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Invite the ‘whole person’ to work

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management,Profiles in Leadership

For Brian Walker, leadership and inspiration go hand in hand. The CEO of Herman Miller wants the company’s roughly 5,700 employees to love their jobs, so he reminds his staff that the company’s goal is “to create a better world around you.”

He gathers cross-functional teams and lets everyone share ideas.  He knows they bring differing perspectives and sparks might fly.

“The tension comes from finding the right balance, being willing to follow those creative leaps to the new place and convincing the organization that it’s worth the effort to go there,” he says.

Walker often inspires audiences by sharing anecdotes about Herman Miller’s son-in-law, D.J. De Pree, who bought the firm from Miller in 1923. Citing De Pree’s leadership philosophy reinforces the company’s rich legacy.

While Henry Ford would say, “Bring us your hands and you can leave everything else at home,” De Pree insisted, “I want all of you here. I want the whole person.” Comparing the two leaders, Walker underscores the importance of creating a workplace where people can thrive.

He illustrates this point by telling a story about De Pree. When a millwright died, De Pree visited the late employee’s widow. She surprised De Pree by reading stirring poems that the millwright had written.

De Pree realized that each employee possesses wide-ranging skills that may not surface at work. Walker believes the more they can apply all their talents to their job, the better.

Walker’s “whole person” approach is working. Annual turnover is under 4%.

— Adapted from “How Herman Miller has designed employee loyalty,” Kermit Pattison,


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