Medium 9781626562356

Dare to Serve

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Become a Dare-to-Serve Leader!

How do you transform an ailing company into an industry darling? Adopt servant leadership. When Cheryl Bachelder was named CEO of Popeyes in 2007, the stock price had slipped from $34 in 2002 to $13. The brand was stagnant, the team discouraged, and the franchisees were just plain angry. Nine years later, restaurant sales were up 45%, restaurant profits had doubled, and the stock price was over $61. Some see servant leadership as incongruent with results, but this book confirms that challenging people to reach a daring destination, while treating them with dignity, creates the conditions for superior performance. In this updated edition, Bachelder includes her post-Popeyes observations and new examples of how you can switch your leadership from self to serve.

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The Dare-to-Serve Leader


AT THE BEGINNING OF A BROADWAY SHOW, the lights dim, the music plays, and the audience waits for the spotlight to hit the stage. When the main actor appears, the story begins.

So it is with leadership. When you become a leader, people wait for you to step into the spotlight on center stage. All eyes are fixed on you—waiting to see who you are, what you will say, and what you will do. After all, you are the leader.

What if the spotlight appeared on stage, and you were not in it? What would happen then?

The people would be confused. They would wonder where you were. They would think that you didn’t understand your role.

Until they realized what you were doing.

You are a different kind of leader. Not seeking the spotlight.

In fact, you have walked off the stage to find the light crew.

You will shift the focus of the spotlight—to the people you have been asked to lead.

You will lead the people to daring destinations—far beyond their imagination.


One Whom will we serve?


It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.


I AM AN ETERNAL OPTIMIST, a certified member of the positive-thinking club.

When we were growing up, my mother woke my siblings and me by playing loud music on the stereo and saying “Good morning! It’s a beautiful day. Rise and shine.” There was no opportunity for negativity. It was going to be a good day.

I continued this tradition with my children. The mantra of their childhood was, “Your attitude is your altitude.” They still grimace when I say it, but the message is etched in their minds. Decide how you will approach this day—and that will determine your day.

The same is true in leadership—your attitude is your altitude.

When I joined Popeyes, the place needed an attitude adjustment. The problem? The people we were responsible for leading were viewed as “a pain in the neck.”


Two What is the daring destination?


The bravest are the tenderest,—the loving are the daring.


AROUND THE DINNER TABLE, our family likes to discuss words. This habit comes from my husband of more than thirty years. He cares deeply about the proper use of words. Recently in one of these evening discussions, we contemplated the meaning of the terms paradox and oxymoron.

The word paradox, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means “something … that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.” The word originates from the Greek word paradoxon, meaning “contrary to expectation.”

An oxymoron is considered a “compressed paradox.” In terms I can understand, that means two words used together that are seemingly contradictory, such as “silent alarm.” The origin of oxymoron is also Greek—a combination of two Greek words, oxys meaning sharp or keen, and moros meaning foolish. Sharp and foolish? It turns out that even the word oxymoron is an oxymoron.


Three Why do we do this work?


Most of us … have jobs that are too small for our spirits.


WHY DOES WORK have such a bad reputation? Or is it just my line of work that has a bad reputation?

When you work in the restaurant business, you take a lot of flak for your job—particularly if you work in “fast food.” Popular culture is full of unflattering references, such as “burger flipper” and “minimum-wage worker.” Despite the fact that one in ten Americans currently works in a restaurant, one-third of Americans find their first job in a restaurant, and 50 percent of Americans work in a restaurant at some point in their working lives, restaurant work is regarded with disdain.

This drives me crazy. I know amazing people who work in the restaurant business. They deserve respect and dignity for what they do for a living. They feed people. They develop leaders. They help kids get through high school. They give people first and second chances for employment. They serve people kindly. They teach and counsel team members. They create jobs. They give generously in the community. They give the best of themselves to the people and the communities they serve.


Four How will we work together?


Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.


THE TURNAROUND OF A TEAM’S performance or a company’s performance requires a compelling strategic plan—a roadmap that gives clarity about what the team or company will do to get to the daring destination we talked about in chapter 2. This well-defined business plan is essential to help an organization grow. Without it, the team will fail.

A strategic roadmap is essential, but it is insufficient to drive superior results.

As important as what you decide to do, is to decide how you will work together to accomplish the plan. What principles will guide the daily work of the team, enabling them to serve one another and the business plan well? What principles, when put into action, will lead to superior results?

Some call this the culture of the organization—which is a good word for it, because it means the way we think, behave, and work together to accomplish goals. Defining the principles of the culture and holding the team accountable to those principles is fundamentally the work and the responsibility of the leader.


Five Choose To Serve


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.


IN MY VERY FIRST JOB OUT OF COLLEGE, I was in a meeting in the corner office with the guy everyone called “the big boss.” The meeting was to make an important decision on the business. As we huddled around his conference table, he pondered the facts and said to us, “We need to do an end run.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, so my eyes quickly and carefully darted around the room to see how others would react. Would we jump up and run? Would we duck for cover? Thankfully, all that happened was that we picked up our papers and went back to our desks.

I needed some training in football terms. I also needed lessons in leadership.

From that day forward I have been trying to figure out leadership—what is it? what are the traits of a leader?—especially leaders who drive superior performance results.


Six Be Bold and Brave


I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.


A FRIEND OF MINE went bungee jumping in South Africa—jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge, plunging over a spectacular gorge. Rising 709 feet over the Bloukrans River, the bridge is the world’s highest commercial bungee jump location (though it is only the thirty-sixth highest bridge in the world). The local operator of this extreme sport has appropriately named his company Face Adrenalin.

When my friend got home from the trip, she showed me the videotape of her jump. During the several minutes of preparation for the jump, while the guides secured her in the harness, my friend screamed and cried as though she was going to die any minute.

I completely relate to that emotion—I probably would have died of fear on the platform. Being much braver than I, my friend made the jump and found herself swinging upside down over Bloukrans River until the crew pulled her back up to the top. She told me how amazing the experience was—how it felt to fly through the air with the blood rushing into her head.


Seven Have Clarity of Purpose


ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO, I developed a bit of an obsession. I started asking this question of everyone I met: “Why do you work?”

I could see them trying to figure out what answer I was looking for. Because that is what we do when we are asked a question—we try to give the right answer.

So they would try to stay calm and say the expected: “I work to put my kids through college.” “I work to pay the bills.” “I work to support my mother.”

These were appropriate responses, even noble.

But the answers gradually reveal that the person doesn’t have an answer to the question.

Awkward silence. I could sense them thinking, What if there is no purpose for my work? What if work is meaningless?

So I’d change the subject … “How was your weekend?”

I finally met someone who wasn’t stumped by the question, “Why do you work?”

That someone is Chris. He is my hairdresser.

Chris welcomes me to his chair. He is immensely interested in my day. He offers a neck massage, asks how my haircut is working, and wonders if there is anything about it I want to change? For forty-five minutes, the stressful world evaporates as Chris and I banter. I’m feeling better already. I tease him that I wish I could stop by every day.


Eight Avoid the Spotlight


THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS IN LIFE that I know to be useful and true, but I still don’t do them.

I know that keeping your life organized and orderly makes you more effective. But I don’t care enough to act on it. I’m just not that bothered by messy desks and messy closets.

I know that budgets are useful planning tools, but I don’t care enough to make a budget. For me, it’s enough to know that there is still money in my bank account.

Similarly, you are reading about an approach to leadership that drives superior results, but you may not act on this information.

It all comes down to what you believe enough to act on. A belief is something so important to you that when it is violated, you are bothered to a point of distress. You become anxious, even angry. You want to act promptly to rectify the situation.

What beliefs do you care about so deeply that they shape your leadership actions?

My observation is that Dare-to-Serve Leaders act on these three core beliefs: human dignity, personal responsibility, and humility. In fact, when these beliefs are violated, the leader becomes distressed and quickly adjusts his or her behavior. These are difficult beliefs to teach leaders because they come from the soul.


Call to Action


Leaders are made by other leaders, and are made better by other leaders, and go on to make yet more leaders.


WHEN YOU THINK OF LEAVING the leadership spotlight, do you get an anxious feeling in your stomach? Do you worry that you might miss out on fame or fortune? Do you fear you might become one of those “nice guys who finish last”?

As a leader, the most ambitious thing you will ever attempt is removing yourself from the spotlight.

It’s harder than bungee jumping.

It takes all the bravery you can muster.

It knocks you onto your knees on a regular basis.

Dare-to-Serve Leadership is an extreme sport. It demands courage—and, in return, offers humility.

The Dare-to-Serve Leader has the courage to take the people to a daring destination and the humility to serve them well on the journey. The dynamic tension between daring and serving creates the conditions for superior results.


Dare-to-Serve Reflections


#1 How do you think about the people you lead?
Are they a “pain in the neck” or essential to the future success of the organization?

#2 Think about difficult leaders you have worked for. Have you made a conscious decision to lead differently than “them”?

#3 Who are the most important people you serve—the owner, the boss, the customer, the employees? Which one is your primary focus?

#4 What are the specific qualities you love in the people you lead?

#5 How do you gain meaningful feedback from those you serve?

#6 What daring destination have you established for your team and organization? What strategies will ensure the team reaches the destination?

#7 What are the few vital things that must be addressed in your organization to drive better performance?

#8 Have you committed the resources needed to reach the daring destination?



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