This is a Guest Post by Nathan Buchanan, an Operator with Chick-fil-A since 2004. Nathan averaged over 17 percent in sales growth over 36 months and was named Rookie of the Year. Nathan spends his time helping his wife home school their five children, coaching his leadership team, and coaching new Chick-fil-A franchisees around the country. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve never had that experience. Keeping a group of teens and twenty-somethings engaged, fulfilled, and moving in the same direction has often felt akin to trying to entice a school of eels to move from one side of the ocean to the other.
For a long time, I was laboring under the misapprehension that it was my responsibility to make sure that everyone on my team was happy.
My nature is one that dislikes confrontation. This, along with a fairly dynamic personality, enabled me to hold the team together by the sheer force of my own will. Every time team morale would dip, I’d jump in the middle of the situation, and make everyone happy again.
Often the frustrations the team experienced were self-inflicted, usually from a lack of training or talent. But I was always there to make certain that the employee’s lack of productivity was accounted for, and somehow managed to keep the attitude of the team positive.
It was exhausting, and in my inner thoughts, I knew something was off, but I couldn’t verbalize it. Wasn’t this the definition of an “engaged leader”?
About three years ago, I had the fortune to begin working with an executive coach. Since then, my life has been profoundly altered in response to the questions I’ve been forced to confront. One of the most impactful changes has been the strategic move from a “top down” leadership structure, to that of a “high performance leadership team” within my organization.
As part of this calculated move, I’ve had to divest myself of a lot of authority and control. Each leader now has a clearly defined job description that outlines the full scope of his or her authority, metrics used to measure performance, and a clear understanding of how his or her role relates to the store’s overall Vision statement. This includes the mandate for each leader to hire, train, and schedule his or her area’s team members.
During the past five weeks, our team came under considerable stress. One of my most popular leaders was out of the unit for a full month following the tragic loss of his children, we lost three high performers to college and other opportunities, and we saw a double-digit sales increase.
Toward the end of this time, my crew was emotionally raw, physically exhausted, and morale seemed to be ebbing. We also saw our customer service metrics — which customarily ran within the top 20% of all units — drop to merely average.
I was concerned. In the past, this would be where I was most needed — to jump into the fray and rally the troops — but I had to be out of town for the next two weeks.
I sat in on the last meeting prior to my departure, and watched my team in action. Using a tool I’d coached them through before, they identified five individuals who either couldn’t or wouldn’t provide service up to the level demanded. They realized that these individuals had replaced many of the hours that were vacated by the four top performers, and determined to remove them from the schedule and replace them with better people—both current employees and new hires.
I didn’t hear much from my unit while I was gone, and it was with some concern that I asked about team morale when I returned.
The answer to my question? “Never better!”
This so strongly contrasted with the morale mess I would have walked into in the past that it started me on the path to realization. My team was happy because I had a) given them the tools to succeed (and the authority to use them), b) removed the barriers to team success (in this case, five under-performing employees), and c) gotten out of their way.
Morale hinges on the satisfaction each team member derives from being part of a great team. If it rests on anything else—in my case, the personal charisma of me, the leader—it is unsustainable in the long term.
Ironically, I felt a sense of loss, even though I knew this was a huge positive change. It is nice to be needed—but it’s even nicer to be needed for the right reasons. It’s a loss I can live with.
I don’t know why I couldn’t see this before. I suspect it’s a combination of carefully concealed narcissism, unwillingness to give up control, and the fact that the ratio of great employees to those who couldn’t and wouldn’t was unfortunately too thin on greatness.
I do know that my store is more profitable, my team is happier, and I’m no longer exhausted. I’m grateful to add this lesson to what I’ve learned.
A Note from Raymond:
Nathan raises a number of critical lessons he learned in his journey toward maturing as a leader. Personally, he caused me to reflect upon how important it is in any situation to FIRST step back and ask yourself:
a. Do I have control over this? If so, state exactly what you believe you have control over.
b. Can I influence this? If so, state exactly what you believe you have influence on.
c. Do I have NO control over this? If so, state exactly what you believe you no control over.
Pick one situation you are facing now, and apply the above. Let me know how it works for you.