Are you and your team listening carefully and learning continuously from the people you serve?

Excerpted from “Dare to Serve” by Cheryl Bachelder

We listen carefully and learn continuously.  Don’t assume, because you are intelligent, able, and well-motivated, that you are open to communication, that you know how to listen.   Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership 

A few years ago, we presented a new design for remodeling Popeyes restaurants. We took ten franchise owners to see the prototypes of the new building and dining room in New Orleans. We were excited to reveal the future look of the brand.

The franchise owners hated the new look. In their view, it was not contemporary enough. It cost too much. It didn’t stand up well to the new designs of Starbucks and McDonald’s. They were passionate. They had a strong point of view: they did not support this remodel.

The Popeyes Leadership Team was terribly disappointed in their response, and we were inclined to argue our point of view. Instead, we respected the passion of the franchise owners. We wanted the franchise leaders to be enthusiastic and committed to the new restaurant design, for they would inspire the whole Popeyes system to remodel. Lack of passion for the new design would doom the results of the remodel program.

We accepted the franchise owners’ feedback. We started over on the design and two years later presented a contemporary, strong remodel design that the franchisees loved at first sight. The franchise owners’ passion for this new look led our system to remodel 80 percent of our restaurants in a two-year period, a task that would typically have taken five or more years. Passion drove performance results.

Dare-to-Serve Leaders welcome passion to the team. Passion is the fuel of the organization— it drives superior performance.

When my daughter Tracy was thirteen, she began behaving as most teenagers do. She broke the rules. She talked back. She slept late. She came home late. She left wet towels on the floor.

But her most annoying teenager behavior?

When I attempted to tell her something, she would put a finger in each ear to block the sound of my voice and say, “Mini-headphones … can’t hear you …”

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, we tend to stop listening and learning from others. In fact, it’s worse than that. As adults, we start telling everybody what to do— and we call it leadership.

Wrong answer.

What gets in the way of listening and learning? It’s simple. As leaders, we want to think that we have all the answers. Having all the answers makes us feel indispensable to the organization and secure in our jobs.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Andy Stanley, pastor of our Atlanta church, says it this way: “The leader’s IQ declines with every promotion.”

With every promotion, the leader gets further from the people, further from the facts, and further from the insights he or she needs to lead. Listening carefully and learning continuously are the antidote for our distance from reality.

At Popeyes we chose We listen carefully and learn continuously as our second principle because we knew we would need frequent reminders to listen to our franchisees and we knew we would need to learn from our mistakes.

For example, a few months ago we had a difficult matter come up about sourcing a particular product for our restaurants— a supply chain problem. There was a significant difference of opinion between the leaders of Popeyes and the franchise leaders who oversee the Popeyes purchasing and distribution cooperative.

The Popeyes Leadership Team was mad about the matter.

When leaders get mad, listening and learning go out the window. Mad leaders know exactly what they want to say. They cut to the chase and tell you exactly how they feel— which is highly efficient but very ineffective. The unfortunate truth: efficiency with people ruins relationships.

Our leadership team caught ourselves going down the wrong path and reconsidered our principle. We envisioned the outcome of a “mad meeting” where everyone leaves with steam coming out of their ears and nothing is solved. We needed to choose a better path. We decided we would be less direct with our concerns at the beginning of the meeting. We would ask questions to clarify, and spend time listening carefully to the franchise owners’ point of view.

Our brains said to this idea, “How slow and inefficient.” Yet our principle prevailed— listen and learn.

We opened the meeting with a friendly exchange. We asked open-ended questions to gather more information about the issue. We learned some things we did not know that changed our understanding of the matter. We found the franchise owners more open to new ideas than we expected. They were willing to consider some new approaches to find a better solution together.

Over the course of a few days of follow-up conversations, the problem was resolved in a way that was acceptable to all parties. Listening and learning provided the path to a superior outcome for all.

It’s not a natural instinct, but a Dare-to-Serve Leader pauses— listens carefully and learns continuously— before taking action. Invariably, this helps the people reach alignment on the next steps so that they can execute them with excellence. This leads to a better outcome than a leader’s unilateral decision.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher. From “Dare to Serve” copyright© 2015 by Cheryl Bachelder, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, CA.  All rights reserved.



Cheryl Bachelder


Cheryl Bachelder is the CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc., a multibillion-dollar chain of more than 2200 restaurants around the world.  She was recently named by CNBC’s Jim Cramer as one of his “21 Bankable CEOs” for 2014.  You can follow Cheryl on her blog: Serving Performs .

Click “HERE” to purchase “Dare to Serve.”


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