Chick-fil-A’s recipe for servant leadership

It is safe to say that Chick-fil-A is one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the country. The brand has such a following that customers will “campout” overnight before a grand opening of a new restaurant. Camping out at a Chick-fil-A? That takes dedication and an extreme love for chicken!

If camping out at Chick-fil-A sounds like an idea up your alley, you will probably meet lots of people from all walks of life – including the President and COO of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy.

Cathy is well known for spending the night in Chick-fil-A parking lots for these campouts all across the country. Reflecting on the campout experiences Cathy stated, “I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had at Chick-fil-A.”

Since 2001, Cathy has served as President and COO of the 1,480-plus unit chain. He represents the next generation of leadership for the company founded by his father, S. Truett Cathy. When he took over as President, Cathy defined his role in the company as, “I work in customer service.” He instills the concept of servant leadership into his everyday behavior.

Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the term “servant leadership” in the essay The Servant as a Leader.

“The servant leader is a servant first,” Greenleaf stated. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

Servant leaders are attentive to the growth and development of those they work with, including partners, employees, and customers, according to Inc.com

Rather than leading from the Chick-fil-A corporate office, Cathy chooses to spend the majority of his time traveling to the chain’s restaurants and interacting with the workers. He said working in the field provides a deeper understanding of the wants and needs of the customers.

Cathy believes the values of Chick-fil-A that make it so successful include corporate culture, entrepreneurship, and customer service.

Exemplary service, Cathy says, begins with hiring the right people. The company is choosy as it typically awards franchises to just 5% of applicants, and the selection process can take a year.

Cathy has stated that he wants to make sure new operators share Chick-fil-A’s corporate values. While Christian principals are a visible factor in the company’s culture – Cathy said Christianity is not a requirement to become a Chick-fil-A operator. However, they have to exhibit humility, passion for service, compassion, and genuineness.

According to Cathy, the main idea of servant leadership is that the leaders serve the staff. Managers treat their employees how they want those employees, in turn, to treat customers.

“If we have to keep telling people what to do, it means we’re not modeling the behavior ourselves,” said Cathy in an interview with Fast Company. “If we are living it every day, we don’t need to talk about it.”

A key characteristic of a servant leader is the desire to serve. Tell us, what are you thoughts about Dan Cathy and servant leadership? Would you ever campout overnight for chicken?

Sources: Fast Company, Inc.com, Chick-fil-A.com, Greenleaf.org

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