Lessons in Leadership from Chick-fil-A

November 30, 2016

I’ve found I can grow both personally and professionally when I seek knowledge and direction from the leaders around me.  In my position with Wilson Bank & Trust, I have been blessed with the chance to engage with and learn from many people in leadership positions, and through a project I work with outside of the bank, I’ve been able to converse with local politicians, business owners, and civic leaders as well.  Recently, I had a chance to interview Mr. Carlton Beall, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A in Lebanon, about leadership development and growth.

From the moment we shook hands, I clearly sensed the comfort, focus and passion Carlton felt for the topic. Our organizations share many of the same core values, and the conversation was truly a “WOW experience” for me.

Carlton’s story and advice began with humbleness and humility. A leader has to be humble enough to realize they’re not always the smartest person in the room, let alone their department, business, or profession. As a leader, you’re not always going to have the right answers. Often the brightest ideas and opportunities may come from team members that we interact with daily. We have to be open-minded enough to lend an ear to someone who believes they have a better way to accomplish a goal or task. Carlton even invites his employees to challenge his guidance and process. (How profoundly humble is that? In my 12 years in the business world, I’ve rarely heard about any leader who welcomes someone to challenge their ways.) And when an idea works, it’s important to celebrate the one who brought it forward, giving them the respect and recognition they deserve. At the end of the day, it’s all about the team’s success rather than our own.

Carlton also emphasized his belief that success depends on the desire to continuously learn. A line from a speech planned by President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” No matter one’s age, or where one is in his or her career, we should never lose our appetite to grow in knowledge. A major attribute of a well-rounded leader is recognizing where he or she excels, and improving on the areas where they’re not as strong. I believe that everyone should challenge themselves constantly to become better. As it says in Galatians 6:9-10, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Finally, Carlton’s testimony covered the importance of culture to Chick-fil-A, around the country and at his store in Lebanon. The culture is set before the doors are even open, but it is up to leaders to continue the culture and values the business is built upon. Honestly, I don’t believe the vision of building a strong culture is very sophisticated. You simply have to surround yourself with like-minded leaders who not only see the vision of the culture, but breathe the culture too. It is one thing to see and believe in the culture, but it is another to live that out. Mrs. Carolyn Cathey, a loan processor at our Main Office, once told me that if you have to tell people about your faith, you are already failing. We all should strive to live out our beliefs and values that make us who we are.

I gained some valuable information from my conversation with Carlton, and he has no idea how thankful I am for him sharing his knowledge, background and testimony with me. I’ve since shared much of our discussion with my fellow employees and others, and I hope you’ve gained from it too.  When businesses and leaders come together to grow, I believe that the communities we serve are the winners.

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