Chick-fil-A is one of the most successful fast food chains in America. In fact, it has been ranked as the #1 fast food chain for the fourth year in row by customers in an independent review (Kelso, 2019). While the company knows how to make a good chicken sandwich, there is more to their success. Chick-fil-A invests in their employees through servant leadership, which is the real secret to their success. According to Northouse, “Servant leaders place the good of the followers above their own self-interest and emphasize follower development” (2016). Chick-fil-A exemplifies this concept in many ways through different servant leadership characteristics.
As a company, Chick-fil-A is committed to seeing the growth of their employees. This means that the company recognizes that the intrinsic value of each employee goes beyond their production value, leading the restaurant to act in a way that reflects this belief by helping employees grow both personally and professionally (Northouse, 2016). One way that Chick-fil-A does this is by offering scholarships to their employees. In 2019, Chick-fil-A gave away $15.3 million in educational scholarships to employees, which raised the total amount given away since 1973 to over $75 million (Chick-fil-A, 2019). Unlike many other companies that give out scholarships, Chick-fil-A has one of the most unrestrictive scholarship programs, allowing employees to choose any accredited institution, whether a two-year, four-year, online, or vocational school. This is all because the company believes in investing in the growth of their employees, which leads employees to stay committed to the company.
Other servant leadership qualities become apparent in Chick-fil-A’s franchise model. The company accepts less than 1% of the applicants that apply to open a franchise each year, yet approximately 60% are previous restaurant employees (Joiner, 2017). Granting this opportunity to employees aids the restaurant chain in carrying out servant leadership in two ways. First, the company builds up and invests in their employees so that they will be empowered and prepared to open a franchise (commitment to the growth of people). Second, it helps new franchises maintain servant leadership by gaining empathy. In servant leadership, empathy allows a leader to “truly understand what followers are thinking and feeling” (Northouse, 2016). This occurs because many new restaurant owners know what it’s like to work at the restaurant instead of going into it blind. By understanding the restaurant, owners are better equipped to understand the needs of their employees and continue the cycle of servant leadership.
A final way that Chick-fil-A carries out servant leadership is by putting their employees above profits. This is best exemplified by the fact that Chick-fil-A is never open on Sunday. The company believes that scheduling a day of rest for their employees leads to better work-life balance. This is Chick-fil-A’s way of carrying out the characteristic of healing. As a servant leader, Chick-fil-A “cares about the personal well-being of their followers” and aims to “make them whole” (Northouse, 2016). By granting employees this time off, Chick-fil-A reaps the benefit of having employees that are better able to contribute to the company. Although it is likely that this move has cost the company billions of dollars over the years, it is something they have no plans of changing.
It is clear that this southern fast food company has captured the essence of servant leadership. By investing in their employees through college scholarships, franchise opportunities, and time off, Chick-fil-A has found success as servant leaders. The servant leadership found within the company is also exhibited towards customers, which draws in more business. Knowing that a Chick-fil-A sandwich comes with great service and a “my pleasure” is what keeps happy customers coming back and sets the restaurant apart from other fast food chains. Servant leadership is at the heart of Chick-fil-A’s success.
Chick-fil-A. (2019, February 13). Chick-fil-A Increases Investment in Team Members by Awarding $15.3 Million in Scholarships. Retrieved from https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/news/chick-fil-a-increases-investment-in-team-members-by-awarding-15-3-million-in-scholarships
Joiner, K. (2017, June 27). Five Myths About Becoming a Chick-fil-A Franchisee. Retrieved from https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/inside-chick-fil-a/five-myths-about-becoming-a-chick-fil-a-franchisee
Kelso, A. (2019, June 25). Chick-fil-A Named America’s Favorite Restaurant Chain – Again. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/aliciakelso/2019/06/25/chick-fil-a-named-americas-favorite-restaurant-chain–again/#29ce3b094c91
Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.