It's an open secret at our church that whenever I take our students on a trip and we have to stop for a meal, there's one place I take them: Chick-Fil-A. The conspiracy theorist thinks it's because of their Christian principles and stance on marriage. The cynic thinks I get a kickback (I wish!). The vegetarian thinks I'm discriminating (sorry). But to be totally honest, their food is great and they handle big groups really well. So whenever we have a "meal stop" I always let people get 3 guesses where we'll try to stop, and the first two don't count.
But Chick-Fil-A teaches us a lot about leadership as well. We can learn a lot about how to lead others from the culture and climate Chick-Fil-A has set up. Oh, and they have waffle fries.
1) We should be enthusiastic about what we do - Nothing is more obvious than fake excitement, like the salesman who downed a case of Red Bull before calling or the car salesman who wind sprints across the parking lot (that really did happen to me once). What sets Chick-Fil-A apart and what they teach about leadership is that their staff is genuinely glad to be there, enjoys what they are doing, and are proud of their product. Leaders need to do that as well, because they set the pace. It's not fist-pumping screaming, but it's marked by being genuine.
2) Leaders always need to think about innovation - Let's be honest, if Chick-Fil-A just stuck to the chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and Coke they'd be golden. But they're not satisfied with maintaining what's always worked, they're always looking for new ways and new products and new services. So they offer grilled chicken, nuggets, breakfast, fruit, coffee as additional products. And they offer the mom valet, family nights, and other ways to engage their customers. I believe the worst thing a leader can say is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" because that's the starting point for maintenance mode. Leaders always need to be exploring and trying different ways to be more effective.
3) Excellence is priority - Truett Cathy once said "Food is necessary to life, therefore, make it good." For them, constantly delivering a great product is of utmost importance. Leaders can never settle for anything less than the best and making excellence the accepted standard. Note: I'm not saying perfection. The fries will be burned, the sound system will go out, your sermon notes will disappear from your iPad. But when we make excellence the standard, even when things go off the rails, we're positioned to keep rolling.
4) Time off is important - You know you love Chick-Fil-A when you're out on a Sunday and it sounds good. But alas, you can't have it. And you never will. They are committed to being closed on Sunday to allow their employees time to worship, rest, and spend time with their family. Leaders need to make sure they are scheduling their off time, taking advantage of their vacation, and when they're off they need to be off. We weren't created to grind into the ground, God designed the Sabbath for us to rest, focus on Him, and recover from our work. Leaders who value time off are able to endure the long seasons of difficulty that come from leadership.
5) Generosity is important - I remember once working at Starbucks and a new location was coming in the Louisville area. Their management team came in for coffee and I struck a conversation with them where I shared my appreciation for the company culture they created and how they seek to build solid people, not just employees. Dude walks out to his car and hands me a stack of coupons. My jaw hit the ground. I was a broke seminary student, now I could eat for a couple weeks (except Sunday of course). Leaders are blessed to be a blessing, and we should lead the charge on generosity by giving, serving, sacrificing, and creating an environment where that is valued.
6) Model servant leadership - One of my students from a graduate class I taught is in management for Chick-Fil-A. Besides scoring brownie points with me for giving my boys a cow when we came in to eat once, she taught me a lot about how servant leadership is the norm for team members. I've watched store owners clean up kid messes, run food to customers, and get drink refills. No job is too low, too messy, too unimportant for them to do. They lead with the model of Jesus as a servant, who washed the Disciples' feet and made Himself into a servant to show us how we should love, lead, and serve each other.
So thanks Chick-Fil-A, for your awesome food, play spaces for my boys to burn off some energy, and your clever cow commercials.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.