Truett Cathy’s Leadership Example

A Charismatic Leadership Tip

“I see no conflict between biblical principles and good business practice. Corporate America needs faith in something more than the bottom line.”
– S. Truett Cathy, Founder/Chairman
Chick-fil-A®, Inc.

Picture used by permission from Chick-fil-A’s web site.

On September 8, 2014 we lost another of The Greatest Generation: Samuel Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. Cathy was 93 and provides a real life rags to riches Horatio Alger story. He grew up during the depression learning the values of hard work, fairness, honesty, loyalty, and respect as he helped his mother when she opened their home to boarders, often adding up to 8 guests to their 9 member family.

Cathy started Chick-fil-A with a small local grill by the Ford motor plant in Hapeville, Georgia. When this grill was profitable, Cathy took a huge step in the restaurant business by opening his second restaurant location, which burned down. He did not have this restaurant properly insured but instead of filing for bankruptcy, he put up tents with grills and continued to serve customers next to the destroyed building until he was able to pay for repairs.

Some of his famous policies include being closed on Sunday so his employees would have a day of rest, the cow commercials telling you to “Eat Mor Chikin” instead of beef, and training bright young employees to give exceptional service. As an example, we were in Rogers, Arkansas, enjoying our sandwich when an experienced employee with an infectious smile brought us more napkins and refilled our drink glasses. I learned that all employees are taught that going the second mile is second nature, not an exception.

Even though he had no college education, he had a sharp business acumen which turned Chick-fil-A into the No. 1 U.S. seller of the boneless fried chicken sandwich in 2014. Cathy believed in “principles before profits.” To illustrate, the Chick-fil-A mission is:

“Glorify God by being a faithful steward in all that is entrusted to our care and that we might have a positive influence on people that we have contact with.”

After he developed this corporate mission and inculcated it throughout the ranks of his employees, Chick-fil-A’s sales increased nationwide by 36%. Amazing.

My research found several principles he lived by that we can implement in our own lives for improved results. Let’s call them Truett’s True Principles.

  1. Focus on people and principles and success will surely follow.
  2. Seizing everyday opportunities to help others.
  3. Courtesy is very cheap but brings great dividends.
  4. Set priorities in the proper order.
  5. Don’t try to please all people.
  6. Have a tremendous “want to” and determination to succeed.
  7. A true leader never gives up just because challenges present themselves.
  8. Fall in love with what you do and then you can work longer in the field.
  9. Take care of your people and give them encouragement each day.
  10. Enjoy what you do and be fully committed to the endeavor.
  11. If you are committed to the task, you can achieve anything.
  12. We must motivate ourselves to do our very best and by our example lead others to do their best as well.
  13. It takes discipline to slow down one day every week and discipline to sacrifice potential earnings one day every week.
  14. Instruction is what we say. Influence is what we do. Image is what we are.

I think you will agree that Cathy’s character and the stability he provided for all of his employees was a rare commodity into day’s tumultuous business atmosphere. His leadership will be missed.

“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else—our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when
I did not expect anything in return.”
-Quote from “Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People” (Looking Glass Books, 2002) by S. Truett Cathy

Karla Brandau is available for leadership keynotes and workshops. She facilitates executive retreats and goal alignment sessions. Use the form below to a conversation on her availability for your next event.

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