Those of you who have been reading these posts know I am regularly researching and listening to what leaders do to achieve influence and drive growth.

Recently I heard a CEO talk about leadership, but this talk was different than most. While the strong results spoken of were expected of a “mover and shaker” kind of CEO, what made this presentation different was the approach this CEO utilized to achieve those results.

This CEO is recognized as one of the top executives in her industry, which is a difficult and challenging industry characterized by high employee turnover and low profit margins. The significant changes she has accomplished at the helm of this publicly-held company have turned it around by 180-degrees.

The approach she utilized…servant leadership! The CEO is Cheryl Bachelder and the company is the fast-food restaurant, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

The servant leader approach she used focused on serving the people who invested the most in the day-to-day operations – not the shareholders, but the franchisee. The vast majority of the 2,000 restaurants are owned by franchisees – the people who pay a large sum of money to have the right to build, open, and operate a fast-food restaurant, following all the rules and regulations of the corporate entity to whom they pay the money!

Prior to Bachelder’s arrival 10 years ago, the company did not treat the franchisees very well. For example … Her game-changing insight was to improve the acknowledgement and treatment of the people who were on the front lines serving customers. While many leaders desire to bask in the spotlight, she turned that notion upside down to focus the light on serving the franchisees. Simply brilliant (pun intended)!

Bachelder’s approach was to strengthen relationships with franchisees based on trust, transparency, and collaboration over the need to be right when it came to decision-making. One of the examples she shared was about developing the business plan. Business plans and strategies are critically important for most executives to get right. We all know this. She and her team had developed what they considered to be a very sound plan. There was one problem – when the plan was shared with the franchisees, they disagreed with the proposal!

As Bachelder explained, “We had to swallow our pride, prioritize the relationship with our franchise owners over being right. We may have lost some momentum in the short term, but we gained alignment that led to a well-executed plan in the marketplace. Sometimes you must go slow to go fast.”

Another key insight she and her team realized was that influencing others is ultimately more effective than exercising positional authority over them. In a franchisee model, the company can demand certain procedures and plans be followed. Bachelder used the contract only as the last resort. This approach enabled the collaboration part of the relationship building philosophy to be fully experienced by the franchisees.

Not at all surprising to me is Bachelder’s emphasis on coaching her team and instilling this approach throughout the organization. She clearly understands the value of prioritizing “developmental time” with her team on a regular basis. This time is not used to review the operational results or adjust plans. Rather, it is a time to build the leadership talent and maximize their natural capabilities. She follows this practice despite the significant time challenges associated with staying in touch with field operations and other responsibilities that necessitate a large amount of travel. To her, it is about prioritizing.

She had a lot more to say beyond my brief summary here. If you are interested in her story, you can read about it in a book she wrote about a year ago entitled, “Dare To Serve” available on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

How might you apply these principles to turn your own leadership style on its head? The concept of servant leadership is certainly not new. Its value has been proven over and over again. I have a few constructive questions for you:

  1. How would your team respond if I asked them to describe your leadership style?
  1. What examples would your team provide to describe how you value relationships over being right?
  1. What examples would your team provide to describe your use of influence over positional authority?
  1. Where does “coaching for development” fit in your calendar each month? This includes investment in both your personal development and in your team’s.

As always, I am curious to hear your answers to these questions. Please do let me know.

Best regards,