Family Firms and Independent Boards

There is something about those of us who prefer freedom to security, and who build businesses with freedom to enjoy our work as a foundation stone. We don’t want folks looking over our shoulders, and we often translate that to mean we don’t want boards, and we certainly don’t want independent board members. It’s not uncommon to hear privately held company owners and CEOs talk about the painful experiences of trying to put advisory or governing boards together or to realize the benefit. What is uncommon is for those same owners and CEOs to recognize the problem may just have been centered in their inadequate recruitment, preparation and participation.

A highlight of this year’s CEO Summit at Convene, was a presentation by David C. Bentall, who shared the painful story of a substantial, family-owned business empire torn apart by the very people who grew it, blind to their own deficits until it was too late. Bentall has now devoted himself to helping other family-owned businesses manage their succession with greater aplomb. His book, Leaving a Legacy: Navigating Family Business SUCCESSion, is an excellent guiding resource, especially for family businesses moving into a second generation of leadership and beyond.

A centerpiece to it working well, according to Bentall, is a compensated, governing, well-prepared and independent board. This is very different than recruiting cronies and family members exclusively.  And…when such a board is in place, regular and high-priority meetings among family members, and their spouses, are also a must.

Pushing for this often brings the rolling of eyes and verbal protests. And yet, the burden of proof rests on the protestor. In lieu of following these best practices, how are they living as a steward of the company they are building? How can they claim to be so wise when they keep foregoing the laying of the long-term foundation to guide a company beyond their leadership?

What Do You Do?

Have you ever been sitting at the local business event when the moderator gives the dreaded, “Please take the next few minutes and share at your table what you do?” Have any of these random thoughts crossed your mind?

  • Would it seem odd to go to the bathroom at this moment?
  • Did the first guy just deliver his entire biography and take all of our time?
  • Geez, I hate this. I never know what to say.

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Who are the most important people you serve – the owner, the boss, the customer, the employees? Which one is your primary focus? When I joined Popeyes in 2007, my first day was the international franchising conference in Orlando, Florida. As you would expect, on my first day I was brimming with excitement and anticipation about this challenging new leadership opportunity. This would be my first chance to meet the Popeyes franchise owners – the people who own virtually all of our restaurants – the entrepreneurs who have made Popeyes their livelihood. Certainly, they would be excited to meet me too?

It didn’t take long to understand that the franchise owners were not excited to meet me. They had met seven CEOs in the prior four years. I was just “CEO Number 8.” They were in year eight of a downturn in the sales and profits of their restaurants. They were tired of the situation – and if they had chosen a slogan, it might have been “Not Going to Take It Anymore.”

In fact, one veteran franchisee put it this way. “You see Cheryl. We are abused children. And you are just another foster parent. Don’t expect us to trust you anytime soon.”

Long pause on my end. In fact, these words still give me pause.

How many people in the workplace feel like abused children? How many of them think their leader is just another foster parent; “don’t expect us to trust you anytime soon.”

I’m afraid the number is much higher than we want to think.

As you think about your leadership, who are the people counting on you to serve them well? What would serving them well look like? How would they know that? How would they measure that?

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

Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant As Leader

At Popeyes, we chose our franchisees as our #1 priority and determined we must serve them well. Here is what our franchisees tell us matters to them:

  1. They want to be listened to, demonstrating that we truly value their experience and point of view.
  2. They want us to be honest with them, especially when we make mistakes.
  3. They want to be part of the decision-making process, not the recipient of our decisions.
  4. They want us to be accountable, to actually do the things we say we are going to do.
  5. They want our ideas to deliver positive results to their business.

Is that too much to ask of the leader? Listening. Honesty. Inclusion. Accountability. Results.

Isn’t that what you would like from your leader?

You have an opportunity to serve the people you lead well.

Who matters most in your organization? Will you serve them well?

Are You Interested In Becoming An “Exemplary Leader”?

You may have been born with some leadership traits but an Exemplary Leader is created over time and of course the whole process starts with a right spirit toward God. You see we’ve been created for excellence and to operate with a Spirit of Excellence.

The mind ultimately becomes a battlefield where God’s vision, desire, and action mapping for our lives collide with soulish emotional issues like insecurity, worry, anxiety, doubt, fear, etc.

An Exemplary Leader creates a lifestyle of seeking, obtaining and imparting Insight, Growth, Impact and Legacy as is the focus of Convene.

You begin this journey with the end in mind, “What legacy do I want to leave this earth with?”, “How can I best honor God with my life” and work backwards from there. This vision of a future state actually starts attracting resources to fulfill your vision of legacy. I often say that where God’s vision is for you that’s where His provision will be and where it will start showing up. “Seek FIRST The Kingdom of God and all that you will need will be added unto you.”

“How do I know His vision / legacy for my life”, you ask? Well, it’s in His Word and it is in your desires; “When we delight ourselves in the Lord He give us the desires of our hearts”. When we are God focused, dwelling in His presence continually, living in the awareness of His presence He places His desires for us in our hearts to be acted upon. Jesus says to us, “My sheep hear My voice”…. “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord”. On a business level and as a business and organization leader, a CEO | Business Owner | Solo Entrepreneur, how are you going to develop into an Exemplary Leader? A leader who inspires others, drives people toward excellence, holds people accountable, instills a sense of trust promoting sustainability and profitability for your organization honoring God in the process and changing the culture?

Learning what exactly makes an Exemplary Leader is your first step. Among other things, an Exemplary Leader centers around character, purpose, integrity and values all converging creating a leader driven by a Spirit Of Excellence and this attitude, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men, knowing [with all certainty] that it is from the Lord [not from men] that you will receive the inheritance which is your [greatest] reward. It is the Lord Christ whom you [actually] serve.”

Manifesting a Spirit of Excellence is allowing the manifested Glory of God to be seen.

Here are a few initial steps to start taking in order to becoming the Exemplary Leader you’ve always wanted to be:

1. Defining Your “WHY”! | Establishing Your Vision

What is the “one thing” that, as a business, you are most passionate about, solves a problem, and honors God? “And He who sent Me is [always] with Me; He has not left Me alone, because I always do what pleases Him.” Jesus

What is your “Why” [vision / purpose]? What are we in business to provide a solution for?

The most useful vision statements are laser focused on your primary customers desired results; a solution that solves a problem. “I have come to seek and save the lost” Jesus stated.

What ‘need’ are we developing a solution for?

In conjunction, “What’s” the one thing you must measure to know if your successful.

When there is a big enough reason “Why” [vision / purpose], you will always figure out the “how”. What purpose and passion [The Why] is burning in your soul for your business?

Vision should then result in priorities being established; it is about getting and remaining focused on it. Laser-Focused.

2. Self-Control

“… the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control…. those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites.”

Exemplary Leaders are effective and efficient, exercising the character quality of self-control; self-discipline and willpower in order to stay focused on the big picture, stay the course, and create enough margin in your life in order to focus and keep driving toward the vision. “Do everything decently and in order.”

Self-Control as well has to do with inner motivation; pleasing God or seeking people’s approval.

Exemplary Leaders establish clear goals and objectives, leading others on the journey to manifesting excellence. An Exemplary Leader develops a clearly articulated vision [The Why] for their business and the self-control to become laser-focused on bring the vision into reality.

This laser-focused approach includes creating the right business model and organizational design: systems, structure, strategy, style, staff, shared values, and skills. The truth is, “organizations function the way they are designed to function”. It is up to the leader to create the environment and culture to realize the vision, honoring God in the process and influencing the marketplace toward the Kingdom of God.

Self-Control, among other things, has to do with following through in everything you do and measuring the results of the core activities that drive the business to its intended vision. Remember, what you don’t measure you can’t manage and targeted adjustments are not possible.

Being strong in your resolve and resisting the inevitable temptation to give up, or lose your identity for short term gain you are honoring God and setting an example for others to live up to. Jesus was tempted in this way and He responded with, “It is written”. His identity was clear and His mission was non-negotiable.


This has to do with keeping the corporate mandate visible. Mandate is something you do that you would die to accomplish.

God has created us with a desire to be involved in a cause and we operate better together when the cause is clearly understood by everyone. What is your “Why”?

The people you are leading need to completely understand the vision of the enterprise in order to gain meaning in their work, share your vision and work ethic in a heartfelt way. Every step of the way, communicate with your team to make sure they’re on the same wavelength and know what you expect of them.

The implementation of a defined vision requires a defined method. You need a plan, a method, a course of action in which you’ve gotten those around you involved in.

A mandate requires a having a razor fixation which then engages people. Take that a step further and get them involved in the planning process. This gives everyone a greater sense of ownership toward the end result; it results in greater retention and sustainability leading to greater customer satisfaction, profitability and legacy generating. This honors God.

“But I do not consider my life as something of value or dear to me, so that I may [with joy] finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify faithfully of the good news of God’s [precious, undeserved] grace [which makes us free of the guilt of sin and grants us eternal life].” Paul


To me money is not the most important thing in your purpose. What we need more than money is people. In God’s Kingdom and Way of acting and behaving money is considered temporal and a “little thing” but people’s souls are for eternity.

Vision and Purpose involves others. It requires us to become “others focused” and not “self-focused”. How do you help the people around you grow and improve? Provide for their families? How do you teach, lead, and succeed together. How do you disciple people in a marketplace environment?

Exemplary Leader praises highly and in public while criticize constructively and in private. The way you praise and criticize others can make all the difference.

Publicly praising the people who do excellent work for you will feel a sense of accomplishment and the drive to do even better.

When someone does something wrong, offer constructive criticism and do it privately. Suggest solutions on how they can improve and take the time to answer any questions. They’ll accept your input more willingly if they know it’s done to help and not to harm.

Exemplary Leaders make it a point to understand their people. You can’t truly lead a group of people unless you truly understand their hopes, dreams, struggles, pains, and goals. All the good intentions in the world mean nothing unless you have a true sense of the people you’re working with.

Getting to know each other on a personal level will strengthen the bond between you. They’ll want to do better for you because you’re more than just a “boss”, you care.

Be their leader, first, and their friend second. You’re their leader and that means that you have to make difficult decisions from time to time. These decisions cannot be affected by personal relationships.

Choose your emotional response to a situation carefully. Sometimes you’ll need to practice the art of silencing your inner thoughts when they’re not appropriate in order to set a positive example. “Be still and know (recognize, understand) that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth.” One way we exalt God is by the way we treat others with love and compassion. Make the hard call. There are times when you have to bite the bullet and make some unpleasant decisions. Firing, demoting, and holding people accountable for their actions can be very hard at times. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to handle these matters. Being Christ like in how you handle it is how you please and honor God.

No matter where your leadership role takes you, believe that you can be a strong leader. Remember that in order to lead others, you must be disciplined yourself. After all, your actions will speak louder than anything you can say.

In order to gain the respect of others and honor God in the process, strive to lead by Christ’s example in every area of your life. You’ll be well on your way to becoming an Exemplary Leader!

“You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You—in both inclination and character], because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation].”

4 Reasons Why it is Important to Grow as a Leader

How many of you were enthralled by watching the Summer Olympics in 2012? I know I am. It was thrilling to watch the Fab Five win the gold in gymnastics, Michael Phelps winning gold and then losing gold by centiseconds in two of his individual events, and who didn’t fall in love with Missy Franklin, the swimming sensation and sweetheart from Colorado? Despite all of their natural ability they worked hard to hone their craft. I wonder what kind of leaders we would be, if we devoted as much time and energy to grow as these Olympians did?

As I prepared to attend a recent leadership summit, I thought about why I carve out time to hone my craft. Growing as a leader does the following:

  1. It raises my game. There is nothing like the stress of working hard to break through a plateau and reaching a higher level of performance. Several years ago I could barely bike 20 miles at any one time. Today I’ve completed several century rides and think nothing of going out for a 50-mile bike ride. Certainly part of this improvement was achieved by practicing, but I also needed to learn more about pedal stroke efficiency, interval training, heart rate training and the things I needed to do off the bike to become a stronger and better rider.   The same is true of leadership – we practice every day, but what are we doing to improve our game? 
  1. It motivates others to follow me. People are not interested in following leaders who are stagnant. They are much more interested in following leaders who are energized and have great ideas and vision that expands over time. Certainly character and competence are prerequisites if we expect others to follow us, but if we’re not growing, the people we lead will soon become disinterested in following.
  1. It helps me identify my blind spots. We all have blind spots. The other day I was talking to my coach about an area of improvement I saw in someone else. As we processed the issue, it became clear that I had a blind spot that was preventing me from addressing the issue in a timely manner. It reminded me again that leadership is not a solo sport; we need other people to help us identify what we can’t see in ourselves. Input from others helps me see things from a different perspective.
  1. It helps me reach my God-given potential. Don’t we all long to be all that God created us to be? Part of this includes being intentional about our growth and seek opportunities for growth. There is a 2012 60-Minutes interview with Michael Phelps. After the 2008 Olympics, he spent little time in the pool. He didn’t practice to to point where his coach didn’t know if he was going to make it to the Olympics despite his natural talent. Michael’s challenge was to learn to grow beyond the accolades and medals he previously won.

Being a great leader takes discipline and diligence, even in the face of success. You can be good at what you do, but you can never be all that God intended until you cooperate with His purposes and are intentional about your growth and development.

Share Your Thoughts: What types of things do you do to develop your leadership and your character?