Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich sitting on top of its packaging

Top 10 Leadership Lessons from 100+ Chick-fil-A Operators: Part 1

Life is Bigger Than Selling Chicken

That’s not just a mantra for Chick-fil-A. It’s an everyday reality. From top to bottom, this organization consistently fulfills its corporate purpose:

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

This is why Chick-fil-A is able to attract high-quality leaders at every level within the organization, from former Chief Executive Officers like Tracey Abbott (CFA: Del Sur, CA) to high-achieving high school students across the country. It’s also why their current and future leaders continually reproduce a culture devoted to serving others.

It’s not surprising, then, that I’ve personally been encouraged and inspired by this company. So much so that I decided to create and share my top leadership lessons from Chick-fil-A. The list isn’t comprehensive but should give you an inside look at a company many of you love.

Top Leadership Lessons from Chick-fil-A

1) They Take Risks: On December 1, 2015, I began my journey with WildSparq: The Leader Development company based in Birmingham, AL. The first two people I called were Julian Hollar (CFA: 405 at Jefferson, CA) and Brad Nichols (CFA: Chambers Town Center, TX). It’s the nature of entrepreneurs to take risks and both of these Operators did just that by working with our team. We had not served Operators before but knew our platform could help them attract, build, and equip leaders at their stores. They gave it a shot and nearly two years later we’re serving over 150 Chick-fil-A’s across the country.

2) They Treat Employees Like Family: How would you feel if your boss showed up one day and contracted a cleaning service to detail every employee’s vehicle while you were working? Ashley Gill (CFA: Northport, AL) did that and more during #TeamMemberAppreciationWeek. The same attitude towards employees is shared by Kathy Wonderly, (CFA: Mishawaka, IN) who personally views each team member like family.

“I have 85 Team Members and I treat each and everyone like they are members of my own family”

-Kathy Wonderly

3) They Treat Strangers Like Family: Shortly after connecting with Jonathan Pickett (CFA: Cache Road, OK), I was extended an offer to join him for an Oklahoma City Thunder game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. We had barely known each other for 10 minutes and he was already inviting me to share in a mutual interest together.

4) They Think Outside The Box: Luke Cook (CFA: Hammond, LA) and Jeremiah Cillpam (CFA: Hollywood, CA) are two Operators who think outside the box. They don’t process investments the same way many of us do. They’ve created their own lens for making decisions that have allowed them to excel in work and life.

“I don’t want to think and operate like the rest of the world. I’ve created an entirely different lens for evaluating my investments.”

-Luke Cook

5) They Serve Well and Serve Often: Operators often serve in unique and powerful ways, as exhibited by Brent Fielder (CFA: Greystone, AL). His team recently introduced BOGOGO, the buy one, get one, give one campaign created to provide meals for those in need. I’ve also seen this firsthand while working with Brett Swanson (CFA: Haywood Rd, SC). Brett and his wife serve as small group leaders in their local community with Re | Engage, a ministry focused on developing healthy marriages.

More Top Leadership Lessons from Chick-fil-A

6) They Really Care: I first heard the phrase below from Chris Schenck (CFA: Severna Park, MD), and if you know his story, you’ll understand why this is a big deal. I won’t go into detail, but Chris cares about others and he’s devoted his life to investing in the people around him. The same goes for Jerry Goebeler (CFA: Chastain Square, GA), who created a position in his store specifically to help his people take the next best step on their personal path to leadership.

“Life is bigger than selling chicken” -Chris Schenck

7) They Never Stop Learning: Tim Sweetman (CFA: Annapolis, MD), Director of Leadership and Training, is so committed to personal growth, that he downloaded the Curriculum for Harvard’s MBA Program and began working through it on his own time. That is an attitude of a lifelong learner.

8) They Share What Works with Others: It’s a sign of someone’s character when they openly share their strategies and tools for improving their business with others. By doing so, they are saying, “You can grow, you can get better, you can improve, and you can have an impact.” It’s easy to list the Operators that come to mind who display this quality: Brynn Albretsen, Matthew Kyle, Rob Dyer, Karen Arangua, Blake Kell

9) They Recognize Their Need for Help: How often do you connect with someone who openly acknowledges their need for help? That’s exactly what happened with Norm Dull (CFA: Madison, AL) and Richard Plank (CFA: John Hopkins Road, MD). By all accounts, Norm and Richard are gifted leaders, yet they exhibit humility in their approach to both leadership and business and aren’t afraid to learn from those around them.

10) They Live to Leave a Lasting Impact: One could argue every Operator exhibits this quality, but I know first-hand the following Operators who are seeking to leave a lasting impact on all they encounter: Will Taylor, Matt Williams, Scott Wehn, Rob Herold, Mark Nichols, Kevin Brock, Jerry Cotney, and David Jackson. Maybe that’s why becoming an Operator is more difficult than being selected for Harvard Business School.

“For operators, the screening process is rigorous with candidates enduring a year-long vetting process that may include more than twenty interviews. In the end, only 75 out of every 10,000 applicants are selected, making Chick-fil-A much more selective than HBS.”

I’ll finish with a video from Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy titled “Every Life Has a Story.” Dan’s team created this video to remind his company that every interaction they have is a chance to create a remarkable experience.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done for me.

Are you an Operator? Connect with us to Learn more about WildSparq: The Leader Development strategy designed to help you invest in your Director and Managers’ growth as leaders or Schedule a Free Demo.

About the Author: Josh Etress is the Director of Business Development at WildSparq, located in Birmingham, AL, and is committed to helping companies and organizations Enhance Culture and Multiply Leaders. You can contact Josh directly at