Journey to Personal Purpose

This recent Q&A with my friend and colleague Cheryl Bachelder, the CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen Inc., allows her focus on values to shine through.

Cheryl Bachelder

Did you have a favorite coach or mentor in your career who invested in your development?

My favorite mentor was my father, who I fondly called Daddy Max. First and foremost, my father was my encourager. If I wanted to try something or learn something new, he was in favor of it. The only negative words he ever said to me was, “I don’t think gymnastics is your sport,” as he watched my tall, lanky frame attempt a cartwheel. But in everything else, he was my greatest fan. He went to every band concert, sat in the front row and clapped loudly. He attended the parent-teacher conference and made sure my education was on track. Well into career, my father would be my first call when I needed advice. I called him for counsel when deciding on a new job or facing a difficult challenge. He had a wealth of business leadership experience to draw on – but I particularly valued his advice on how to handle people situations. He had a unique blend of high expectations and a deeply caring heart for the people who worked for him. He wanted to challenge young leaders to develop both their competencies and their character.

You have developed many talented leaders in your company, what is your approach to coaching leaders?

The first step to developing leaders is to choose them carefully. At Popeyes, we describe our leadership team as people with big brains, big hearts, and about 5% quirkiness. We have brought together leaders with exceptional skills in their fields and yet they also have a deep commitment to serving others in their hearts. We are imperfect people – even a bit quirky — to be sure, but what we share is a passion for making this enterprise the best it can be. My favorite description of this trait comes from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, who said, “[the best performing leaders] have an iron will and ambition for the enterprise, not themselves.” That’s who we want to be.

My coaching practice is to dedicate 90 minutes to every leader that works for me, every other week. The leader comes prepared with the topics that they want to discuss. My job is to ask clarifying questions that challenge their thought process and help them grow. This process takes about 25% of my total work time, as I coach nine direct reports. But it reflects my belief, that there is no better investment of my time, than this time advancing the performance of Popeyes’ leaders.

What was a situation where, in retrospect, you would coach a person differently?

Earlier in my career, I would coach primarily on the work itself – aiming to advance the results. I was less comfortable coaching the whole person – asking the tougher questions about their motivations, values, and beliefs. In my experience, most of the performance issues occur in these “soul” areas. For example, I coached a leader once who did not collaborate well with others. This person had strong skills for the job, but they did not value the contributions of others. If I had pressed that issue sooner, it would have helped the person either grow – or choose to leave the organization. As the leader, this is my responsibility – to advance not just the results, but the way we work together.

What are some of the questions that you like to ask leaders to spur their personal growth?

My favorite questions are these: 1) who is the leader that you admire most? And 2) are you being that leader in your workgroup?

People find the first question easy – they can quickly tell you about the amazing leader who gave them an opportunity, challenged them to grow, took risks on them, or helped them through a difficult time.

But when they get to the second question, they pause to reflect. It’s as if they hadn’t considered until this very moment that they should BE the leader that they admire.

I call this the Golden Rule of Leadership. We should BE the leaders that we admire.

You could ask this question every week of your leaders, and you would never run out of things to talk about – or to encourage in their development.

How does your approach change when you are coaching a person who is underperforming?

I hope my approach is largely the same with a high performer and an under performer. I want to establish clear expectations, agree on a project plan and key milestones, understand the obstacles, and ask questions that provoke the leader to dig deeper. For a high performer, I want to encourage their strengths and help them see how they can “sand off” any rough spots in their approach. For the poor performer, I spend more time establishing expectations and the specific deliverables that I must see going forward. I am very direct and honest about the stumbling block issues – offering encouragement, but a firm message that improvement is required. I always end with a date set for the next conversation so that they know we will be re-visiting the topic.

Do you coach people outside of Popeyes – and if so, how do you find the time for that?

Absolutely. But it tends to be in groups, instead of individual settings. Last year, I wrote a book on the tenets of the Popeyes turnaround. It is called Dare to Serve: How to achieve superior results by serving others. This book is my leadership thesis – written with real, live examples of how you live this philosophy in the marketplace. One of the benefits of the book is that it has opened up speaking opportunities with leaders in a variety of sectors – insurance, human resources, restaurants, hotels, churches, schools, and communities. Each month, I speak once or twice – and it is an honor to share these Popeyes findings with a broad audience – and find the common ground. I particularly enjoy the Q&A sessions after each speech, when the audience members and I can talk about the real challenges that keep us from living out a servant leadership approach in our workplace.

When you meet a young leader today, what advice do you want to give to them?

When I meet with young leaders, my primary focus is to encourage them to develop a concrete statement of personal purpose. At Popeyes, we call this Journey to Personal Purpose. It is a process of looking at your life experiences, your strengths, and your values to decide your purpose for work. For many people, they have contemplated a broader life goal or ambition – often a desired accomplishment like hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. But they are less likely to have determined why they are coming to work today. Until you figure that out, you will not be able to give the enterprise your very best work. Because so many have expressed interest in exploring their personal purpose, I have included this exercise on my website at www.cherylbachelder.com under the resources tab. I hope you’ll take a look and begin a more intentional process of coming to work with purpose – and therefore, meaning. I can promise you that if you take this seriously, a compelling purpose will advance your performance and your career quickly.

What is your personal purpose?

To inspire purpose-driven leaders to exhibit competence and character in all aspects of their lives.

That is why I am having so much fun at Popeyes – this is the most meaningful work I have experienced!

Serve well.

Cheryl A. Bachelder Biography

Cheryl Bachelder is the CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen Inc., a multibillion-dollar chain of more than 2,400 restaurants around the world with exceptional marketplace performance results. Cheryl has led the turnaround of this company with the tenets of servant leadership. She authored a book to tell the story entitled, Dare to Serve: How to drive superior results by serving others. She also blogs each week at Serving Performs (www.cherylbachelder.com). Cheryl has been married 35 years to her husband Chris, and they have raised three adult daughters. They reside in Atlanta, GA.

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