do you want me to do every day? I know exactly how to be a supervisor. But a leader? I have no idea how to be a leader.”

Steve’s thoughtful questions got us thinking. With eighty percent of the people in our organization reporting to front-line leaders like Steve, we didn’t dare leave the tremendous impact of their leadership to chance. We needed to create a tool to translate their desire to be good stewards of the lives of those they lead into actions. So we started asking leaders throughout the organization “What does a Barry-Wehmiller leader be, know or do?” From the more than 250 qualities, competencies, and behaviors generated through this process, we created our Leadership Checklist:

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.

We discuss these 12 behaviors in detail in our Leadership Fundamentals Class offered to associates through Barry-Wehmiller University. Once they complete the class they receive a laminated version of the checklist and are encouraged to put the behaviors into practice day in and day out. Throughout our facilities you’ll see the list hanging on walls of offices and cubicles and sometimes notice team members referring to the copy they’ve placed in their pockets or wallets.

“Some days you just have to take a step back and reflect on how you are behaving and how effective and meaningful your leadership is to others,” said Becky Zebrowski, a product management leader at Machine Solutions. “This Checklist does just that!”

“For the Leadership Checklist to work best it needs to become a healthy and positive habit,” commented Rafael Restrepo, a sheeting leader for BW Papersystems. “After you follow them for awhile you begin to apply them automatically without even thinking about it, like driving a car, a bike or even when you learn a new language or skill.”

Throughout the upcoming months, we’ll explore the individual items of the Leadership Checklist on this blog to help you on your leadership journey.

The late legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is often quoted for his view of the born versus made enigma. He said “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

Leadership is an awesome responsibility—and hard work. After all, the way we lead impacts not only the way people work but the way they live. What are you doing to ensure that your leadership is effective when you walk through the door each day?


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Need help in applying principles of Truly Human Leadership in your organization? Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute is Barry-Wehmiller's leadership consulting firm that partners with other companies to create strategic visions, engage employees, improve corporate culture and develop outstanding leaders through leadership training, assessments and workshops.

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