Leadership Lesson: The One Thing Guaranteed to Make Your Business Better

September 28, 2016
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

What’s the most important thing good leaders–truly human leaders–do?

Fortunately, many are beginning to see how doing this one thing well can profoundly impact an organization. Throughout Barry-Wehmiller, we believe that this one thing, more than any other leadership initiative, can set an organization on a path to a better future.

Steve Gund, president of The Gund Company, agrees. About eighteen months ago, Steve began devoting significant time to travelling regularly among Gund Company facilities to perform this simple yet powerful leadership action. At each location, team members from all areas of the business gathered for a meeting so that Steve could do something that was crucial to the company’s future.

He listened.

Steve stopped talking, cleared his mind, focused his attention, and intently, deeply, actively listened.

In other words, he listened like a leader.

At Barry-Wehmiller, we have found that listening—deep, reflective listening– is one of the master keys to our truly human leadership culture. In most organizations, listening is a greatly undervalued skill. The conventional wisdom is that leaders tell people what to do and how to act. We believe that the most powerful thing a leader can do is to truly and deeply listen.

At The Gund Company, where they manufacture electrical insulation components for power systems,   they’ve been very intentional about building great culture. According to Steve, for 60 years they’ve remained focused on three pillars — taking care of the customer, taking care of the business, and taking care of each other. “To achieve our goal of a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement, creating a culture centered around taking care of each other is the critical next step,” Steve told us. “Therefore, listening to our employees’ ideas about the behaviors we expect of one another is paramount.”

For years, The Gund Company’s leadership team used survey data and focus groups to attempt to gather the best opportunities for improvement. “We had commitment and lots of good ideas but couldn’t quite figure out how to get the culture piece right,” commented Steve.

Then, 18in 2015, Steve participated in a course offered through our leadership development institute (now Chapman & Co. Leadership Instituteread more here,) where he learned about the building blocks of good culture.

“The class helped us understand how powerful a culture built on listening could be in terms of helping us take care of each other.  It was two solid days of in-depth discussion about the principles that guided Barry-Wehmiller, the importance of leadership that is people-focused, and the cultural implementation plan, or roadmap, that has worked for Barry-Wehmiller,” he told us.

Based on the insights he gained through the leadership institute, Gund began holding the regular listening sessions throughout their facilities where he asked team members just three questions: What are we doing well?; What can we do to improve together?; and How are we doing taking care of each other?  Gund’s role was to listen—truly, deeply, actively listen.  The team members’ responses and ideas were captured on white boards and ultimately turned into action items and posted for all team members to see.   The outcomes were so positive that the listening sessions Gund initiated are now held by each Facility General Manager on a monthly basis. “The key for us is translating that listening into understanding that results in improvements that drive our ability to take care of each other, take care of the customer, and take care of the business.”

After Beyond Benchmarking, Gund and several other members of their leadership team signed up for the subsequent Leadership Institute course, Relate, which takes a deeper dive into the entire communication process, especially listening. Two Gund team members who attended are now in the final steps of certification as professors so they can soon begin rolling out the Relate training throughout Gund’s eight locations in four countries.

“Most of us go through life learning how to communicate on a trial and error basis,” Steve reflected.   “We are excited for the next big evolution in our culture as we all learn to communicate more effectively based on the lessons from Relate.”

Whenever I speak to audiences across the country, I always encounter business leaders who, like Steve Gund, are fiercely committed to creating thriving people-centric cultures. Unfortunately most of them don’t know how or where to begin.

“We have been trying for three generations to get it right,” Steve told us. “But we’re just getting started in many ways. The Leadership Institute helped us articulate our passion for taking care of each other and helped us understand how to translate that passion into specific leadership behaviors.”

The most important behavior of all is simple: begin to listen like a leader.


If you’re interested in taking a class through Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, learn more here.

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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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