By Maina Mwaura
On a typical day there’s bound to be a line of customers wrapped around the building waiting in the drive thru lane at any given Chick-fil-A location.
But most people are willing to stay in that line because they believe the end product is worth the wait. Mark Miller, vice president of leadership development at Chick-fil-A, thinks the same principle should be applied to church and organizational leaders who are willing to wait to “lead up” when they aren’t in charge.
Miller admits leading up can be difficult, but he also believes that, for those of us who are willing to do it, there are rewards for doing so. In a recent interview with Facts & Trends, Miller gives five practical ways that we should think about leading up.
Be a servant
Miller believes that the best thing we can do for the people who lead us is to serve them.
“Too many leaders get caught up with a title,” says Miller, who has worked for Chick-fil-A for more than 40 years. “Leadership is not about what title you process in the organization. The best leaders thank others first and begin with the attitude of how they can serve others.”
The ultimate benefit a leader at any level can get from serving, Miller explains, is they will begin valuing people the way Jesus does.
“I try to walk in the room thinking, How can I serve others the way Jesus served me?” he says.
See the future
Someone leading up must have a vision for the future—without getting stuck in the quicksand of today, says Miller. Being able to help the person leading you get their vision carried out and seeing its link to the future is essential, he says.
Miller recalls a time in the 1990s when things were growing and moving so fast at Chick-fil-A that there was deep concern about what the company would look like in the future if they stayed on the same trajectory. Could they keep up with the demand?
It was during this season in Chick-fil-A’s history that most of the restaurants were in shopping malls. Department heads were tasked with helping to cast vision. With the ramp up of internet commerce and shopping malls showing early signs of losing foot traffic, leaders within the organization believed it was time to build stand-alone restaurants.
If this vision for the future had not been cast—much less brought to fruition—the ongoing success of the franchise could have been derailed.
Help develop future leaders
Another challenge Chick-fil-A faced during this season of fast-paced growth 20 years was the shortage of leaders in the pipeline—leaders in development ready to be placed in a strategic position to further the company’s success.
“We needed more leaders and more leaders fast,” says Miller.
But as they began conversations about growing their leadership pipeline, Miller says Chick-fil-A’s first item of business was to define leadership for their organization.
“Every organization or church needs to have their definition of leadership for their organization,” he says. “If there’s no agreed upon definition churches and organizations will be shooting in the dark on what type of leaders they need to grow to build an effective pipeline.”
Miller believes had Chick-fil-A not clearly defined leadership for their organization, the franchise wouldn’t have realized the success they have for today.
Lead yourself well
While a leader’s skill-set is valuable, Miller says the person must have integrity. One of the verses in Scripture that has guided Miller in developing himself and other leaders is Psalm 78:72 (CSB), which says David “shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands.”
He says people who lead and develop themselves with this biblical principle in mind should also consider incorporating these five fundamentals:
- Embrace the future
- Engage others
- Reinvent continuously
- Value relationships
- Embody the attitude of serving others
Miller believes that when a person chooses to embody these five core values in leading themselves well they will not only gain traction with the leader they are serve—they’ll also gain a renewed vision for themselves as a leader.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.