By Ellen Hartman, APR Fellow PRSA
Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes has taken the Golden Rule to work and it is paying big dividends to Popeyes shareholders, its employees and the community. Her mission, since she took on the CEO role in 2007, is to create a workplace that inspires both service to one another and achievement of top tier results.
She honed that philosophy during over a 35-year career at companies like YUM! Brands, Domino’s Pizza, RJR Nabisco, Gillette, and Procter & Gamble.
Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen Inc., the company she helms today, is a multibillion-dollar chain of nearly 2,400 restaurants around the world. Under Bachelder’s leadership, the chain has seen a remarkable turnaround of the company’s financial results.
Over the past seven years, Popeyes’ enterprise market cap has grown from $300 million to more than $1.3 billion. At fiscal year-end 2014, system-wide revenues were $2.7 billion. These revenues are generated by nearly 2,400 restaurants operated by 340 franchisees and more than 60,000 restaurant employees in the United States, three territories and 26 foreign countries.
Industry watchers say these results are a direct reflection of the strategic growth roadmap put in place by Bachelder.
But if you ask her, she’ll say it is the people of Popeyes who made such changes possible. Her role, she says, has been to guide them and provide opportunities for great ideas and people to flourish.
To learn more about how she goes about doing that, we talked to Bachelder about her new book, Dare to Serve, and the leadership philosophy at its center.
Q: What about this notion of “servant leadership” resonates with you?
A: The philosophy of servant leadership resonates with me because it is essentially “Golden Rule” leadership. All of us can describe the leaders who have served us well in our careers. We know what good looks like: it is a leader who challenges you, a leader who takes risks on you, a leader who genuinely cares about you, a leader who tells you the truth.
This has become my obsession … to show leaders that servant leadership is the path to superior performance results.
Servant leadership asks the leader to always examine their decisions in light of this question: “Will the people be well-served by these actions/decisions?” Robert Greenleaf, founder of the Greenleaf Institute for Servant Leadership, gave us this test of leadership more than 40 years ago.
This is a very high standard of leadership and requires leaders to overcome their self-centered nature. It transforms the leader’s focus and creates the conditions for the people to perform their best work.
Q: What inspired you to write Dare to Serve?
A: There are many books about servant leadership, but very few written by actual business leaders. Most are written by academics and consultants who study what leaders do. When I was a young leader, I read The Soul of the Firm by Bill Pollard, then CEO of ServiceMaster. His servant leadership approach influenced my thinking. That book was written in 1996. I wanted to write a similar case study on the turnaround of Popeyes to freshen the conversation and offer leaders some guidance in how to put these principles into action.
Q: How do you define “Dare to Serve” leaders?
A: A Dare to Serve Leader has a rare combination of traits. They are courageous enough to take the people to a daring destination, yet humble enough to selflessly serve others on the journey. It is the dynamic tension between daring and serving that creates the conditions for superior performance.
Q: In the book, you share some of the challenges and struggles you’ve dealt with. Why?
A: I share both Popeyes and personal stories to illustrate the tenets of Dare to Serve leadership. I believe stories help us discover new insights better than any other approach. So I am very open and transparent about both the good lessons and the difficult lessons in my life. I don’t hold back. Leadership lessons are a journey of the soul. If I were guarded and vague, I would offer nothing of value.
I wish transparency and vulnerability were more common traits in leaders. These are the traits that make us real and human to the people that work on our teams. People want to know their leaders—before they follow them. If you are not willing to be known, you will have half-hearted followers.
Q: How do you see leaders using your book?
In the book, I ask 40 Dare to Serve Reflection questions. I wanted leaders to dig deep and explore their own leadership point of views, not just read about mine. Most leaders have not developed deep-rooted conviction about their leadership approach. If you work through the answers to these 40 questions you will know why you lead and what kind of legacy you want to leave. We created an eight-week video series with discussion guides to help you in this journey. These resources are available free of charge at my website, www.cherylbachelder.com
Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, Frist Watch, Fresh To Order, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.