Creating a More Caring World: Teaching Human Skills in Primary and Secondary Education

March 20, 2024
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

One thing we learned early on in our journey of Truly Human Leadership is that you can’t leave leadership to chance. You must intentionally nurture good leaders by teaching them the skills to lead and the courage to care.

That’s why we established our own internal Barry-Wehmiller University. We realized our leaders needed to be taught how to listen with empathy, how to recognize and celebrate others for their contributions and fostering a culture of seizing every opportunity to serve.

As I often say, when I was in business school, I took management classes, got a management degree and got a job in management.

When you’re taught to “manage,” you’re also taught to see and treat people as functions. Our society seems to imply  that success is money, power and position. You’re never taught to inspire. You’re never taught to care.

So, we decided to take the lessons learned about turning managers into leaders inside our company out into the world. We formed Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute to help companies improve their current leaders and their future leaders.

Additionally, my wife Cynthia and I started Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities to bring these leadership lessons to communities, not just to individuals and non-profits, but police and fire departments and even the U.S. Military.

We decided that to change the way people lead, we needed to address the source of where they’re taught to lead – business schools. We need to move from teaching management to teaching leadership and equip tomorrow’s leaders with human skills. Our view is that the present education systems was founded to give citizens of our country the academic skills to create a career. Clearly we have created a great deal of economic wealth but it has resulted in a poverty of dignity in the world. We are experiencing the highest level of anxiety, depression and suicide despite economic prosperity.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to groups of students, teachers and administrators at St. Louis University; Washington University; Tecnológico de Monterrey (TEC) in Monterrey, N.L., México, a private, non-profit, multi-campus university system in Latin America; and Ivey Business School.  I continue to try to speak to as many business schools as possible to deliver our message.

We helped found the Humanistic Leadership Academy, which seeks to provide a community and resources to university professors who seek to inject people-centric principles into their instruction and curriculum.

Brian Wellinghoff, Barry-Wehmiller’s Director of Outreach, has made connections with several universities and is advising them on leadership curriculum. Most notably, he is the Executive in Residence at Virgina Commonwealth University, serving the Institute for Transformative Leadership.

But we also want to reach students even earlier on in their learning experience, because these leadership principles not only benefit people in the workplace, but their families, friends and communities. It really is the cornerstone of building a better world.

Several of my grandchildren have attended Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, NC. A few years ago, after several of the faculty read my book, Everybody Matters, I became involved in their efforts to institutionalize leadership development in the everyday lives of their students.

Recently, Anne White joined Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities with a focus to bring our teachings to primary and secondary education.

“I think we have a wonderful opportunity to really focus on a movement, as Bob says, which is developing human skills alongside academic skills, and really nurturing the essential human skills that right now we don't focus on in education,” Anne said. “It's great to have academic information, but if you can't apply it with our interpersonal capacities and relationships, then what we know doesn't go very far in the world. So, I'm hoping that in education, the movement is about prioritizing essential human skills of caring, connection, belonging, the capacity to know one another, to know ourselves, alongside our academic skills.”

At the end of February, we hosted a very important group of friends and allies at our St. Louis office to reflect on the purpose of education and formulate a vision to inspire our efforts as we begin in earnest.

Brian facilitated the discussion, which included Anne, representatives of Barry-Wehmiller University, Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities, Jennifer Wallace and Sarah Bennison of the Mattering Movement and David-Aaron Roth, the Director of Student Leadership Development at Charlotte Latin School.


“What I think is most salient about today is the recognition that when we try and understand education, and we try and understand how we can best serve our students, our communities, the world, that you need to be bringing together a group of individuals who come at it from a very different perspective and lens,” David-Aaron Roth said. “Because when you are in your silos of your own respective fields, you find that you start to group think. And I think it's relatively important that we consider the different ways in which different individuals conceptualize the purpose of education so that we can have a definition and a conceptualization that can meet a much larger group of people rather than one particular subset of individuals.”

Jennifer and Sarah visited us last year in St. Louis and our BW Papersystems facility in Phillips, WI. We captured their reactions on a podcast. At that time, the Mattering Movement was in its infancy. Now they are piloting their mattering curriculum with 15 schools.

“Mattering is feeling valued at your core and adding value to the world around you, and we provide tools and now a curriculum to bring mattering to schools, both for kids and for teachers,” Sarah, who is the CEO of the Mattering Movement, said.

“Initially, when we started the mattering movement, we thought our primary audience would be families and parents. And we do have quite a few parents who reach out to us, and we have tools for parents to bring mattering home. But what we've seen since we launched is a real outpouring from educators all over the United States, even around the world. And we realized, too, that kids spend so much of their life in schools, and what we're seeing in the United States and even abroad is a real issue with retention, absenteeism, both for teachers and for kids. And we think that that is rooted in a real mattering deficit that we're seeing in schools.”

From this day of thoughtful discussion, we landed on this as our vision of the purpose of education to inspire our work:

Ignite the Power of Me to Embrace the Responsibility of We to Create a World where Everybody Matters

“I'm excited that there are some remarkable people like Jennifer and Sarah who are working towards supportive tangential roles to what we're doing, human flourishing, the mattering movement,” Anne said as she reflected on the day’s discussion. “There are a number of really remarkable people who also are hearing this calling and are contributing to education in different ways. So, I'm really excited about meeting like-minded individuals who can contribute to the conversation and the movement, and build excitement and understanding in the greater world, to actually implement these initiatives in schools.”

We will keep you updated as we embark on this new phase of spreading our message of Truly Human Leadership.

Building a better world is a lofty goal. We will spread the seeds of our message as far and wide as possible. We want to it to take root as deeply as possible to bloom as a strong and beautiful presence wherever it may be!

You can listen to an episode of our Truly Human Leadership Podcast with more discussion on this topic through the link below or go here.


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