Oswald Letter

Politics and religion aside, Truett Cathy still great example of servant leader

Leadership3by Dan Oswald

I recently wrote about servant leadership, mentioning that it has long been a concept that intrigues me. I used as an example—in part because of his recent passing—Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A. My choice for an example wasn’t universally embraced by those who read the entry. Many of the negative comments I received about the article referenced either Cathy’s politics or his religious beliefs. I had written about neither.

What I did write about is what it takes to be a servant leader—the desire to serve others, which provides one with a position where he can also lead them. I believe Cathy was such a person, and if you talk to the people who worked for him or his customers, most would say the same thing. The entire culture of the restaurant he founded is based on service to others. It makes sense because Chick-fil-A is in a service business, but we all know that doesn’t necessarily result in good service. If you’ve ever eaten at a Chick-fil-A, you might know that every employee is trained to respond to customer requests with “My pleasure”—meaning, “It is my pleasure to serve you.”

I get it. Not everyone agrees with Cathy’s political or religious beliefs. You don’t have to. That’s the beauty of this great country we live in. You have the freedom of speech. You have the freedom of religion. And you have many other freedoms all guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And so did Cathy.

I was just pointing to the fact that Cathy possessed the characteristics that make up a servant leader. He lived a life that embodied his belief that “[n]early 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 consider the charities the company has supported, you’ll see that Cathy believed in giving back and serving the greater good of the community. His charitable activities also demonstrated his willingness to serve others. Through its Leadership Scholarship Program, the Chick-fil-A chain has given more than $32 million in $1,000 scholarships to restaurant employees. And the company will give more than $1.75 million in scholarships to its employees this year. He also helped establish 13 foster care homes and camps that have served more than 18,000 campers.

What are the traits of a servant leader?

  1. Possesses humility—desires to put others first;
  2. Displays empathy—really understands and cares about others;
  3. Develops others—makes an investment in the betterment of other peoples’ lives;
  4. Leads by example—says “Let’s go!” not “You go”; and
  5. Persuades instead of dictates—builds followership by convincing others, not ordering them.

If you study Cathy’s life and work, you’ll discover he embodied those principles. Say what you like about his religious beliefs or his politics, but you can’t argue with his business success. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a small bundle.” That wasn’t the case with Cathy. He made a very large bundle. And he made sure others benefitted from his success—both those who helped him create the wealth and others in need. What people do to help others speaks to their heart, and by all accounts, Cathy had a big heart.

It is when we stop doing our best work that our enthusiasm for the job wanes. We must motivate ourselves to do our very best, and by our example lead others to do their best as well.

—Truett Cathy

13 thoughts on “Politics and religion aside, Truett Cathy still great example of servant leader”

  1. I appreciate Truett Cathy’s “mindset” to serve is to have our minds off ourselves. Being a servant leader is to lead, not follow. Helping other’s prosper is such a rewarding effort knowing that they will pass it on to create a chain reaction which in turn can create a great city, state and country.

    Thank you,

  2. I enjoyed your first article and noted that you were very careful NOT to mention his religious beliefs or his politics. I appreciated that (even though I agreed with his religious beliefs and his politics and support his restaurants even more because of them). I am totally not surprised that people apparently found it necessary to complain. The artificially oppressed never miss an opportunity to complain.

    I applaud your effort to clear up the misunderstanding, yet not back down from your message. And to make your point again. Thank you.

  3. Thought the original and current articles were on both on target. Agree with JP that writing a clarification without backing down was a good idea.

  4. Thank you for writing the clarification – though I really didn’t find the neccessity for it from my perspective. I’ve used the concept of being a “servant” first with all of the Human Resources leaders in the company I serve for the last several years. Seems like “humble service” could really change the world, while self-service only benefits one. Your articles are great; thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Hey, you do not have to please everyone. Just keep writing your articles. Those who have problems with it are the ones the Kingdom is coming to. The Kingdom never comes without confrontation. You have an opportunity to share the Kingdom with some people whose minds are narrow or shallow and you can widen and deepen them. Take advantage of this opportunity. The believers have no issue with whatever you write, because we respect and trust your words that they are from a pure heart. We will let you know when we hear corruption.

  6. Mr. Cathy exemplified Proverbs 22:29:

    Do you see a man who excels in his work?
    He will stand before kings;
    He will not stand before unknown men.

    Thank you for tolerating the intolerant by telling the truth about an exceptional leader.

  7. Dan, your posts are far and above my favorites of all the HR related blogs and newsletters I subscribe to and that is because of pieces like the one above. I applaud your ability to push aside things like religious belief and political stance to get to the true essence of essential characteristics that exemplify true leadership behavior and thinking. My beliefs align with Truett Cathy’s but what I admire most about him is that he stood firm on those beliefs and demonstrated them in his day to day life. AND he was blessed as a result.

  8. Dan, I want to thank you for sharing the words you do when you send out the Oswald Letter! When I see it in my inbox I always know after reading I’m in a blessed place! Also, when I read other’s comments I know I’m not alone when I say this. You write with Faith-Hope-Belief!

  9. Thank you for taking a stand against your critics who limit their minds to accept, that just because you have different views you’re without compassion toward others, no matter what ideals they may hold. I am proud to say I am a Christian without apology accepting all the consequences and bigotry that comes with the pronouncement. I choose believe the principles and values that are set forth in scripture and sometimes that offensive. I hate no man but my love for mankind encourages me to speak the truth in love, leaving the choice and decision to that individual.

  10. Unfortunately, too many people find one or two things to not like about someone and forget about everything else the person may do. What gets me is the number of people who think people with different political views or religious beliefs are wrong.

    On another note – I enjoy your articles and love your sports analogies!

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