I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend a Leadership Summit this past Saturday at Church of the Apostles in Buckhead. The keynote speaker was T. Mark Miller, author and Vice President of Leadership Development at Chick-Fil-A. In fact, Mark was corporate employe number 16 at “The Chicken”, as he fondly refers to the organization we all know as Chick-Fil-A. In the next few blog posts, I’m going to work through the 9 pages of notes that I took as Mark spoke. He spoke twice for about an hour each time, so there’s a ton of material.

The Chicken Leadership

Back in 2000, Chick-Fil-A was on the verge of huge growth. Their leadership had a lot of initiatives that needed a lot of new leaders, but when they looked on their leadership bench, it was empty. They decided that they needed to make a corporate-wide decision to train up new leaders for the long term. So, they started that process…and quickly realized that they did not even know how to define “leadership”.

How do you define “leadership”? You see, everyone has a different definition. In fact, when The Chicken started this quest, there were over 600 definitions of the word in the world’s dictionaries. The leadership of The Chicken quickly understood that they had to create their own definition of “leadership.” It looked like this.

It’s an iceberg. Why an iceberg? Because you can see about 10% of an iceberg, and you only get to see about 10% of the total qualities of a leader. According to the late Peter Drucker, you cannot have a leader without character. If you have a great leader with no character, eventually people will not want to follow him. If you have someone with impeccable character who does not have the skills to lead, he won’t be able to lead those who desire to follow him.

Leaders are like icebergs

Chick-Fil-A decided that their definition of “Leadership” was 10% leadership skills and 90% character, much like an iceberg: the skills are what you see, but the portion that remains unseen is actually what holds the iceberg up in the water.

Next, The Chicken’s leaders had to determine what the skills were that a leader must have. It was at this point that Mr. Miller told the story of how Peter Drucker addressed a group of leaders shortly before he died. He spoke for a few minutes, and then, to everyone’s delight, he opened the forum for Q&A. Well, what would you ask the great Peter Drucker?!? Silence. Finally, a young man in the back of the room asked, “Dr. Drucker, what is the most important decision any leader can make?” Drucker bowed his head deep in thought. So deep that the audience literally thought he had died right there as he leaned up against the platform. Finally, after several minutes of incredibly awkward silence, Drucker slowly raised his head and said,

Who does what.

That’s it. That’s the most important decision a leader must make. But they knew there was much more to it than that, so they had a brainstorming session to determine exactly what a leader at Chick-Fil-A needed to do. At the end of that session, they had narrowed the list down to 1,234 items. That’s right, more than twelve-hundred skills a leader needed.

Can we make a short list?

Obviously, 1,234 items cannot be trained, measured, learned, or anything else that remotely resembles efficiency and effectiveness, so they set out to combine all those skills into a much shorter list. The following list is what they came up with. According to Chick-Fil-A, a leader must:

  1. See the future – a leader must hold the vision, cast the vision, and constantly and consistently communicate the vision. Leadership always begins with a picture of the future, and “if there is mist in the pulpit, there will be fog in the pews.” That’s a southern way of saying that the leader has to be crystal clear when they articulate the vision, or the people won’t see it at all.
  2. Engage and develop others – this is where that Drucker quote – “who does what” – comes in. It’s the leader’s job to decide who to engage and develop into the next generation of leaders. You must put the right people in the right seats, and then ask yourself over and over all the time, “What have I done today to lift engagement, and what did I do today to depress engagement?” Knowing that fewer than 30% of all employees worldwide feel engaged in the workplace should give you your start.
  3. Reinvent continuously – leaders naturally understand that progress is always preceded by change. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. Is that good enough? The methods of the past always lose their efficacy over time. In this area, the leader must dedicate himself to three domains of thought:
    • Reinvent yourself – leaders are learners. Leaders constantly learn by reading, seeing, listening, doing, or any number of other ways. Dan Cathy wanted to “learn the internet”, so he built his own website. He learns by doing. How do you learn?
    • Reinvent systems and processes in the workplace – hoping something will change or get better does not work. “Hope” is not a strategy. The late John Wooten, who won 10 NCAA Basketball Championships in 12 years at UCLA, used to dedicate each off season (that’s 7-8 months/year) to studying one single facet of the game of basketball.
    • Reinvent the structure of the organization to enable not inhibit, to make things easier not harder
  4. Value results and relationships – all of us except a very, very few have a natural bent towards either relationships or results. The very best leaders consider both by doing the following:
    1. Acknowledging their natural bias, whichever it is, and
    2. Compensating for it, like you compensate for an astigmatism by wearing glasses or contact lenses
  5. Embodying the values – you have to walk the talk. People know leaders are not perfect, but they expect leaders to try and they want us to try. If you are a leader, your team will see you embody your values
    • Your values are those beliefs that you want to drive behavior
    • There is no faster way to build a culture than to tell people what is important and then live like you believe it.
    • If you are a leader, someone is always watching your behavior, whether or not the listen to anything you say.

Those were the 5 points that The Chicken’s leadership came up with. But what if they were wrong? They decided to share these 5 points with all the great leaders that they knew. Mark happened to have a meeting already scheduled with Ken Blanchard, so he made these 5 points the center point of that meeting. Ken Blanchard listened intently to the points, and then said,

That’s a book!

Mr. Miller replied that, to Ken Blanchard, everything is a book; however, in this case, Blanchard was right, and he pointed out something that all the leaders at Chick-Fil-A had not seen:

  • See the future
  • Engage & develop others
  • Reinvent continuously
  • Value results & relationships
  • Embody your values

It’s now a book called “The Secret.” Great leaders S.E.R.V.E.

What do you think about that?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.