Leadership is NOT Waiting to Follow – Be Thoughtful, Proactive, Humble, and Courageous

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As I start this blog, let’s take a collective breath. No really let’s pull the air in through our diaphragm, fill-up the lower lobes of our lungs, and continue that process into the upper lobes. Now let’s be thankful that we can!

Ok, on to lessons from the most challenging week of my career (and quite frankly, I had it easy compared to so many). When I’m talking challenges, I’m talking about leadership challenges faced by people I’m proud to call clients and friends. Let’s start with the word – leadership.

This past week I participated with phenomenal teams who stared into an uncertain future and led – by that I mean, they:

  • Assembled the best people possible
  • Asked lots of questions and sought out the best available facts
  • Anticipated a wide swath of scenarios
  • Anguished to determine the best of sub-optimal choices
  • Acted with humility and courage in alignment with values
  • Managed differing opinions, pushback, self-interest, and tensions
  • Completely changed service delivery platforms with a speed that was unthinkable a few weeks ago

To give you a feel for what this looks like, let’s peek inside one COVID-19 task force on which I sit. With a cadence of at least three video conference calls per day, Sonny’s BBQ operated at the height of communication effectiveness, operational efficiency, and value-based decision making. I offer a snippet of their journey to hopefully connect with and inspire others to lead and not simply follow the minimum requirements for their industry.

Sonny’s BBQ is a franchise-based dine-in/drive-thru/take-out and delivery restaurant chain based in Maitland, Florida, with approximately 100 locations across nine southern states. The Sonny’s franchise company is led by (son/father team) Jamie and Bob Yarmuth.

Jamie and Bob, in conjunction with leaders of Sonny’s Franchisee Committee (headed by Edie Titen), followed the steps listed above and decided to recommend closing all dine-in food options even before governors where Sonny’s operates required that action. Franchisees across the chain (faced with unavoidable financial and team member consequences) weighed the recommendation – wholly in keeping with the company’s values – and with heavy-hearts supported the choice.

Within days, governmental authorities throughout the south began closing the dine-in component of restaurants, but Sonny’s had led out of concern for the health of its team members and the communities it serves. Leadership at Sonny’s continues to innovate and strike a balance for as many stakeholders as possible. For that, I pray communities will support Sonny’s drive-thru, take out, and delivery efforts.

If you’ve followed me for any period of time, you know I don’t like to name businesses or leaders who fail to put the mission above profit, so I will strike a contrast to the decisions of Sonny’s with two unnamed brands in the casino industry and the retail video game world. Those companies received backlash from employees and customers alike for failing to even follow minimum health standards or adhere to required closures. If you are not acting boldly and out of an interest in others now, I wonder if customers will take an interest in you when the pandemic clears.

I have so much more to say about Sonny’s and a host of other remarkable leaders who are thoughtfully, proactively, humbly, and courageously leading. Unfortunately, time does not permit further elaboration at this time, as more crisis management calls await.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank a number of consultants who offered to help me serve those in need this week, I am in your debt.

Please note – this is the time, above all other times, where we must lead and act swiftly. May you have the health and wisdom to LEAD – or in words often credited to Gandhi – may you “be the change you want to see in the world” – NOW!

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