Bob Chapman – Truly human leadership: What it means to lead like everybody matters 

According to my guest on today’s episode, the largest crisis we currently face has nothing to do with the economy or politics – it’s a crisis at the very heart of how we define leadership. 

Today a huge 88% of people do not feel like their work is valued by their employers. As a result, 75% of people would take another job if it came along, a level of disengagement estimated to cost companies over half a trillion dollars every year. This number does not include the impact it has on people’s personal lives: from addictions to broken relationships.

My guest on today’s podcast asks the question. How can we lead like everybody matters?

We give so much of ourselves and our lives to our jobs, so it’s strange that success is defined only in dollars and not in its impact on human lives.

Sitting with his morning coffee in the cafeteria of a company he had just acquired, Bob Chapman saw the joy of the workers slowly disappear as the work day started. 

This moment became the seed that eventually shifted his entire organisation from a ‘me-centric’ approach to leadership to ‘we-centric’. A decision that eventually enabled them to not only survive, but thrive through some of the largest economic downturns of our time.

This episode is about his incredible journey into the power and potentially world changing impact of truly human leadership.

Today’s Guest Bob Chapman

Bob Chapman is the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller – a $3 billion global capital equipment business with more than 12,000 team members. He was also recently named the #3 CEO in the world by Inc. magazine and Top 10 Social Capital CEO by International Business.

Bob became the senior executive of this private company in 1975 at the age of 30, after his father unexpectedly passed away. As an 80-year-old business with $20 million in revenue, outdated technology and a very weak financial position, it wasn’t long before the banks literally flew in to call in debts. 

Despite the obstacles, and there have been many since, Bob applied a unique blend of strategy and culture over the next 40 years to lead Barry-Wehmiller through more than 100 successful acquisitions. As well as successfully navigating the GFC and, more recently, COVID-19.

Over the past two decades, a series of realizations led Bob away from what he describes as the traditional management practices he learnt at university, to what he calls Truly Human Leadership. Where his employees feel valued, cared for and an integral part of the company’s purpose. At Barry-Wehmiller, they have a unique measure of success: by the way they touch the lives of people.   

The transformational impact of this approach also became the inspiration behind his recent Wallstreet Journal bestseller ‘Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family’. Co-authored by Raj Sisodia, founder of Conscious Capitalism.  

“Business can be the most powerful force of good in the world, if we simply taught our leaders to care for the people they have the privilege of leading.”

“You cannot ask people to care as leaders, you have to teach them how to care.”

“We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.”

Blog Website:

Company Website:  



You’ll learn

  • That there is currently a ‘crisis’ in leadership – with disengagement in the workplace costing ½ trillion dollars every year.
  • The fundamental difference between management and leadership.
  • Bob’s own personal journey from the me-centric approach he had been taught at university – to a ‘we-centric’ approach that became the key to their success.
  • What happens if you dare to treat every life you encounter (and employ) as your own precious child – because let’s be honest, they are somebody’s precious child. 
  • The most underutilised tool in leadership – the bravery to listen to how people feel. 
  • The two of the most powerful questions a leader can ask: ‘How does that affect your life?’ and ‘What did that feel like?’
  • How and why he went on to develop the GPO – the guiding principles of leadership – within Barry Wehmiller and how it went on to have more impact than he ever could have imagined. 
  • Why trust is not a result, it is an outcome.
  • How good leadership needs to be taught, but the capacity to care is innate.
  • The moment Bob realised that one of the biggest indicators of the success of his organisation (and the Nation), wasn’t its financial position – but the marriage survival rates of its people.

References and links mentioned

If you liked this episode, you might also enjoy

  • Benjamin ZanderThe power of standing in possibility: Leadership and the transformative role of music 
  • Hamish ThomsonWhy it’s not always right to be right and other hard won leadership lessons
  • James Kerr Leading at speed: How to move like the All Blacks without burning out 
  • Jim TammThe keys to Radical Collaboration
  • Frances FreiUnleashing and repairing trust as a leader

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