It was the summer of 2011. We were somewhere high above South Asia in a US Air Force cargo jet. As a Lieutenant Colonel for Air Mobility Command, I was escorting NYT bestselling author Simon Sinek in and out of Afghanistan to help him better understand the people and mission of the US Air Force. Unexpectedly, we found ourselves escorting someone else that day.
Centered in the cargo bay before us rested the casket of a fallen soldier. The American flag was draped precisely over the top, its brilliant color proudly defiant against the drab aluminum floor. As we sped westward, family and loved ones of the fallen awaited his unexpected early homecoming and were well into the throes of emotion from a life forever changed. We sat silently listening to the rhythmic drone of the jet engines, witness to an overpowering sense of sacrifice that neither of us had known before.
When we landed, an honor guard of service members transferred the casket with the utmost of dignity. Everyone on board met the solemn act with salutes and tears. It did not matter that none of us knew the soldier, only that he had served and put others before himself. In that moment, amidst the silence and sadness, came the decision to host an event centered on “service to others.”
Simon and I decided to hold a TEDx event, the only one of its kind in the Department of Defense. A TEDx event is an independently run gathering licensed by the nonprofit organization TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) in order to facilitate “good ideas worth spreading.”
We began by compiling a list of possible speakers whom we thought best embodied our “service to others” theme. Simon added Bob Chapman to the list. It was the first I had ever heard of Bob or Barry-Wehmiller. It was not long before I recognized and appreciated Bob’s unwavering and emphatic commitment to people and his calling to awaken business leaders to the opportunity business holds to be the greatest positive force in our society. As Bob completed his speech, the standing ovation foretold future interest in his message. To date more than 42,000 people have seen Bob’s TEDx on YouTube.
As a result of our meeting, our top generals began attending Communications Skills Training (CST) through Barry-Wehmiller University and returning to Scott Air Force base as advocates. Their endorsement cleared the way for Scott to host its own Barry-Wehmiller-developed CST, a course centered on listening that invites attendees to elevate the way they relate to others. Over 200 uniformed graduates from all the military services have taken CST with plans for further expansion. Graduates of this life-changing course report more meaningful interactions with their families and coworkers. They now view conflict as a conversation starter rather than a competition of words. And they attribute greater fulfillment at work and home to the use of empathy and patience in their listening. It is clear the benefits of practicing a truly human language can unite us all, regardless of our clothing being camouflage or business casual.
When my family and I recently made the decision to leave the military after more than 20 years of service, I looked not where I could get the most, but where I could give the most. Barry-Wehmiller and our journey together had already been so influential to so many, in and out of uniform. I wasn’t looking for a job; I was looking for a family devoted to a noble calling. The decision to join the Barry-Wehmiller family was not just a logical step, it was a heartfelt one.
Like my colleagues, I want my children to grow into a world where they have the opportunity to work for an organization where they are valued not only for what they can give, but for who they are. Where leaders see their role as stewards of the lives entrusted to their care, whether on a distant battlefield or in the offices and manufacturing facilities of America and abroad. An organization that inspires, cares and celebrates its team members and returns them home safe, healthy and fulfilled. I want them to be part of an organization that permits their growth so they can develop their talents and live up to their full potential. In return they will give not only their hands, but their heads and hearts. I do not want Barry-Wehmiller to be one of the few organizations in which they can find this environment.
Good parenting and a good education, while necessary, are not enough by themselves. Even the strongest of young trees will struggle to survive the desert that many of our workplaces have become. It is time to make it rain. As Victor Hugo remarked, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
This call for recognizing the power of business to positively influence our world is not limited to a person or a company. It is for all of us who want to advance the beliefs and actions of themselves and others that the way we treat one another in our workplaces echoes into our society today and into our children’s future. We need rain. I am honored to be a member of a team that is helping to transform deserts.
In January 2014, Matt Whiat joined Barry-Wehmiller’s Organizational Empowerment Team. Through their outreach programs, they are sharing Barry-Wehmiller’s leadership experiences with other organizations. Matt intends to play a key role in expanding those efforts.