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If We Get Better, Customers Will Demand We Get Bigger

June 1, 2016

The above title is a quote from Truett Cathy used by Andy Stanley (@AndyStanley) at a 2012 Chick-fil-A LeaderCast event. It was a live event with an audience of 130,000. The event’s theme was “Choices.”

Truett Cathy’s quote is a very simple statement; but the truth of it is often lost in the drive to grow our organizations. We must focus on getting better, not bigger; the former will inevitably lead to the latter. When faced with decisions, a truly wise leader will not lose sight of this simple, yet profound truth.

As leaders we face thousands of choices each day (and many before 10:00am!). These choices will ultimately determine the direction and level of success of our organizations. In his address, at LeaderCast, Andy Stanley introduced three questions every leader should ask when faced with difficult decisions:

1) What would my replacement do? Andy challenges leaders to think as though they were the person replacing themselves. The main point was to take emotional connections out of the decision process. He used the analogy an old couch in your parents’ home.. It is great your parents are emotionally attached to it no matter how out of date or ugly it is. A lifetime of memories imbues it with deep sentimental value. This kind of thinking is fine when deciding whether to replace a worn sofa; but in our organizations, this kind of emotional thinking can be detrimental. We can’t hold on to ideas, systems, or cultures that are outdated and ineffective. If we do, our replacement may just be the one making the decision for us!

2) What would a great leader do? Who do you consider the greatest leader? Go big! Churchill, Lincoln, MLK Jr—who’s the most influential leader in your mind? Andy describes a great leader as a “selfless, focused, passionate decision-maker.” Now, consider what that great leader would do if he or she were in facing this decision?  (This is the point in his presentation that Andy brought in the Truett Cathy quote. When faced with a tough decision early in the company’s history, Cathy spoke those simple yet profound words.) Stanley encourages leaders to “give yourself permission to step outside of your limits to consider what a great leader would do.”

3)  What story do I want to tell? To ask it another way, what do you want your legacy to be?  Stanley described how the decisions we make now will one day be the stories people tell about us. Since this is the case, Stanley passionately asks leaders to “never make a decision that will negatively impact your story.” Don’t make a choice that compromises your integrity!

Andy Stanley’s words have caused me to examine the decisions I currently face. Am I ready and willing to make those tough decisions? And what is the story I want to be told about those decisions in the future?

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the movie Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s character is a Roman era gladiator/general named Maximus. In the movie, he states, “what we do in life echoes in eternity.” The scriptwriter was most likely not thinking about leadership when he wrote that line, but I think that it definitely applies. What we decide today becomes part of our stories forever; and as leaders, our decisions become part of our organization’s story, as well.

If you want to grow your organization, make the decisions that are needed to get better not just bigger!

What decisions are you facing that require a “great leader” to make them? Are you up for the challenge?