Food for Thought

What do you like to talk about during dinner?

I have little patience for the kind of chit chat that takes place at most social occasions– talk about sports, the weather, celebrity gossip.  At 67 years old, I feel the pressure of time.  I don’t want to waste a moment of my precious time on this earth discussing trivial things; it’s time that could be used to engage in meaningful dialogue.

One night at dinner a young man in our organization asked me, “Bob, What do you hope to achieve while on the face of this earth? Click To Tweetwhat’s your greatest fear?”  I’m an optimist so I had to think about it for a moment. I responded, “My greatest fear is that we will have worked hard to build something of significance here at Barry-Wehmiller and that it will fade away. Somehow it will not be sustained beyond my time.”

His simple thought-provoking question and my impromptu response became a clarifying moment in our organizational journey.  Shortly thereafter, we began to engage in bigger conversations about the legacy of our business.  As a result, we took action to create and preserve that legacy. (More on that in future blog posts.)

The question I like to ask at dinner is this: “What do you hope to achieve while on the face of this earth, and how does your professional role relate to that?”  The dialogue that results from this question is profound.  You should try it.

What is your favorite thought-provoking question?

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.


  • Jane Adshead-Grant says:

    Great post thank you and this idea means a lot to me too. A question I love to ask which Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think asked is ‘what challenging step would you like to take in your work or life now?’

  • TomEngland says:

    Hi Bob: Here’s one of my favorite thought-provoking activities I use in our company’s kaizens….at the beginning of the meeting we ask each participant to write down on a post it note the “biggest issue in their lives today”. After the shock wears off I tell them we don’t plan to collect and share, but to just write it down. We go on with our event and part way through the morning we ask them to get the post it out. Then we tell/ask them to make sure that they make progress on this issue before they go to sleep that night. It is amazing the looks we get and the head nods of approval…message being to stay focused on what matters overall (and that the company cares about that). By the way, 80+% of the issues are personal, not business related. Pretty compelling data that each employee has a total life to be considered.
    Tom England

    • Bob Chapman says:

      Tom: If we treat people with respect, invite them to be part of something meaningful, LISTEN to them, and show them they matter, many of the life issues they face will diminish. For those that remain, their team members will be better equipped to help them deal with it. There is no question that we have found that EVERYONE, at the basic level, just wants to know that he/she MATTERS. It all starts with inviting people to join us in an endeavor, allowing them to discover, develop, share and be appreciated for their gifts, and aspiring to have them go home each evening FULFILLED. If we strive to do that, the world would be a dramatically better place in which to live in harmony. There would be fewer broken marriages, better parenting, more caring communities and far less conflict in all aspects of life! –Bob

  • malangay says:

    Your fears are not baseless and one way you may be able to gauge the depth, quality and ability of your succession team to carry on your legacy is by asking them to answer “what is wrong with the world today?”.
    See how many have the courage to respond in the Chestertonian manner. For that matter, how would you respond I wonder?


    Mohammad Babar

    • Bob Chapman says:

      Mohammad: What we have chosen to do is create an ongoing dialogue with our teams by meeting with diverse groups and sharing our vision of Truly Human Leadership. We constantly ask “What are we doing well?” and “What can we do better?” We cultivate leaders through Barry-Wehmiller University by teaching good leadership practices and effective communication skills. We constantly work toward creating a sustainable culture of care and developing disciples who deeply believe in our message to carry it forward for years to come! –Bob

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