Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

by Cheryl Bachelder


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The expanded and revised edition of Dare to Serve answers the question How do you transform an ailing company into an industry darling? Adopt servant leadership!

In this updated edition of Dare to Serve, former Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder shows that leading by serving is a rigorous and tough-minded approach that yields the best results.

When she was named CEO of Popeyes in 2007, the stock price had slipped from $34 in 2002 to $13. The brand was stagnant, the team was discouraged, and the franchisees were just plain angry. Nine years later, restaurant sales were up 45 percent, restaurant profits had doubled, and the stock price was over $61. Servant leadership is sometimes derided as soft or ineffective, but this book confirms that challenging people to reach a daring destination, while treating them with dignity, creates the conditions for superior performance.

The second edition of this bestselling book includes Bachelder's post-Popeyes observations and new examples of how you can switch your leadership from self to serve. Ever engaging and inspirational, Bachelder takes you firsthand through the transformation of Popeyes and shows how anyone, at any level can become a Dare-to-Serve leader.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523097838
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Edition description: Updated
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 141,239
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Cheryl Bachelder is the former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc., a multibillion-dollar chain of more than 2,600 restaurants around the world. She has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, been featured on Mad Money, and received top industry awards. She had prior leadership positions at Yum! Brands, Domino's Pizza, RJR Nabisco, the Gillette Company, and Procter & Gamble. Today, Cheryl serves on boards, mentors CEOs, and invests in philanthropy.

Read an Excerpt



It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.


I AM AN ETERNAL OPTIMIST, a certified member of the positive-thinking club.

When we were growing up, my mother woke my siblings and me by playing loud music on the stereo and saying, "Good morning! It's a beautiful day. Rise and shine." There was no opportunity for negativity. It was going to be a good day.

I continued this tradition with my children. The mantra of their childhood was "Your attitude is your altitude." They still grimace when I say it, but the message is etched in their minds. Decide how you will approach this day-and that will determine your day.

The same is true in leadership: your attitude is your altitude.

When I joined Popeyes, the place needed an attitude adjustment. The problem? The people we were responsible for leading were viewed as "a pain in the neck."

The franchise owners were "difficult." The restaurant teams were "poor performers." The guests were "impossible to please." The board members were "challenging." The investors were "not on our side."

The first step in turning around your organization's performance? Think positively about the people you lead. Your attitude will determine the altitude of your performance results.


Popeyes' performance in 2007 couldn't have been much worse. Every data point that we measured was going the wrong way. Sales were declining. Guest satisfaction was worst-in-class. Restaurant profits were down in absolute dollars and in margin. Morale at the company was negative. Franchise owners were mad and "sick and tired" of bad results. Investors were disappointed in the stock performance and wanted answers. The board was tired of hearing promises that did not materialize.

In the following year, economic conditions would deteriorate as well. Lehman Brothers would disappear. The stock market would fall precipitously. The United States would head into a steep recession that contributed to the slowdown of the global economy. Times were not good.

The odds were stacked against a successful Popeyes turnaround.

What leadership approach would lead to success?


Picture eight members of the Popeyes leadership team stuffed in a small conference room at an Atlanta facility called the Buckhead Club. Our job for the day? To make a conscious decision on how we would lead Popeyes to sustained success.

We started by making lists of the traits we admired in the best leaders of our careers. Interestingly, the conversation quickly turned to the traits that we wanted to avoid, traits that characterized the worst leaders we had met.

On the flip chart, we listed words like self-absorbed, arrogant, and condescending.

Before we knew it, we were telling one another stories about the difficult people we had worked for. It became a "can you top this?" contest.

That was a turning point in our leadership of Popeyes.

Our first decision: we did not want to lead like "them."

We started talking about our favorite leadership philosophies. One person mentioned a book that had been influential in his life, Leadership Is an Art, by Max De Pree. Published in 1989 by the then-CEO of Herman Miller, the book put forth a novel idea — that leaders are stewards of the people and the organizations they lead. When leaders create environments where followers thrive, the business performs well.

Others brought up books that they liked-authored by Patrick Lencioni, Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, and more — and a theme emerged in the conversation. We wanted to be leaders who served well the people, brand, and organization we had been given. We didn't want to fall prey to the self-focused leadership style we had observed in others. Our belief was that serving people well would generate better business results.

One member of the team said, "I think there is a name for this kind of leadership. Give me a minute to do a Web search." He was the only one with an iPhone at the time, and he quickly came up with the answer. A man named Robert Greenleaf had written about a leadership approach called "servant leadership." It was about serving the people well — above self-interest.

That's it!

Serving others over self.

We quickly agreed that this servant leadership notion would guide us going forward.

But there was one more thing. We believed that servant leadership would deliver superior results. The performance of the enterprise would be the evidence that we had served others well.

Before leaving the conference room that day, we had a draft of the Popeyes purpose and principles that would guide our leadership for years to come.

Our purpose: to inspire servant leaders to achieve superior results.

Our principles: six behaviors we saw as essential to serving the people well and delivering superior performance — passion, listening, planning, coaching, accountability, and humility.

We made a decision that day: we decided to serve.

Dare-to-Serve leaders begin by intentionally deciding on their attitude and leadership approach.

• Decide to think positively about the people you lead.

• Decide to be a leader who serves others over self-interest.

It is both courageous and humbling to remove yourself from the spotlight and shift your focus and energy toward serving others well. This is how you create an environment for superior results.


If we were going to serve people well at Popeyes, whom would we serve?

We listed all the possibilities on the conference room flip chart: the guests, the shareholders, the franchise owners, the team members, the board of directors, the regulators, the accountants. Had we missed anyone?

Someone said, "Don't we have to serve all of those people?"

Hmm. Could be true. Let's go through each possibility.

In restaurants, the ultimate goal is to serve your restaurant guest well. After all, guests buy the food; without them, there is no business. If they are not served well, they don't come back.

Popeyes was a public company. Shareholders had invested in the business and expected a reasonable, preferably good, return on that investment. We were hired as their "stewards." Without their investment, we were not funded for growth. If shareholders are not well served, they exit the stock — and the stock price falls — reducing access to capital and the value of the enterprise.

Popeyes licenses to franchise owners the rights to use the brand and the operating system. These owners borrow money and invest it in building Popeyes restaurants, hiring and training restaurant crews, and building relationships with the communities and guests we serve. Without franchisees, we do not have a global restaurant chain; they drive expansion. If they are not well served, they exit the brand — selling or closing restaurants — and reduce our ability to serve guests Popeyes' famous Louisiana recipes.

It takes about 60,000 team members to run the more than 2,600 restaurants around the globe. These team members get up every day, come to work, prepare the food, serve the guests, clean up the place, and close the doors. These team members feed and serve the guests. If the leadership does not serve the team members well, those team members go to work somewhere else. Without them, Popeyes is not open for business.

In business, we have many choices of people to serve; they are all important. Would we serve them equally or would we pick one as our primary focus?


At Popeyes, we chose to serve the franchise owners well as our first priority.

In the franchising model, we make money in two basic ways: we collect royalties on restaurant sales and we collect franchise fees when a new restaurant is built. Those monies fund the infrastructure of the company so we can carry out the service obligations of the franchise contract: brand marketing, new product innovation, operating systems, quality assurance, and more.

We have long-term contracts with our franchise Owners — typically twenty-year agreements with options to renew. Thus, we have long-term relationships with the owners who borrowed the money to build the restaurants and who hire the people who serve the guests. Franchise owners do the heavy lifting.

As we looked at our options for whom we would serve, we thought the franchise owners merited our immediate attention. They had made sizable investments and were committed by contract to operate our brand. If they did not prosper, there was no chance Popeyes sales would go up (generating royalties) or franchise fees would increase (from new openings). Either franchise owners would succeed or Popeyes would fail.

This decision was not typical in our industry. Franchisors and franchisees are constantly in conflict — arguing about the contract, the business strategy, the restaurant design, the promotion pricing, or the cost of the food. If the conflict gets particularly bad, threats of lawsuits quickly surface.

Soon after I joined Domino's Pizza, in 1995, Domino's franchisees sued the company in a class-action lawsuit. When I joined KFC, in February 2001, I learned of the long history of conflict between KFC franchisees and the franchisor, with a negotiated settlement in 1996. During my restaurant career, the media has reported on troubled franchisee/franchisor relationships at well-known brands such as Burger King and Quiznos, among others.

Interestingly, unresolved conflict with franchise owners never leads to operational excellence or superior sales and profit performance. Instead, franchise systems with high internal conflict have negative business results. It is predictable. Nonetheless, franchisees and franchisors typically don't get along.

So we asked ourselves a few questions.

What if we dared to be different from our peers? What if we dared to serve the franchise owners well?

What would that look like?

We would have to work closely with the franchisees to choose the vital few initiatives that would improve performance. Once we were aligned on the right plan, the franchise owners would implement that plan in the restaurants. When the plan was executed well by the restaurants, performance results would improve. When sales and profits improved, franchisees would build more restaurants. New restaurant growth would create value for the shareholders.

This could work.

Our success would begin and end with the success of the Popeyes franchise owners.


Here's a tough question. Do you love the people you've decided to serve?

It helps.

One Popeyes leader said it this way: "If you are in the franchising business, you should love the franchisees."

To love franchisees, you have to love entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are passionate. They take risks. They invest for the future. They are ambitious. They are definitely not corporate bureaucrats. They do not have much patience with people holding MBA degrees or offering up expensive, harebrained ideas. What if the most important people in your business are entrepreneurs? You must decide to love them.

As a side note, I can't imagine why someone wouldn't love franchise owners. I'm biased by my worldview. I believe that democratic capitalism creates conditions for entrepreneurs to invest and grow small businesses. The entrepreneurs are pursuing a dream, and owning a small business is their path to that dream. In the United States, we call this the "American Dream." People come to this country just for the chance to build their own business.

These are the people we were honored to serve at Popeyes. The Popeyes franchise owners decided to take the risk and invest sweat equity and financial capital in building and operating Popeyes restaurants. They are amazing people with equally amazing life stories.

Here are just a few examples of the many franchise owners in the Popeyes system whom I loved.

Lal Sultanzada is a Popeyes franchisee in New York City. Lal moved to this country from Afghanistan. His first job was working in a chicken restaurant in Harlem. Eventually he saved enough money to buy that restaurant and became a Popeyes franchise owner. Today, Lal has dozens of restaurants operating to the highest of standards. His restaurant leaders win many Popeyes awards. I love that Lal has sent his children to college so that they can follow in his footsteps and run this highly successful family restaurant business.

Mack Wilbourn operates three Popeyes restaurants at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Two of them have the largest sales volume in the system. Mack hires people who take fabulous care of the guests. You will often hear the restaurant manager, Edith, say, "Honey, you are looking good today! What can I get you for dinner?" I love the warmth and positive energy that Mack's teams bring to guests. They set the standard for service excellence.

John Broderson is a Popeyes franchisee who owns urban restaurants in Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, and Puerto Rico. His career began in a troubled Popeyes restaurant in Chicago that his father had purchased. Over time, John developed a talented team of restaurant leaders who routinely won awards in the system. Several years ago, John went back to Chicago to seek out that first Popeyes restaurant he worked in — and he bought it. I love the fact that John invests in urban neighborhoods, providing career opportunities to many.

Harry Stafford invested in the restaurant business after a successful career in law and Texas oil. His organization owns and operates more than a dozen Popeyes restaurants with excellence. Now in his seventies, Harry remains one of the most forward-looking entrepreneurs, buying property and expanding his Popeyes network in the Houston area. I love that Harry leads with integrity and has invested his time serving as a leader in the Popeyes system.

Amin Dhanani is the sixth son of a family that immigrated to the United States to be entrepreneurs. His family is one of the largest operators of Burger King restaurants, as well as Popeyes. This owner is one of the boldest and fastest-expanding operators in the system, owning and operating Popeyes in multiple states. I love Amin's daring aspiration for expanding Popeyes across the nation as fast as possible.

Guillermo Perales owns Popeyes restaurants in Texas and Florida. Beyond Popeyes, he is the largest Hispanic franchisee in America, owning multiple retail businesses. When Guillermo saw the turnaround of Popeyes performance results, he decided to become one of the fastest-growing developers. I love that he is willing to invest in Popeyes' future.

Danny Gililland operates Popeyes in Little Rock, Arkansas. Danny loves restaurant operating systems, and his wife, Lynda, loves training restaurant teams. The Gilillands volunteer to test just about every piece of restaurant equipment or new training process that the team comes up with. I love that Danny and Lynda never tire of debugging these inventions, and their enthusiastic efforts help us make better decisions for the system.

Nareg Amirian is a second-generation Popeyes franchisee, following his successful father, Bobken Amirian, an Armenian who emigrated from Iran. Nareg combines his experience in the family business with an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and runs restaurants in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I love that Nareg has courageously stepped forward to run the family business for the next generation.

Now I have to pause and apologize to every Popeyes franchisee whom I did not mention. Please know that I love you, too!

We had more than three hundred franchise owners at Popeyes — and I loved them all. These were hardworking people who took bold risks to grow Popeyes and to serve our guests well. They are inspiring people, people to be admired. They deserve to be loved. They deserve to be served.


If you choose to be a Dare-to-Serve leader, you'll have one very big obstacle to overcome.


It is easy to say that you want to serve others well, but it is much harder to do so in daily life.

This topic is seldom discussed out in the open. It would not be seen as admirable to admit that your leadership approach is aimed at serving yourself well. In fact, I've never heard anyone actually say this out loud.


Excerpted from "Dare to Serve"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Cheryl Bachelder.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Dare-to-Serve Leader, 1,
ONE Whom Will We Serve?, 15,
TWO What Is the Daring Destination?, 35,
THREE Why Do We Do This Work?, 61,
FOUR How Will We Work Together?, 81,
FIVE What Is the Legacy of a Leader?, 97,
SIX Choose to Serve, 115,
SEVEN Be Bold and Brave, 127,
EIGHT Have Clarity of Purpose, 139,
NINE Switch from Self to Serve, 153,
TEN Avoid the Spotlight, 163,
Call to Action, 173,
Dare-to-Serve Reflection Questions, 177,
Notes, 181,
Acknowledgments, 187,
Index, 189,
About the Author, 196,

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