• October 2013

How to Be the Kind of Boss You Want to Work for

By Lisa Earle McLeod
Keynote Speaker and Author
McLeod & More, Inc.

Who was the best boss you ever had? What made him or her so good?

Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of the fast-food restaurant chain Popeyes, likes to pose that question. In a recent interview, Bachelder said:

“I started to wonder what it would be like if you led the way you want to be led, if you were the boss you wanted to work for. It’s a fascinating conversation to have with people—asking them to describe the ideal qualities of a boss. They always say, ‘They took time with me, took risks with me, they taught me and had my back.’ Then I ask, ‘Are you that boss to someone today?’ Their face freezes because they’ve never thought about it that way. That’s human nature. We’re wired to be selfish 2-year-olds. But we have to fight our nature and be the boss we want to work for.”

Ouch.

Sadly, this rings true of what many of us have experienced, including Bachelder, who told Womenetics writer Patty Rasmussen.

“In my own career I’ve observed a lot of leaders in large corporate America and, frankly, have been desperately disappointed in the caliber of leaders of my generation, my peer group. That reached a crescendo for me about 12 to 15 years ago. I found American leaders self-absorbed and selfish, always focused on getting a bigger jet, more stock, bigger houses. It’s all about them.”

Expecting employees to be motivated to help the executives increase their bonus is like expecting the pigs to be excited about helping the farmer produce more bacon.

The problem is that most executive compensation is singularly directed at personal gain.

Senior leader compensation is usually tied to stock price. It makes sense in theory that if the company performs better, the CEO and other leaders should be rewarded.

But here’s what happens in practice: Because stock prices fluctuate with quarterly earnings, executives trying to meet a short-term number to achieve their bonus are more likely to focus on their own ambition rather than the company’s larger purpose.

Incentive programs often create the very behavior that Bachelder aptly describes as a “selfish 2-year-old.” The competition becomes who can score the biggest bonus versus who can create an organization that lasts.

So how do you fix the problem?

At a strategic level, it starts with the CEO and board.

Bachelder took a longer view at Popeyes. She asks the question: “Do you have a purpose for leadership that’s greater than your own ambition? Do you get up every day focused on serving those who have been entrusted to you?”

Her leadership team’s purpose is to drive value for their largest, most important customers, their franchisees. Read Bachelder’s blog, The Purpose of Leadership, for four ways to put your purpose to the test.

Focusing on being the kind of franchisor (boss) a franchisee would like to have shifts the focus from self-interest to serving others.

The result is huge growth. Popeyes has become the most profitable restaurant chain in America.

It’s funny what happens when executives rise above selfish instincts. Being the kind of boss you wish you had isn’t just the nice thing to do, it’s the profitable thing to do.


About Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies such as Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces. She’s the author of “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud,” as well as “The Triangle of Truth,” which The Washington Post named a “Top Five Book for Leaders.”

She has appeared on “Today,” and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches.

Click here to learn more: www.lisaearlemcleod.com.