True Leadership

True Leadership, What does it look like? I would love to highlight what I consider to be one of the all-time success stories in my lifetime, especially in leadership. It is the life, leadership and legacy of Truett Cathy and Chick-fil-A! I really don’t know where to begin, but for starters, I can tell you that I can’t relay all the details of his amazing story in my brief journal post. My intent is to encourage you through highlights of his life and his choices that have greatly inspired and continue to motivate me and thousands of others. If you love amazing details, then get his book. You won’t be disappointed. There are so many life lessons, I could write for days. Of course, I am just going to scratch the surface here.

I can remember hearing Truett’s son, Dan, speak at a college graduation many years ago where my dad and uncle were being presented with an “honorary doctorate degree” from Anderson University. The only degree my dad has ever received. Truett’s son, Dan, was the keynote speaker. I was so impressed with the content of Dan’s speech, and I was already a HUGE fan and lover of Chick-fil-A, so I bought his dad’s book. To understand how a man like Truett raises children like Dan, Bubba and Trudy, has personal success, with annual sales increases for 44 consecutive years, I had to learn more about this man. He founded the second largest quick-serve chicken restaurant chain in the United States with 1,605 stores in 39 states. He has given over $30 million and $1,000.00 scholarships to Chick-fil-A employee team members since 1973.

The first thing that of course grabbed my attention, some information I had already heard from others but now was reading for myself, was that he was a man who was sold out to Jesus and has walked the talk for over 50 years. He has taught Sunday school to young boys, I think 12 year olds, for 50 years. As he founded Chick-fil-A, he built his business on hard work, humility and Biblical principles. These principles included committing to forgo any increased sales by closing all Chick-fil-A’s on Sunday, “without exception,” to honor his personal convictions of having a day of rest, even if it meant lost sales. As he was blessed, he formed a foundation called, “WinShape,” with a desire to “shape winners” in young people to have success in life by offering scholarships and youth programs that are faith-based and teach leadership principles. He has also built 9 Foster Care homes—2 in Tennessee, 1 in Alabama, and 6 in Georgia—all funded by “WinShape.” Each house cares for up to 12 children long-term and provides Christian house parents that help to shape, model, encourage and provide a loving and nurturing environment for foster children. There is more, much more, but I will stop here. Cathy’s quote that he lives his life by is, “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.” If you are a Bible reader and a Jesus lover, you realize that this kind of heart and desire and life lived comes from an abiding faith and desire to do God’s Will with an “open hand” to the resources, mind, and talent that God has given you/me. It has also allowed him to raise some really amazing kids and grandkids who are following in his footsteps with duplicated faith, core values and leadership.

It is my belief that anyone can be a leader, anyone. But the bigger question is—What kind of leader will you be? Who will want to follow you? And Where will you lead them?……… These are questions WE ALL MUST EXAMINE…….for ourselves. There have been many leaders who have led people. Look at Hitler. He was a leader and a darn good one. Now ask the question…..Who followed? Where did he lead? Well, history tells us he is famous, and he is, but for ALL THE WRONG REASONS. Many people followed, some out of passion and some out of fear. Regardless, they followed. The result was millions of dead bodies and devastated lives and with the leader’s life ending in suicide. Hitler was a leader but not a leader many people, I hope not anyone, today would want to follow (There may be some exceptions of people who would follow, like the 3 teens that just randomly shot and killed the jogger). The contrast of Truett Cathy and Adolf Hitler as leaders are like SWEET AND BITTER, DAY AND NIGHT. Our heads are in the sand if we think everyone in leadership positions are “GOOD” leaders, even if they have what the world considers success.

Look past world leaders. Take a glimpse at athletics. College athletics has become “Big”, no, “GIGANTIC” business. Look at Penn State. The former President (a.k.a. leader), Graham Spanier, the former athletic director (a.k.a. leader), Tim Curley and another administrator, Gary Schultz, are all now awaiting trial after a judge ruled on July 30, less than a month ago, that there was enough evidence to warrant them standing trial. It was called a “conspiracy of silence” to cover up the wrong doing of one of “their coaches”, the convicted child molester (on 40 counts), Jerry Sandusky. He may have been esteemed as a successful defensive coach, but a HORRIFIC PERSON AND LEADER. Amazing that an adult (a coach and peer) reported an eyewitness account of the abuse of a minor and it still got pushed under the rug!!! Joe Paterno, Head Coach, ( leader) who was very successful in the eyes of many for years, if you look at wins in football. He was fired and died with his legacy going down in flames over the horrific scandal that took place under his watch. I see many people in leadership positions and their power and authority go “unchecked”. They are given a long rope to lead. The intoxication for success and to be number 1 clouds their judgment in “doing the right thing”. Many times they look successful, but all the while, they leave “dead bodies” all along the road. Victim 5 in the Sandusky trial said, “No punishment that Sandusky receives will ever erase what he did to me!” Whether people literally die, or are stepped on, abused or emotionally wounded, marks one “telling sign” that the Leader is leading for self-gain with little regard for anyone except themselves. They may have helped many succeed at sports but it PALES in comparison to the damage that was done by their darker side.

Back to Truett Cathy, and ending on a positive note that I hope will impact the comparison/contrast here. Look at the legacy that is left by someone who led humbly, was other-oriented, and put Biblical principles ABOVE SELF-GAIN. Allow me to list some of his earthly recognitions, noting here that we will never know the FAR REACHING OF LIVES CHANGED THROUGH HIS “WINSHAPE FOUNDATION”, HIS TEACHING SUNDAY SCHOOL FOR 50 YEARS, HIS PROVISION OF JOBS AND SCHOLARSHIPS to THOUSANDS, AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON.

LET’S LOOK AT THE RECOGNITION OF AWARDS: William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership (2008); Paul M. Kuck Legacy Award (2008); President’s Call to Service Award (2008); The Cecil B. Day Ethics Award (2007); The Silver Buffalo Award presented by the Boy Scouts of America (2007); Tom Landry Excellence of Character Award (2007); Greater Dallas FCA Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Poultry & Food Distributors Association (2005); Norman Vincent & Ruth Stafford Peale Humanitarian Award (2003); Catalyst Lifetime Achievement Award from Injoy/John Maxwell (2003); Georgia Sports Hall of Fame – Chairman’s Award (2003); the Ernst & Young- Entrepreneur of the Year – Lifetime Achievement Award (2000); and Horatio Alger Award – Horatio Alger Association, Washington, D.C. (1989) He also is the author of It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1989); Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People (Looking Glass Books, 2002); It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men (Looking Glass Books, 2004); How Did You Do It, Truett? (Looking Glass Books, 2007); and Wealth, Is It Worth It? (Looking Glass Books, 2011); and he is co-author of The Generosity Factor with Ken Blanchard (Zondervan Publishing, 2002).

NOW LET’S LOOK AT HIS FAMILY: TRUETT IS A dedicated husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. His two sons, Dan and Don (“Bubba”), have both followed their father in learning the business from the ground-up. Dan became president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A in August 2001 and Bubba is senior vice president of Chick-fil-A, Inc., president of the Chick-fil-A Dwarf House division and vice president of the WinShape Foundation. Cathy’s daughter, Trudy Cathy White serves as the director of WinShape Girls Camps. In 2006, Cathy welcomed the third generation of Cathy family members to the business. Truett Cathy and his wife, Jeannette, have 12 grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren (as of February 2012) and more than 150 “foster grandchildren.” (Information found on the Cathy Family website.)

In contrast, Matt Sandusky, who was adopted by Jerry Sandusky and his wife, and had been a foster child, testified against Sandusky as a victim. He is now seeking to have his name changed and lose his adoptive name of Sandusky.

Leadership is key in life, but more importantly, what KIND of leader are you and where does your motivation come from? IF leadership is driven by selfish gain, the endings are not usually pretty or admirable. It may take years for the selfish, self-seeking motives to catch up with Leaders who have the wrong intentions or have warped thinking. Time usually reveals many things, especially LEADERS THAT ARE WORTH FOLLOWING! As my Dad would say, “When you “hitch your wagon to a team of horses” make sure they have the right map (Bible) and the right motives (heart).”


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