Re:Creating Leadership

Dan Cathy is the incredibly energetic and creative CEO of Chick-fil-A. His rapid-fire approach made it a bit more difficult to take notes during his talk than the other speakers at re:create 11.  Nonetheless, Dan’s talk was very inspirational and filled with all kinds of leadership nuggets.

Dan encouraged us as leaders to engage others in the skills that God has called them to do. When that happens, a team finds itself moving forward with joy, creativity, and passion.  He encouraged leaders to “get used to scary thoughts coming into your mind.”

Then Dan pulled out a leather bag filled with leadership “object lessons.”

  • Ear Plugs: Your ears pop when you’re in the swimming pool and you go quickly from the top to the bottom. Good leaders work both at the top and at the bottom.
  • Shoe Brush: Good leaders serve others…like Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.
  • Relay Baton: Dan has learned that it’s not necessarily the fastest team the wins the relay, but the team the gets the baton around the track first.
  • Oxygen Mask: Flight Attendants remind us, in the event of an emergency, to put our oxygen mask on before we put a child’s on. Good leaders take care of themselves first.
  • Conducting Baton: Like a conductor, orchestrate remarkable experiences.
  • Railroad Spike: Good leaders stay on track.
  • Jar of Peanut Butter: The freshness seal reminds leaders to “stay fresh” in their thinking.

Leaders of excellent organizations create raving fans! In business, the first mile is the transaction. The second mile is relationship. An example Dan used was a Chick-fil-A restaurant hosting a “Daddy Daughter Date Night.” Another example was of a Chick-fil-A restaurant providing caring and presence for a man who lost his wife and two of his three children in a car accident. Being “human” goes a long way as a leader.

Dan Cathy backed up my belief that going out to eat is one of life’s greatest pleasures. He said that the word “restaurant” literally means “a place of restoration.” An evening spent going out to dinner certainly restores me!

Creatives and leaders can learn valuable lessons from a fast food restaurant like Chick-fil-A. When we treat people with honor, dignity, and respect, we are restoring hearts. As Ben Franklin once said, “The handshake of the host effects the taste of the roast.” Stay engaged with people beyond just the initial transaction. Dan is taking his own advice to heart and encouraging participating restaurants to give customers a “back stage look.”  It’s all about the personal touch.

Dan spiced up his talk by giving each of us a slinky. He demonstrated how slinkies can “walk” down the steps. He proceeded to tell us that there’s a lesson in that for leaders:

  • Nothing happens until leaders go first. When you go first as a leader it might be awkward. On the other hand, when leaders go first exciting things can happen that have never been done before.
  • Leaders develop followers. They intentionally endear themselves to others. Leaders ought to lead in a direction people naturally want to go. Be authentic with people. “Sleep with the troops.”
  • Followers become leaders. If followers don’t become leaders, slinkies will never go down the stairs. When followers become leaders great things happen.

Dan closed his talk with some great advice:

  • Take a trip. Go taste, smell, feel, hear…discover something new; and take someone with you!
  • Build a team. Teams bring both harmony and dissonance. Don’t surround yourself only with people who agree with you. Bring in people whose strengths are your weaknesses.
  • Find a successor. Who will take your baton?

What lessons of leadership have you learned? How are they different…or the same…as Dan Cathy’s?

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