In 2007, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen was in deep trouble. Their profit was stagnant, and the company stock price had taken a nose dive to $13.00. The brand suffered, and franchise owners were butting heads with corporate. It was a big mess.

Enter current CEO Cheryl Bachelder.

From 2008 through 2015, Popeyes posted average global sales growth of 8.4 percent, average global same-store sales growth of 4.1 percent and average earnings per share growth of 14.1 percent.

The franchisees were giddy with the turnaround and began reinvesting in the brand, many remodeling their restaurants, and building new ones around the world.

According to latest financial reports, Bachelder says 2016 continued on the path of stellar revenue growth.

Bachelder is now recognized as one of the restaurant industry's top executives not only for the remarkable 180° her company achieved, but also for what the world is recognizing as a leadership philosophy to end all arguments on "best leadership philosophy."

Lets End it Here and Now

The answer is in two words: Servant Leadership.

In her 2015 book "Dare to Serve," Bachelder outlines her philosophy for transforming Popeyes. In a nutshell: "We needed to serve the people who have invested the most in Popeyes."

This means that Popeyes is unwavering in its dedication to serve the people who own the restaurants that serve the customers who walk in the door to experience scrumptious Louisiana cuisine.

This idea of customers coming second is not a new concept. More people-oriented companies are tuning in to the incredible financial return that comes after they invest first in the development, care and engagement of those on the front lines, who serve their customers.

Leaders are finding that when they improve the employee experience (or in Popeye's case -- the franchisee experience) by instilling the servant leader ethos throughout, the customer experience is richer and more satisfying, leading to more loyal customers.

And Then There's That 'Spotlight' Problem

Bachelder uses a great illustration with powerful imagery to pinpoint the leadership problem. She says that leadership is not unlike being on a Broadway stage. When we go to a Broadway show, the spotlight hits the stage, and we wait for the main actor to come out and join us because we know that will be the beginning of the story.

Leadership, she says, is much the same. When you get promoted to a leadership job, people wait to see who you are, how you're going to act, how you're going to lead, and they form their conclusions from there.

Bachelder and her team concluded that too many leaders hunger for the spotlight, too many leaders want to stay in the spotlight, and too many leaders forget to shine the spotlight on others.

So they brought this idea of servant leadership over and said, "What if we turned the spotlight to the people we serve instead of keeping it to ourselves. And what would that look like?"

Well, they did. And the results were incredible.

The Six Principles Expressed in Popeyes' Purpose

In her book, she describes how she created a culture based on what is now the "Popeyes Purpose," which is expressed in six principles of how they work together. She says that the choice wasn't an easy one, but her leadership team made a conscious decision to adopt and practice these six behaviors that her team found as "essential to serving people well" and delivering superior performance.

The spotlight problem is solved through the six principles of passion, listening, planning, coaching, accountability and humility.

Passion

She says they want the passion and emotion of those restaurant owners in the room when they make decisions. Entrepreneurs are wired for passion. "If we tried to squash that at Popeyes," said Bachelder, "we would be missing huge insight and contributions from our owners."

Listening

This is essential to serving her franchisees. Her leaders have to listen carefully, be open to feedback, and be willing and agile to change when they make mistakes. This has been essential in building credibility with her restaurant owners. When you listen well, you earn respect.

Planning

Their third principle is to be fact based and planned. She says facts are the counter point to emotion. They love passion but they love it to be governed by reality. So they've built a stable of metrics around their business that tells them what's really happening. And they keep those metrics in the room for those passionate conversations. And together, the facts and the passion lead to better decision making.

Coaching

Their fourth principle is coaching. Bachelder is quick to admit that they're only mediocre about being great coaches so far, but they are investing heavily into building leaders who are coaches who will develop their people. This is also a great recruiting strategy. People, especially Millennials, want to gravitate to leaders who will coach them to success. Every week, Bachelder holds 60 to 90 minute coaching sessions with her leaders three times per month. She purposely sets aside the time to find out where they are with their leadership, talk about where they want to go next, and talk about the business. She says it's that important to nurturing, loving and developing the capabilities of her leaders.

Accountability

Their fifth principle is to be personally accountable. The symbol for that is a puzzle piece. The puzzle only becomes a beautiful picture once everyone does his or her part to put all the pieces together. It takes personal accountability to follow through on your commitments.

Humility

Their last principle is humility, which is a signature trait of a servant leader but is extremely hard to do. I love her honesty. She says, "We value it because if we said we were humble, we'd be lying on a daily basis."

Those are the six principles that govern all of Popeyes' decisions, and it's what she calls a "living plaque"--it lives and breathes in them as they go through each business day.

And there you have it.

Closing Thoughts

Servant leadership is the highest form of influencing people I can think of--influencing their thinking, beliefs, and development to unleash their power and potential so they can impact the greater good. And... it is profitable.

What leader doesn't want this? Servant leadership is a clear winner. I rest my case.

Hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn to continue the conversation on what you believe to be the best leadership philosophy. I welcome your comments.

Published on: Feb 17, 2017
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