Green forest summer background, MontenegroTrue friends stick with us even when times are tough – “through thick and thin,” is the mantra.

True leaders do the same. They remain in service to their team members even when faced with undesirable circumstances.

The origination of this phrase is found in Olde English. The phrase ‘through thicket and thin wood’ was a literal description of any attempt to stroll through the heavily wooded English countryside.

The earliest written form of this phrase is found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Reeve’s Tale, specifically), written in the late 14th century!

Today we find greater self-serving behaviors from leaders and team members than we find activities that serve others. Western individualism and the acceptance of an “I win, you lose” competitive work environment breeds exactly what we’d expect. Servant leadership is seen as all too rare.

In fact, when leaders act in service to team members – for the greater good of team members – it’s big news!

Here’s an example. In Austin, TX, a popular Chick-fil-A restaurant reopened in August after a five month remodel. The owner paid all 50 employees’ their salaries during the closure, despite no revenues coming in. In fact, he gave all employees a $1-an-hour raise during that timeframe.

The franchise owner of 15 years, Jeff Glover, said, “I don’t want my group to have to forgo their salaries.” He added, “It would be a real financial crisis for the 50 families represented by the workers here to have to go five months without a job.”

Glover’s decision shocked his employees. Paying employees during a shutdown is highly unusual in the food service industry – possibly in every industry.

Why did this restaurant owner make that investment? Over the short term, he’s bleeding cash. Remodels are expensive. Paying staff salaries during the remodel just adds to the net loss over that five month period.

He did it because he genuinely cares for his team members and their families. If those team members went out to find other work during the remodel, they might not have been available to rejoin his team when the restaurant re-opened.

He did it because it makes financial sense. His initial outlay kept his talented, engaged team together. Glover now has experienced team members who can help mentor new hires (the store added a third drive through lane in addition to expanding the dining room) and get them up to speed quickly and efficiently.

He did it because it makes “heart” sense. His employees’ commitment to Glover, the restaurant, the culture, their customers, and their team members skyrocketed. Their pride in their team and in the customer experience translates into cooperative interaction, genuine service efforts, and proactive problem solving.

Servant leadership is not the norm but the benefits are astounding. If you want employees to stick with you through thick and thin, you must do the same for them, first.

What is your experience? To what degree is your boss self-serving or in service to others? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Vlada Zhikhareva – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2015 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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