A Lesson for 2020: Be Like Mike

So many aspects of our lives have been upended in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loved ones have been lost. Jobs have been lost. Businesses have shut down.

For many of us, our “normal” routines and activities have yet to return. In our workplaces, there are entire companies or departments still working from home.

We are approaching another holiday where we are asked to limit our travel and our gatherings for the safety of others. As with Thanksgiving 2020, Christmas may be quite different this year. We may not see some treasured family or friends. We may not delight in the company of our team members at a holiday party.

There are many important lessons to be learned from this past year, but one of the most important – especially in this holiday season – is to have a renewed appreciation for family. The family we choose and the family we inherit by birth or by occupation.

I’ve long referred to those of us at Barry-Wehmiller as a family. But I was reminded of the grand impact of that idea by Mike Curley, an Assembly Leader at our Pneumatic Scale Angelus company in Ohio.

Mike was recently part of one of the virtual listening sessions we’ve been holding throughout our organization during this unprecedented year to learn more about what we are doing right in our company and what we can do better.

Starting out as a temporary team member in the stock room, Mike has been with PSA for 28 years. He spent 15 of those years in electrical engineering and he’s been in a leadership role for the past eight years. Mike is also a graduate of Barry-Wehmiller’s communications skills course, Listen Like a Leader, as well as our Leadership Fundamentals course.

“Work is sometimes a continuance of our home life,” Mike said. “A lot of tools I’ve learned from our classes, I’ve been able to use at home and vice-versa.”

Clearly, Mike understands that the way we lead impacts the way people live. He also understands that as a frontline leader, he has the opportunity to make a significant impact on those within his span of care.

“We’re in a unique role,” Mike said. “We can reach out and it’s a good chance they’ll listen to us if we approach it the correct way. But it starts with us as leaders. If you don’t have good leadership, guess what? Nine out of ten times, stuff isn’t going to work.”

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, Mike understood that it was his job to make sure his people got home safely. But the precautionary measures we had to put in place to make sure that happened weren’t initially easy to accept.

“At first, of course, it was tough,” Mike said. “It was tough for a lot of guys. You could tell it was. Again, we’re all in this together. Look at the big picture.”

Looking at the big picture was something he stressed regularly to his team. We were acting to not only protect the health of our people, but the health of our business, which supports our people.

At the end of Barry-Wehmiller’s fiscal year in October, we had very much succeeded in doing just that, exceeding our own expectations and those of our financial partners.

And it happened because we came together as a family would.

“A lot of people want to be where we’re at,” Mike said to his teammates. “Not only are we still employed and working, we are also still making a profit. We are still having a great year. And each and every one of you guys are a part of it.”

Mike also regularly checks in with his teammates to see how they are doing.

“It’s amazing what a few-second conversation will do,” he said.

Some of those conversations in this past year included talking about the social unrest in the country this past summer, which arose around issues of race. Mike said many of his teammates wanted to have a discussion about the issues, which he was happy to oblige.

“I don’t want anyone to be afraid to have a conversation,” Mike said. “A conversation, as far as I’m concerned, is an opportunity of growth. Of education. We all assume that everyone knows what they know, what they’re supposed to know. But that’s not always the case.”

Mike said that it was important to have those conversations, not only with our work family, but at home. It’s also an opportunity to utilize empathetic listening skills taught in our internal classes.

“I know everyone is affected by what’s going on out there in one way or another, whether it’s direct or indirect,” he said. “And sometimes, hey, we don’t understand. My thing is, don’t be afraid to ask the question. I’m not an expert, but I’m one of those who says, ‘we need to get together and talk.’”

Mike said his family always wonders why he’s smiling in the morning when he gets up.

“I’m blessed,” he said. “I work with some of the greatest. They’re pretty much my brothers and sisters and that’s the way I look at it. Everyday, it’s pretty much like coming in to see my other family.”

That notion of family at work has helped to shape Mike’s leadership skills and it affects how he treats those on his team, from looking after their safety to having difficult conversations. And we’re blessed to have a leader like Mike in our company.

If there’s one thought I can leave to you in 2020 during this holiday season it’s this: be like Mike. Treat those you experience in life as someone’s precious child. That includes those at work.

We aspire to create a society where people think of others first, moving from a me centric society to a we centric society.

Sooner than later, we will all be back together. And we will take the lessons of 2020 forward and work even harder to build a better world in our own lives and for the lives of others.

Truly Human Leadership is found throughout Barry-Wehmiller Companies, where Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $3+ billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting firm, Barry-Wehmiller’s 12,000 team members are united around a common belief: we can use the power of business to build a better world. Chapman explores that idea in his Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family, available from Penguin Random House.

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