Learning to Lead: Do You Want Fries With That?
It was Friday evening right before the 4th of July holiday weekend. My family was coming out to visit and as I put the finishing touches on my cake and got ready for their arrival, Luke was out in the field with his guys. I knew he’d have to work late that night since he’s currently attached to a basic training unit and they were having some sort of field exercise. So, I went to meet my Mom and brother, took them out for a good Mexican dinner (Oklahoma style–love those sopapillas!) and we called it an early night. They were exhausted from being on the road all day.
Around 12:30, Luke comes in the door. I was already tucked under the covers, so he didn’t want to turn a light on, but as he started to take off his uniform, I could hear objects hitting the floor. “It’s a bunch of gravel,” he explained. “I better get undressed in the bathroom.” Gravel? I knew he was in the field, but the explanation didn’t make a ton of sense, so I followed him to learn more. I entered the bathroom to hear the shower running, and I saw tiny shards of gravel all over the bathroom floor. The pieces –some tiny and some larger–pricked my bare feet, and I was surprised at the sheer quantity of it.
As I went to get the broom and dust pan, I asked Luke what happened. He explained that he’d been part of a drill where they have to crawl across gravel for several hundred yards while people shoot (real, live rounds) at them! He is new here, and apparently they make all the officers go through the drill once so they know what it’s like for the guys who are in training. As he changed for bed, I noticed the scrapes and scratches all over his elbows and knee caps where he had literally crawled across all that gravel. And, I began to reflect on that mission- Leadership is jumping in and doing what you are asking your guys to do. It’s not standing to the side and giving orders. Leaders are far more effective when they have gone through an experience themselves so they know how to guide their team, how to redirect their course and how to ensure they effectively complete the task at hand. If Luke hadn’t gotten onto his elbows and knees in that gravel, he would not have the insight and wisdom that he has now gleaned to instruct that same drill in the future.
I am so blessed and excited to have a leadership opportunity of my own with Chick-Fil-A, right here in Lawton, OK.**Pause for a moment** Chick-Fil-A!!!
What an AMAZING company that shares my Christian values, my vision for Second Mile Service and my marketing mindset of establishing meaningful, emotional connections. PR is driven by relationships first and foremost. And they want ME to be part of their leadership team. I am so honored and excited for this opportunity. I start my new job this coming Monday as an Assistant Director as I learn the ropes and will be promoted to Director of Hospitality and Recruitment within 90 days.
But, let me tell you- the owner tried to do everything he could to talk me out of the job first. He promised me that he’d hire me if he got to the end of his speech and I still wanted it–which I do. But, Chick-Fil-A is a company that very much believes in leading by doing. All of the leaders at any level have to learn EVERY aspect of the company from how to make the chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, to cleaning that equipment, to scrubbing the bathrooms to taking orders at the counter. And, let me tell you that the very first thought that Satan brought to my mind loudly, screaming at me- “What are you DOING? You have your Master’s degree, and you want to go work for this organization who wants you to make and serve fries for the next six weeks?!”
Yes. You heard that right. Six Weeks. I will be up to my elbows in grease and soap suds learning the back of the kitchen or up front taking order after order in a busy lunch rush, boxing up sandwiches and nuggets and Polynesian sauce. Yes, I do want that. I made myself a big ole slice of humble pie and sat down to think about this opportunity, which I consider to be the opportunity of a lifetime. You don’t just go into a company and start at the top. You learn the ropes first; you put on the uniform and crawl in the gravel with the guys, and then they respect you a whole lot more later on because you’ve BEEN there.
Jesus doesn’t teach us to be prideful or to view ourselves “above” anyone or anything. But, I realized that part of our culture ingrains this very idea into us. In the past few days, I’ve heard a few people whom I love and respect and a few whom I don’t know at all, make derisive comments about people who serve fries or clean the floors for a living. They often don’t mean anything by it, because they don’t think of the implications of their statements. It’s just a seemingly common assumption that a person serving your food at a fast food joint is likely uneducated, unable to get a “better” job or incapable of more. And those things are said or implied in many ways by many people. They are often the butt of jokes, those we mention when we talk about the “least” of our society. One Southern cliché is “treating the CEO and Janitor the exact same.” Well of course we should- because they are equal people. But, people say that and use those job titles to demonstrate the wide spread between the two professions, thus putting value on the title and monetary compensation of each. No one says they treat the “CEO and Senior VP” the same. Well, of course you do, society assumes, because they are both “equally important” and deserving of respect in human hierarchy.
A friend challenged me with this thought: How are we supposed to reach ALL lost lambs if we perceive ourselves (even subconsciously or unintentionally) above them? Well, I don’t flip fries for a living, we think to ourselves somewhat smugly. I’m a successful (xyz) professional that makes (xyz) salary. We must remember not to value ourselves or others by our job title or annual income. Whoo.
I have been doing a lot of soul searching these past few weeks and I found that wrongly ingrained in my belief system– influenced and reaffirmed by society and material values–is that a job and salary are part of what define a person. They’re not. Let me repeat: they’re not. We do not increase or decrease our value as a person by our profession. We are all Daughters and Sons of the One True King, and whether we make $0 or millions, we are of equal value in His eyes. Thus, I am on the same footing as the Prince as well as the Pauper, and so are you.
I spent some time with Jesus in His Word- a Word that affirms that humility is to be valued. (There is no mention of a VIP office and six figure salary here but something that can be even harder to attain: wisdom borne of servitude and humility.) Here are just a few of the verses that touch on this, and there are many throughout the Bible:
“Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord,
and humility comes before honor.”- Proverbs 15:33
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”- Micah 6:8
“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Corinthians 1:28-29
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” – Mark 9:35
If I’m being honest, that was hard for me to realize at first and then even harder to reframe my personal thinking. I even talked the first part of my job up to my family members in the beginning, downplaying my training/fry flipping time and playing up my subsequent role as a Director. Why? Well, I was embarrassed. I have worked so hard for so long, what if someone sees me in that kitchen with a hair net and spatula? What will they think? Gasp.
Those were lies from Satan that I had to overcome and confess my friends. Because I never thought of myself as arrogant before or “above anything.” After all, I scrubbed bathrooms at the Medical Group when needed, vacuumed the lobby, moved furniture around, etc. But, I was hired as the Manager there from Day 1. I never worked with the people, learning their trade before I was required to lead it. Thus, I never worked my way up–I started “up” there- as one of the three most powerful leaders in the building, alongside the CEO and Administrator. That came with many of its own challenges. Gaining the respect of my people took a much longer time. And, I’m sure some of my suggestions in the beginning were as arrogant as they were ignorant. In one of my last meetings with the group, I watched a newer leader stumble through an Exec meeting with half the staff present. This person was completely unknowledgeable about a certain part of the software that the front staff deals with and kept insisting upon a solution over and over that was in no way pertinent to the issue at hand. We all knew the solution wouldn’t work because she didn’t fully grasp the problem. Everyone in the room knew it. And, she was eventually very embarrassed when we firmly but gently shut it down for a final time. I learned something very important that day– you should not lead a group until you fully understand it. You should not change a system until you yourself grasp it. And, as a new leader you are usually not the most knowledgeable one in the room. While it is hard to gain respect of a staff, it’s easy to lose it when you barrel in like a bulldozer, changing systems haphazardly that you haven’t taken the time to comprehend.
So in a way, I think this model of learning from the bottom up is a huge blessing, one that I haven’t experienced and one that I very much want to. I yearn for that knowledge and for the opportunity to become a servant-oriented leader like those whom I admire most.
Then, I kept finding “God Winks” everywhere-just confirming His path for my life in this season. For example, I randomly found a God Wink in a Chick-Fil-A gift card in an old purse just before I was going to throw it away. Our sermon at Church focused on “Second Mile Service,” a term the Cathy’s (Chick-Fil-A’s founding family) use in the heart of their mission statement. I scrolled through an old friend’s Instagram at random and found pictures of her fun adventures working at Chick-Fil-A in years gone by, pictures of the cow, of big vats of lemonade and delectable chocolate chip cookies. But, even more than all the Chick-Fil-A signs surrounding me as I made my final decision, I felt such peace in my heart that this is the path God wants me to take. It’s as if I could hear His voice saying “Trust in me. I know the plans I have for you.” And, that inner urging is what prompted me to take this job, fry flipping and all, above all other job offers.
I know Jesus has some hard lessons for me along the way, especially in these first few weeks. I got my first schedule, and I will be standing on my feet all day for 8-10 hours at least 5 days a week. The whole first week is in the kitchen, and the owner warned me that I’ll get initiated with a “grease burn”– not intentionally because they take all kinds of safety precautions but because it inevitably happens to everyone.
So, why do I want to do this job? I don’t have to work, one friend proposed. Luke makes good money. Why would you want to…flip fries?
Well, let me tell you, I am more excited about flipping fries than I ever thought I could be. Those grueling few weeks in the kitchen will allow me to see and learn so much about current operations. I am also determined to do this job to the very best of my ability. I am going to be the best Waffle Fry Maker that ever existed, the most enthusiastic Waffle Fry Maker and the most determined.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23
Once I put aside my pride, confessed my sin and adopted a servant-oriented mindset, I have felt closer to Jesus than I have felt in a while. After all, look how He humbled Himself. He came to Earth in the form of a man; the King of all Kings took on the lowly form of mankind to save our souls from despair. I want to be as much like Jesus as I possibly can, and while my job and what He did are in no way even remotely comparable, it did give me insight into how He feels about those who serve others. So, as I enter this new period of service that will be unlike anything I have experienced, I appreciate your thoughts and prayers. I hope to gain knowledge that will propel me forward into my Director role as I lead with a focus on what really matters.