How Leaders Create Sustainable Morale

Posted in Leadership on March 17th, 2011 by Raymond Gleason

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

I read recently of a phe­nom­e­non in which top exec­u­tives are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to remain fully engaged in their roles.

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.

Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to “How Leaders Create Sustainable Morale”

  • Nice arti­cle. Shows us a world of things we are just enter­ing into, and how much we have to learn.

  • By con­sum­ing grad­u­ally, con­se­quently of one’s stom­ach and Fat burn­ers cor­rectly raise your metab­o­lism and improve the anatomy’s fat-burning abil­ity.
    phen375 ama­zonFat decline depends on
    a diploma of self dis­ci­ple that can be tough
    to learn nev­er­the­less, will the sup­port of ben­e­fits
    and unfa­vor­able effects of each, to help you make up your own pri­vate mind.
    You might be uncer­tain toward diet strat­egy pills after you have tried
    using energy to sim­ply seed your toes on a lawn, remain true,
    as well as rush in a soar.

  • Hap­pi­ness, like dis­con­tent seem to be epidemic.

    The right sit­u­a­tion cre­ates hap­pi­ness and satisfaction.

    The wrong.……

    Nice post


Leave a Comment