404 Leadership Lessons From A Chick-Fil-A Owner

Leadership Lessons From A Chick-Fil-A Owner

I work at a church that is located approximately 3 miles away from Chik-Fil-A. Naturally we make it there on a regular basis. Anything else would be blasphemy, no?

We love going there not just because the food is great (I could seriously eat my body weight in chicken nuggets) but the service is stellar.

As soon as we walk in we are greeted by name. We receive a big smile from Frank, the hospitality manager (that’s his title, no kidding) and a high-five from Shiloh who ensures our beverages are always refilled. It’s like coming home for lunch, except I don’t have to eat a microwaved meal whilst being subjected to daytime television.

In my last trip, I got to meet Seth, the owner. He rang up my order and asked me what my name was. He didn’t ask it for my order, he seemed genuinely interested in finding out my name. I felt like a celebrity. I had to refrain from autographing my receipt and giving it back to him.

As we were on our way out, Frank gets the attention of our group (there were 5 of us total). He indicated that another gentleman was about to get a tour of the back and he asked if we wanted to come a long. We all looked at each other, shrugged and said sure.

As we toured the back, the owner Seth showed me exactly why Chick-Fil-A is so good at what it does. Here are some takeaways:

1. People are the greatest assest

He really meant this. He told me that he hand selects each employee that he hires. The quality he most looks for is a servant’s heart. Even the ones that work in the back away from the customers have to exhibit a desire to serve others.

I also found out that he doesn’t pay anyone minimum wage. He ensures that everyone feels valued. You can’t feel part of a family if you don’t feel valued.

There are over 50 people that work at that location alone. I was baffled by that but then he explained why. He wanted to always be able to accomodate schedules and time off. With a larger staff, he was able to attain consistency in scheduling for those that really needed it. No one is over worked since there is always someone to carry the load.

He expects his employees to work hard so he works hard to show them they are valued and appreciated.

2. Establish a high bar of quality

“If food sits for more than 20 minutes, we throw it out.” When you set a high bar and meet it consistently, people trust you. If they know that what you are delivering is going to be good, they will continue to come back.

He walked us to their shelves and showed us all the name brand products they use. Kraft mayo, Hershey’s syrup, Domino sugar, etc. He said that he could cut some corners by using generic products but everyone would taste the difference. He would rather invest in the good stuff to maintain that higher bar of quality.

He refused to have a dollar menu because he affirmed that none of what he makes is only worth a dollar.

3. Cast the vision consistently

As a manager of 12 people for 5 years I asked him a question that was burning in me. I asked, “How do you keep people motivated to work so hard on a regular basis? I mean, this is fast food after all.” He smiled and said, “It’s about sharing my vision for what we are doing.” But then he said something I wasn’t expecting. He said, “You can’t just cast that vision once, you have to keep doing it or people forget why they are there.”

The whole experience left my head spinning. I knew this guy was the real deal. I come into his store almost every week and I see the fruit of his words.

I came back to the office and got excited about the application in our community. We just started a membership class of sorts at my church. But it’s less about foundational teachings and more about what it means to be part of our community. It’s called Harbour DNA. In 3 classes we share the story of where things started up through where we are today, we share the culture and values of our community and then we share the value of servanthood and how to get connected.

We decided to run this back to back throughout the entire year. This will be the first time we cast vision on a consistent basis and I’m confident that it will be a game changer.

I’m not an advocate for taking business principles and applying them to the kingdom. They are two VERY different realities. The economy of the world operates differently than the economy of the kingdom.

What I realized in this trip is that the owner of Chick-Fil-A’s focus wasn’t profit, it was people and service. And that to me was the difference. I saw how he was actually taking kingdom principles and applying them to business.

Kingdom principles are transcendent into any sphere of influence we may live in. Once applied, we see the fruit of what was promised. If these principles are not applied, we lose what was given to us.

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Matthew 21:43

Are you a fan of Chick-Fil-A? 
What are your thoughts on business principles vs kingdom principles? 


  1. I have yet to eat at Chick Fil-A, which seems to be a travesty from all the good things I’ve heard. There aren’t any in WA state. Hopefully one day (soon!) I’ll run into one in my travels.
    Mindy recently posted..A few blessings

  2. I also love me some chicken nuggets.

    I was on vacation last month and passed a sign in front of chickfila that read “yes we are closed Sunday. We feel a day is worth more than a dollar.”. I love that.
    Adam recently posted..America’s Pastime

  3. Tony, I Chick-fil-a just opened up in our city, but I haven’t gone there yet. The topic of business principles vs kingdom principles has been a burning a topic for me for several years. I am a people manager myself, for 10 out of the last 15 years, and I’ve always struggled to implement methodolgies, and other business principles when participating in church projects. Actually, it’s been one of the major reasons why I have not let my name run for deacon the last two years. I know first hand how things are done in a secular job, and I try not to bring those principles that can generate some much animosity and discord into the church. But on the other hand, God is a is all about order. So it is possible to have faithful servants that are skilled in business principles, and apply them to the kingdom to help impact the Lord’s kingdom. After all it’s not about the principles themselves, but the person who applies those principles. If he or she has the right heart, a servants heart, God will use their skills for his glory. God Bless.
    Juan Cruz Jr recently posted..Will, Word, and Work

    • What are you doing writing comments on my blog?? You need to be at Chick-Fil-A right now! 🙂

      I totally hear you, man. That tension between business and kingdom is one that I see on a regular basis. Coming from the business world and then moving into church leadership, I see it so much more prominently. I’m so thankful that I am under leadership that understands the tension as well and functions using the kingdom principles.

  4. This post is so dead on. CFA is the best, and it has to do with way more than the food. As silly as it may seem to some, CFA has established a business model that literally every business should copy. There is fast food, then there is CFA. They’re a cut above the rest.
    Kevin Haggerty recently posted..March Madness Bracket Contest Winner

    • It was fun to see some of the magic behind the scenes that makes them run so fruitfully. It still blows me away that they make more in 6 days than the competition does in 7.

  5. Love Chik-Fil-A
    LarryTheDeuce recently posted..What Should Deacons Do?

  6. I LOVE this post. Who doesn’t love Chick-Fil-A? Seriously, I want their address so I can show up at their house and hand feed them those delicious nuggets.

    It can’t be overemphasized enough how important it is to feel valued and seen as in important/irreplaceable part of a team, community, or vision. When you are treated like a cog in the machine, you will act like a cog in the machine. You may get the immediate job done, but you aren’t going to be as invested in the overall vision (if you were ever told the vision to begin with).

    Instead of a book of instructions, we got Jesus; who is the living Word of God. Jesus showed us, by coming in the flesh, how we are supposed to love people and Him. I believe that if any business wants to succeed, then people and service need to be the priority.

    Mmmmm…chicken nuggets…
    Katie Alicea recently posted..My Funny Valentine…

  7. Huge CFA fan. Not just awesome chicken (spicy chicken sandwich for me), but all of the aforementioned business principles that put them ahead of the pack. I love that they go above and beyond.
    I can totally see these principles carrying over into church life. I’m not proposing we follow a “corporate” model, per se, but to me all of the points you’ve made here also are great points of leadership in any context, church included.
    Stephen Haggerty recently posted..Understanding

    • The biggest difference I see is the focus on people. I’ve been in jobs where I was everything from treated like a number to appreciated but I know that none of those places put a priority on people. It was always about bottom line (i.e. maximize profit).

  8. Oh yeah. I am a fan of C-f-A. Too bad there isn’t one in my town. And the closest one is in the mall. Ugh! But i go there when I can. I am not a fan of taking business principles and applying them to the church. I do like your idea of taking kingdom principles and applying them to business.
    bill (cycleguy) recently posted..Swing

    • I’ve almost written twice about this subject. It’s always weird when I see articles or books where people are trying to run a church like a corporation. I see the good intention but it just doesn’t translate.

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