I just finished one of the most inspiring leadership books I’ve read in a long time – Dare to Serve – How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others by Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. It’s so good that it now sits on my book shelf right next to my signed copy of Max De Pree’s leadership classic – Leadership is an Art.
So what makes this book so inspiring, engaging and helpful?
First, is Cheryl’s thesis – “When you choose to humbly serve others and courageously lead them to daring destinations, the team will give you their very best performance” p. 9. Cheryl’s value based, people centered leadership philosophy is not only right on, it’s a desperately needed message in the celebrity driven, leader centered culture found in so many organizations today.
Second, there’s Cheryl’s courage. Think about it, how many CEO’s of a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company, would dare to proclaim such a contrarian idea as one that says – you can lead teams to great performance by serving them? And, of course, courage in others is always inspiring.
Third, Cheryl is not only a student of leadership, she is a leader. Her book isn’t filled with theories but reflects what she’s learned by actually leading people and organizations. Which means this book is a case study in leadership and, specifically, in leading the turnaround of a struggling organization.
Finally, I’ve spent some time with Cheryl, so I can vouch for the fact that, as a leader and, more importantly as a person, she’s the real deal, which only affirms that her book is the real deal.
So if you’re a leader of any kind or aspire to be one, Dare to Serve gives you a great roadmap to become a better leader. It will inspire you to lead humbly and courageously so that you and your team will win.
So I asked myself, “how does this old maxim apply to other kinds of leaders, ones who are not pastors?”
So here’s my take on it.
First, “Feed them” implies giving people the tools, time, encouragement, and clarity of expectations, training, and coaching they need to successfully do their work now and into the future. It means providing both challenging and meaningful work while assuring people have what they need to meet every challenge and, at the end of the day, be successful. Feeding people is building into them professionally and personally.
Then the second requirement of leadership is to “Love them“. How can we love those entrust to our leadership? We start with treating them as people created in the image of God. We can do this simply by knowing and using people’s names. People love and need to be known. We make sure we understand what people do in their work and the contributions they make to the team. Then we should never stop thanking them. We get to know people on a personal level so we can lead them in a way that brings out their best. We also show an interest in them beyond what they can do for the team. This means being committed to well-being of their professional lives (goals, fears, desires, calling, development, etc.) as well as their personal lives (family, hobbies, spiritual).
If, as leaders, we can effectively feed and love people, then, and only then, will we earn the right to lead them, to be granted the privilege to be their leaders. Without earning this right, by definition, we’re not leaders because we simply will have no lasting followers, just people stuck till they can find another leaders and team.
So challenge yourself by answering the following questions about the people entrusted to you. Then earn the right to lead by actually do what you’ve said you will do in each answer.
- What will I do this week to feed them?
- How will I tangibly express my love for them this week?
- What will I do this week to feed them?
It was end of the summer of 1999 and I decided to take my young sons up to one of my favorite places in the world – Camp Anjigami – so they could have their first, of what has become, 16 straight Canadian fishing experiences. My three boys’ ages ranged from 7 to 4 years old. Quite young to be in the Canadian wilderness, but it’s the context where I experienced unexpected joy.
During those early trips I never fished. I spent all my time helping my young boys tie hooks and lures to their lines, net and unhook fish, and keep their lines from getting tangled. In particular, we always took a day to fish a lake where we’d catch lots of (30 to 50) Northern Pike. If you’ve never caught or seen a Northern, they are the freshwater version of a Barracuda – aggressive fish with mouths full off sharp teeth. There were times when two of my boys would hook into a Northern at the same time. It meant chaos as a couple of really mad 3 pound fish with multiple hook lures attached to them would be wildly thrashing around the bottom of our rowboat. All of which created lots of excitement but no time for me to fish.
I remember at first finding it difficult to be in Canada and not being able to fish. It’s something I absolutely love to do. But by the end of that first trip I realized that I was receiving as much joy, or even more joy, watching and helping my sons catch fish as I ever did catching fish myself.
In those early trips I went from being a fisherman to fishing coach. This meant helping my boys become fishermen in their own right. Now today, when we go on our annual trip, I can and do fish because my boys can fish as well. We have multiplied our fishing capacity from 1 to 3 to 4.
I now know this is what leaders do; they multiply themselves and their efforts by developing others even at the sacrifice of doing what they love. And, as I’ve discovered, the reward is great; it’s the unexpected joy of seeing the people you lead being able to do what you do and becoming what you are – a person capable of developing others.
But the temptation for leaders (those people already leading parades) is to jump in front of and lead every parade that comes by. This is especially tempting when a parade looks like it needs help. The reason leaders do this is because they are people who have the habit of seeing an opportunity to be a difference maker and then jumping in and taking charge of the parade. Often this is just the right thing to do as a leader – because there are many parades desperate for experienced leadership.
But a leader can be too quick to jump in front of another parade. When they do so they often fail to realize they’re taking an opportunity away from a future leader in waiting. Young and inexperienced leaders can rarely compete with veteran parade leaders for these opportunities. But without opportunities it’s difficult to become an experienced parade leader. And the truth is the world needs more veteran parade leaders.
So the next time a parade comes by, make sure your first move isn’t to slide to the front and start leading the band, but instead to look around and find potential leaders who need experience as a parade leader. Then encourage them to jump in front while you walk with them along the parade route encouraging, coaching, supporting, and cheering this new leader on as he or she guides the parade. This will do two important things – first provide you margin and flexibility just in case another parade comes along that really needs you and, second, help ready another parade leader for a world desperate for leadership.