The Dirt on Good Leadership

November 08, 2023
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

Last week I was honored to speak at the inaugural Ariat Dirt World Summit presented by BuildWitt and its founder, Aaron Witt.

BuildWitt is a media services company that serves the construction and infrastructure industries that created the Ariat Dirt World Summit to address team member retention and recruiting issues in those spaces.

Just like in the manufacturing industry of Barry-Wehmiller’s companies, there is a shortage of skilled applicants, on top of accelerating retirements.

According to a recent CNBC report, construction firms will need to attract an estimated 546,000 additional people on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet demand.

The Ariat Dirt World Summitt featured seminars on hiring, training and retention, like any industry conference would. But what I appreciated was its focus on leadership.

In his keynote address, Aaron Witt said:

No matter where you are, what is that one thing you need to go do [or] that one thing you need to go apply? Because if 800 leaders of the Dirt World do just one thing next week to help develop themselves as leaders or others as leaders to recruit that next generation, we’re going to start making a massive impact. That is how you change an industry.

Aaron has said that I influenced his outlook in a comment he posted on the Barry-Wehmiller LinkedIn page, and I can assume that is why he invited me to present our message of Truly Human Leadership to the conference. Afterward, an attendee also commented on LinkedIn:

Truly human leadership was explained many times in many different ways from start to finish during the Ariat Dirt World Summit! I heard that loud and clear and am already using the takeaway at work. Notes, binders, and books are going to keep reminding me to continue and hopefully get better at it as well and if I inspire one more person to do the same, then Aaron Witt is correct and we are on the path to changing the industry!

If this was the takeaway by the attendees of this conference, we are not just on the way to changing an industry, but on the way to changing the world!

The Ariat Dirt World Summit was encouraging in the face of recent disheartening news. According to a recent study, people in the workforce are now experiencing what is called “The Great Gloom.”

BambooHR says that from the start of 2020 through the present, happiness at work has steadily declined at a rate of 6%. However, they say 2023 has seen a steep and steady drop, with a decrease of 9% since January, declining at a rate 10x faster than the previous three years.

Similarly, Gallup has said job satisfaction has dropped by 8% since 2019.

Over the last few years, this unhappiness has been characterized through headlines about The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. Aren’t we all getting tired of seeing these headlines?

One great truth we've learned at Barry-Wehmiller is that the people are just fine; it is our leadership that is lacking. If we keep seeing troubling trends about unhappiness at work, leaders have to look inward to see their role in causing and/or fixing the issues.

Leaders, maybe it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and do the hard work of caring for your people and helping them feel cared for. It’s not easy work and it may not be in your comfort zone, but if things are getting worse and your people are growing more unhappy at a more rapid rate, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

I don’t believe things are getting worse. I do believe we are making progress because Truly Human Leadership has become a regular part of the conversation as companies look to better themselves and their industry. That’s why events like the Ariat Dirt World Summit are so heartening for me.

And you know what industry is rated as the happiest in the BambooHR survey mentioned earlier?


Obviously, there are many factors why that may be true. But it is good to see an industry address the root of their people “issues” in an event such as the Ariat Dirt World Summit.

Leaders, are you willing to roll up your sleeves and do the same in your respective industry or space?

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