Three leadership lessons from Truett Cathy

imgres“Eat mor chikin” has become the symbol for the highly successful Chick-fil-A restaurant. And this week  Truett Cathy, the family’s patriarch who started the company in 1967, passed away at the age of 93.

Cathy was often quoted as saying: “I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed.”

That mindset creates wonderful insight to the man who built a business that is not just successful but rather has become a standard of excellence for many businesses today.

I have long-admired Chick-fil-A. In fact, in my travels I love to “test their service culture” but ordering a beverage in the drive-thru just to see if the trademark phrase, “It’s my pleasure” really occurs at every franchise.

As I reflect on the news of Mr. Cathy’s death, it seems appropriate to honor his leadership and perhaps give us lessons that will equip us to live out great examples of authentic leadership in our own organizations and circle of influence.

Quality over Quantity
From the beginning, a key focus across the Chick-Fil-A brand is a focus on quality in both product and service.  I heard him speak once on a podcast interview with Andy Stanley about the eternal priority of being better before getting bigger.  His interview speaks volumes about the battle that often occurs between intentional process improvement and the monetary desire to expand.  He was clear with his team that one more store opening had the potential of more harm than good unless it was a store that opened and performed well.  A great lesson for every leader – are we more focused on numbers or “good” numbers?

Service Consistency Counts
As I stated earlier, I love to “test the service culture” by visiting various stores.  I love to see and hear the evidence of a strong service culture and Truett was actually stubborn in his quest for hiring the right people to the team.  “Right” for Chick-fil_A team is likely more focused on finding naturally service-minded people who can be taught the tasks of working in a restaurant versus finding applicants with previous food service experience.  Naturally, there is no perfect employee or restaurant but by large, you will find a consistent positive service experience at each Chick-fil-A restaurant – and it’s one that sincerely serves its customers.  In your team, how stubborn are you to find the right fit for each role on the team?

The Power of Plan B
And finally, Truett began a family business and one in which his vision and mission grew over the last 40 years.  He began mentoring and developing his sons early on to take the reigns one day.  What is noteworthy with Truett, is the time he invested to prepare Dan and Donald for their respective roles of leadership.  This was not a one or two year investment, rather years of preparation.  That same philosophy exists at each store.  Becoming a leader at a store is an intentional process of development, coaching an accountability.  That process has created what we call a “deep bench” of talent across the company so when the unexpected surprises occur, the team can step in as needed to continue the business.  For you, are you grooming someone to fill your role…someday?

No organization is perfect and this article in no way intended to place Truett Cathy on a pedestal. In fact, he wouldn’t like that.  However, as his personal and work family mourn his passing, I know the motto will continue to be “keep the right priorities in order and remember the important things have not changed”.   And as Truett would tell us, “It’s my pleasure.”

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