How Do You Serve Others in Your Organization?

Can you be a bold leader and a servant leader at the same time?


Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, talks about the need for courageous leadership that not only enables you to make the important and often difficult decisions, but to also serve the organization and its people.  The challenge, according to Cheryl, is to provide bold leadership to serve the people.

“The leader has to call out a bold new destination,” she says, “almost scaring the people to a new level of thought.”

Watch this video for better understanding of the link between bold leadership and servant leadership. 

Jeff: Cheryl, one of the things you talk a lot about is servant leadership, but you also talk about bravery and having a posture of boldness, and so where is that fine line? There's the servant leadership, and then there's the leader that says, "This is where we're going." So as you've done that in your seven years here, how have you combined the role of being a servant leader, but also being a bold leader?

Cheryl: Well, Robert Greenleaf, who was the thought leader for servant leadership said the test of whether you're a servant leader, is "Are the people well served?" So I think if you ask that question every day, "Are you a leader serving the people well?" one of the things you have to ask yourself is "Have you provided bold leadership?" Because the organization never creates boldness on its own. The leader has to call out a bold new destination, almost scaring the people to a new level of thought. And one of my colleagues in the industry said it this way. He said, "The leader has to be courageous because the people are being taken to a place they've never been and usually the leader hasn't been, either." I love that thought because then it tells you the onus is on the leader to be bold. Have to be. Not an option. It's part of your job description to be bold and courageous in the destination that you call out for the team because otherwise you have not served them well.

If they get to some mediocre, milquetoast destination that's not considered competitive performance, you have not served the people well. Plus people forget that if you haven't stretched the people, they haven't grown. They haven't gotten opportunities. They haven't moved to a new job. They haven't grown in capability. They haven't gotten promoted and a raise, so boldness creates opportunity for the people you serve.

Often servant leadership is just put forth as just, let's all get around the campfire and hug, but true service to an organization is to stretch them and grow them towards the boldest destination that's plausible, right, and then have the courage to take them there.

Jeff: That's a great insight because it can be perceived that there's servant leadership over here, and there's bold leadership over here, and you have to pick one. But really, as a servant leader, you're being a bold leader, and you've had to do that in seven years. Can you give us some examples of, maybe, a way that you've had to be a bold leader in front of your franchisees, especially early on, I guess?

Cheryl: Well, there have been many of those. The first one with the franchisees was we did not have any national television advertising, and we had 1,800 restaurants, so we were at a tipping point where we pretty much needed to get on television to build the brand and grow, but our franchisees were all holding their marketing money right here locally. They didn't want any part of some big, bold idea that we'd all go into this together in national television with one idea, one ad campaign, one media plan that they didn't have any real control over, so it was a very unpopular idea to put on the table.

But we showed them out of facts that we were at a tipping point. We showed them that how much awareness and trial we could create by going first to cable on national television, and then we co-invested with them. We said, "Look, I'm asking you to take a risk. Now we're going to take a risk with you, and we'll see what happens. We could be wrong, but if we're right, we sure want to know."

And we agreed to do five national flights. The first two failed. The first two flopped. It was the fall of the greatest recession in my lifetime, and so a lot of circumstances we didn't anticipate, so then I had to ask them for the courage to stick with the idea. That was really the hardest moment in that process, but they stuck with us, and after those next three flights, our sales were leading in the industry, and there was conviction on all parties, right? We had done it together. We had taken the risk together and experienced success together, and that was the first proof that we could be successful and win together. And it gave us some trust on which to bring bold ideas coming after that.

The very next thing we suggested was that we have one beverage in our system. Our system had, you know half had Pepsi, half had Coke. They bought both. Both thought their brand was the best, so the second big hill we took was consolidating to one beverage system-wide so that we could market effectively. You know, one market with our promotional opportunities. That was controversial.

I think the way we tackle those bold decisions, though, is the way we got to the outcomes. On the beverage, we picked five franchisees pouring Coke and five pouring Pepsi, and we put them in a room and said, "Figure it out, and we're here for you. We'll run numbers. We'll get options. We'll do whatever you need, but you guys figure that out." So when they came out and said, "We've decided," it was their decision.

Jeff: And again, it's their decision that you're, but that's still bold to say, "I'm going to give it to you and let you."

Cheryl: "Trust you with it."

Jeff: Right, right.

Cheryl: "I'm going to trust you with it. I believe you're plenty smart enough to figure this out, and you'll make a good decision for our system."

Jeff: Now, you represent an international brand, so does all of this translate well like a language? Are there language barriers for this kind of leadership language?

Cheryl: Well the tenets of what makes a great restaurant company are the same in every country. You have to have a bold and distinctive brand that stands for something special that people would want. You have to run a great restaurant and give them good service so they come back. The operator has to make money, or he's not around very long. I mean, the rules are basically the same, but certainly there are nuances, and try to have our big listening ears on when we go into new countries.

I was just in Lima, Peru, recently, and they were explaining their food culture to me. It's a real foodie culture. They have top chefs from all around the world come out of Peru, and so they love the food, and they have special nuances around the food. So we let them talk, explain it to us. We let them create their own ad campaign to talk to Peruvians about what's special about our food, and they did a fabulous job. They understood Louisiana, which is the melting pot of American food culture, and they explained why that was interesting to Peruvians, and sales were up like 60 percent last week, so it seems to be working. Good collaboration.

Jeff: I think that's working.


Cheryl Bachelder

Cheryl A. Bachelder is the former CEO Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. and author of Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. She is known for her crisp strategic thinking, franchisee-focused approach, superior ...

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