Season 1, Ep. 3: An Interview with Tim Tassopoulos

Join Daniel and Tim Tassopoulos, President and COO of Chick-fil-A, as they discuss team effectiveness—and how ultimately it is driven by self-leadership. Learn how Chick-fil-A invests in the deep belief that leadership development fuels an organization’s overall effectiveness and apply Tim’s tips to your own leadership—whether it be self, team, organization—or all three areas.

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(We use an audio transcription service so please disregard any errors below.)

Daniel Harkavy (00:02):

I’m Daniel Harkavy and welcome to Questioning Leadership. This podcast is produced by Building Champions and for the past 25 years, I and my team here at Building Champions have been helping top business leaders to improve the way they live and lead. The purpose of this podcast is to be curious, and to really unpack what it means to be a great leader. And we get to learn from some of the best top leaders in diverse industries, all over America. In this episode, I get to spend some time questioning leadership with my good friend, Tim topless. Tim’s been a client and friend for how a decade and a half. And in this conversation, I am absolutely confident that you will glean some new thinking and some tactics that can help you to be a more effective leader listening. Well, Hey everybody, thank you for joining me. In another episode of questioning leadership, I am incredibly excited about the conversation that I get to now have with my very good friend for the last probably 15 years or so, a client and a real business partner. And that is Mr. Tim Tassopoulos. Tim, it is great to have you with me today.

Tim Tassopoulos (01:25):

Thanks Daniel. Great to be with you.

Daniel Harkavy (01:28):

Well you and I, as always happens, you know, you and I can talk leadership all day long and we can talk life all day long. And I am really looking forward to the conversation that we get to have because Tim, I so respect you. I so respect you as a leader and as a man, as a husband and a father, and as a friend, I have really grown as a result of our relationship over the past 15 years or so. So let’s jump in. You know, I say at building champions better humans make for better leaders. And I would love for our listeners to understand a little bit about you as a human. So maybe share three to five things with those joining us that would help them to understand who you are.

Tim Tassopoulos (02:17):

Thanks, Daniel. And, you know, I’m just so grateful for our friendship. So background for me, I am a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but I’m, Greek-American second generation, all four grandparents immigrated from Greece in the early 19 hundreds. And so that’s a strong ethnic identity for me. My faith is most important to me. I’m a Christian and active in the Greek Orthodox church and had been a lifetime member of the faith and the church, and still very active in terms of education background, I’m a liberal arts graduate, went to Oglethorpe university, a small private liberal arts college in Atlanta, and then a graduate school MBA from Georgetown university in DC career. I been part of Chick-fil-A for 44 years. I started as an hourly restaurant team member in Atlanta and worked for Chick-fil-A in some capacity through college graduate school. And now full-time as part of our, what we call support center staff.

Tim Tassopoulos (03:15):

It’s the corporate side of the business and a family. So married the Maria 30 years she’s also by the way, Greek American and she’s also active in our church and two sons Lucas 25, who’s actually on a ship right now in the middle of the Pacific he’s in the Navy as a junior officer and Nicholas is 23 and he is headed to LA in about six weeks to start his acting and writing career. And we’re excited about that and personal hobbies. I love to read, read every morning every night and I’m a big college basketball fan and of course being a Georgetown graduate school grad and Maria is a Duke grad. And so the news about coach K’s retirement was big news around our house yesterday. So anyway, we’re a big college basketball fans and I love that sport.

Daniel Harkavy (04:10):

Great overview. And as you just mentioned, your beautiful bride of 30 years I really do consider the double date dinners over the years at the different locations to be one of the highlights in our relationship. And then now knowing that these men of yours are where they are. And I just think back, you know, a decade and a half ago as them being young boys. And it’s just, it’s neat, Tim, it’s neat to to see how your family continues to grow in such amazing ways. And then there’s the, the whole faith piece and your college piece and the involvement that you still have. You know, you’re involved with both of those. If I remember correctly you know, Oglethorpe as well. So Chick-fil-A, you’re on the podcast because Tim, you’re an amazing leader and you’ve, you’ve had quite the career. And right now you have a platform as you serve the business in your current role.

Daniel Harkavy (05:10):

And we are we’re recording this here 15, 16 months after the beginning of the pandemic started. And you’ve had quite the journey and leading Chick-fil-A from really March through today, you know, as you’ve joined us in our CEO round table, you’ve been, you’ve been accompanied with CEOs and presidents who, who over the past year or so lead their businesses and experience immense headwinds and others. Great tailwinds Chick-fil-A you guys had a, quite the year we did. What, what was what was leading like for you over the past 15 months or so, as you had so many of your folks that were frontline and working day in and day out in the, and then the majority of your corporate staff not coming together and working virtually what’d you learn and how has that experience?

Tim Tassopoulos (06:05):

So, first of all, thanks for the encouragement. And I have to say it is an honor to work with amazing leaders like our owner-operators and our support center staff and the team members of owner-operators. And then of course, what a blessing to be part of a business that’s owned by the Cathy family. And they were so supportive as we went through the pandemic with encouragement resources and just foundation. So what’s interesting about how Chick-fil-A has done through the pandemic. And we were very fortunate that with some pretty significant revenue challenges in the first four to six weeks we bounced back pretty quickly. And by the end of the year, we actually hit what we had hoped might happen for 2020 before we even knew there was going to be a pandemic, which we thought was an incredible blessing. And then 2021 is continued with that significant growth for most restaurants.

Tim Tassopoulos (06:59):

It’s not everyone but most, and we’ve gotten a lot of attention, honestly, whether it’s in the industry from our own board of directors and others about how well we pivoted. And it’s interesting because to some extent we didn’t really pivot. We just doubled down on what we were already invested in. And we were just very fortunate that what we already invested in paid off. Let me give you examples. So we’d invested in draft through in a really significant way. And when dining rooms closed, we were fortunate that we had systems and we had focus on the draft through it paid off, we’d invested early in customer digital. So whether it was our mobile app, the interaction between a team member and a guest on site, and that paid off, we’d invested in delivery. And that began to, as we all know, change eating habits for people all over the country and even the world, and we’d invested in restaurant capacity and we needed it because the business did grow in a really significant way.

Tim Tassopoulos (08:04):

So, you know, Daniel and kind of Stephen Covey, Dwight Eisenhower, they all talk about quadrant one, quadrant two quadrant three quadrant four in terms of time management. But first things first, it was interesting because I saw this lesson lived out when you, when you make quadrant two decisions, those that are important, but not urgent when you’re in that quadrant one crisis situation where everything’s important and urgent, you can actually lean on the foundation of those things that you invested in, in quadrant two. And they, they paid off in a crisis. So that’s exactly what happened at Chick-fil-A. And really the challenge for us now is to continue to think ahead, what are the next quadrant two decisions we need to make for the business of what’s important and not urgent, even in the midst of hyper growth, really that we’re experiencing versus the downside that we were faced from a challenge standpoint with a pandemic. So lots of lessons learned and lots of reminders of lessons that we should be paying attention to on an ongoing basis.

Daniel Harkavy (09:14):

Spots gives me so many different entry points into conversations that we could have that I think would be really valuable for those that are joining us. And, you know, you talk about these quadrant two decisions paying off when you’re in quadrant, one times you don’t make quadrant two decisions unless you have a discipline, which is the result of a deep belief as a leader in strategic bets in thinking about what moves us from where we are today to that organization, that we can be and will be that we see later on that vision piece. And, you know, strategic bets is a term that, you know, I I made that one of my perspectives in the seven perspectives of effective leaders, and I credit you for being the one that I first heard it from. And I can tell you where you were you, I mean, we were at one of your corporate gatherings at seminar or next, whichever it was called, and you talked about it. So you just unpacked a few. What I would say were strategic bets for you folks with drive-through with mobile app, with delivery, you thought about those way before a pandemic and those, they paid off big time in the past year. What what’s your definition for a strategic bet?

Tim Tassopoulos (10:33):

So strategic that I think is essential for leaders and organizations and a strategic bet is a disproportionate investment of time, energy effort, financial resources, attention, which is a cure. I mean, just absolutely critical resource to it where you, you put that disproportionate investment in an area that you believe will pay off well for the future. It’s a future oriented investment and it’s disproportionate, and it may not be a measurable goal. And what I mean by that is it’s not exactly the same as say our good friend, Jim Collins talks about BHAG big, hairy, audacious goals. And Jim’s insight about BX is powerful because it really pulls people towards the future. Strategic bet is, is, is a little different in that it’s, you know, often two or three the most might be six or seven for an organization over an extended period of time.

Tim Tassopoulos (11:32):

And you say, what is the compelling investment we want to make, where we literally doubled down on an area of business that we think is going to have a disproportionate positive outcome. So for example, a couple that we’ve already mentioned that you alluded to drive through as a strategic bet for Chick-fil-A. We, we invested technology operators made their strategic bets on draft three in freestanding locations. Another strategic bet honestly, is hospitality. We, we feel like that’s been part of our DNA, so it’s not as if it was new to Chick-fil-A our founder Truett, Cathy was famous for his commitment to hospitality, but under Dan Cathy’s leadership and organizational focus, we took it to the next level. And that’s what we call second mile service. And it is it’s grounded and actually comes right from Jesus Matthew, 5:41 sermon on the Mount.

Tim Tassopoulos (12:29):

And when asked go one mile, go the second. And so whether it was flowers on the table or four or six team members out in a drive through taking orders in advance, all of that’s that commitment to hospitality. Now what’s interesting is that committed to hospitality also benefits throughput. So there’s some, there’s some multiplying effect there, and that’s part of the value of a strategic bet. So drive through customer digital, as I mentioned earlier, second mile service, but there’s also, there’s one ultimate strategic bet that we’ve made at Chick-Filet. And it’s called bet on leadership. And I know this is close to your heart Daniel, but we just, we just believed that ultimately organizational effectiveness is grounded in leadership effectiveness. And so that we bet on leadership. In fact if you think about the Chick-fil-A business model, our owner operators that own their own business, you know, ultimately they’re leaders of businesses that are engaged in the community, those team members, they work for those owner operators. They don’t work for Chick-fil-A. They worked for that in their operator. And then those operators, they bet on their leaders and they invest in those leaders. And when we do the same at our support center, and I love how Dan Cathy says it, he sort of uses this quote. He says, Chick-fil-A is a leadership development company disguised as a restaurant business. And you know, that’s actually true. And it’s because we think that’s an ongoing strategic bet for Chick-fil-A

Daniel Harkavy (14:03):

Has paid off. You know, you look at what it is that you’ve all created with your focus on those bets and how it has impacted not just the business’s performance, but the communities in which you operate. It’s, it’s pretty profound. Tim yesterday really warm in Portland and some young family folks, you know, friends came over and they were swimming in the pool and this little guy had been in the pool all afternoon. He’s probably like maybe coming up on two years old. So he’s starting to communicate, you can put a sentences together, right. And one of our daughters asked, so what are you going to go do now? And he, his eyes lit up and he’s like, we’re going to go to chick filet. And he was excited.

Daniel Harkavy (14:51):

I’m thinking, oh my gosh. I mean, here’s this less than two-year-old. And he’d been swimming all day long. I saw more excitement in his response to where he was going to eat than I did with him, swimming in a pool all day long. So well, you guys are doing it right that strategic bet, the definition of strategic bets. So critical, you look at organizations that fail and executing on strategy. I really believe it’s. They don’t see strategy as a bet. They don’t ground it in current reality, they don’t connect it to that long-term vision. And then they don’t make those disproportionate and investments that you talk about. So let’s talk to leaders right now. I know that we have leaders listening to us that can be leading globals, and we can have young leaders that are aspiring and they want to, they really want to develop as leaders. So I’m going to take you into a couple of different directions. One just has to do with your own disciplines as a leader and your ability to think about strategy. You’ve had library days for as long as I can remember. I know those are where you do a lot of your strategic thinking. You’re a busy guy running this organization, tell us how you, you get the time or make the time to think about the future.

Tim Tassopoulos (16:09):

So, one of the things before thinking about those leadership disciplines I really start with personal disciplines. And so I’ve been pretty intentional, you know, you and I both are fans of life planning. And early on when I started doing life planning, one of the early commitments I made was daily devotion time. And so I have that personal habit every day. First thing in the morning, prayer time scripture, really thinking deeply, I read every morning, every evening, even if it’s just for a few minutes, because it’s a little, every day adds up to a lot over time, but those personal disciplines are really important. Another key personal discipline is what I call solo time, where I take an hour a week planning next week’s most important activities. It’s where I try to shift from daily to do’s to weekly goals, because I think that’s the way to pull up out of the activity trap.

Tim Tassopoulos (17:05):

And then it leads to some of these leadership disciplines, as you’re talking about, which one of the keys is library days. It’s one to two days per month, actually in a public library. It’s the only place where I can be away. You know, not only from our support center or restaurants that I’m in or other places that actually I don’t get the phone calls or, you know, it’s needed. I can really think it’s quiet. It’s even less distracting than be at home. I always think about, you know, can I go unload the dishwasher, you know, throw some clothes in the washing machine. So it’s just really important in that library day. It’s not a catch-up day. It’s actually an accountability day where I look at how I’ve done in the last month. And then where am I headed for the next 90 days? And all of that is based on my life plan that has an annual plan that I actually review regularly with that library day and then the solo time once a week.

Tim Tassopoulos (18:04):

And then one of the other things for me about the reading is I think it’s important for leaders to have disciplines for learning, for growth based on what their giftedness and what their orientation is. I do love to read I learn a lot from reading biographies, leadership books like yours, and yes, I’ve done conferences and I love those. I love personal experiences, but for me, I actually do get a lot from the things that I read. And so I invest that I actually capture lessons learned from those things and I put them in that annual plan. And when I’m in the library, I review those lessons learned on a monthly basis. And it’s just to try to build that awareness. So some would argue I’m a kind of over the top and some of these disciplines and habits, and maybe so, but for me, here’s the thing I get off track, but I actually feel okay getting off track because I actually know where the track is. Yeah. It’s, it’s sort of like, okay, I know that’s where I’m supposed to be going. And that’s what the track looks like. And so when I do get off track, I don’t get quite as stressed because I know that I’ll pull back and where to pull back to versus I’m just sort of lost about this. So again, it’s a little bit of a confidence builder, knowing that it’s going to be pretty challenging from a schedule standpoint on a day-to-day week-to-week month-to-month standpoint,

Daniel Harkavy (19:31):

You know, listeners, as you hear that there’s, there was just a gem shared that I believe can be one of the most impactful truths for you leaders. And I see it as one that gets compromised on as leaders climb the ladder, they become more influential, their responsibility grows their demands increase. And what oftentimes goes is that high, high commitment to thinking time, to sitting back and carving out a day or two, like you do a month to go somewhere where you’re uninterrupted and to just think not to catch up, but to feed the mind. And when you look at a leader’s greatest responsibility as our friend, Dr. Henry cloud says it, a leader’s greatest responsibility is to think well, and then to create an environment where the leaders on the team can think well, and if you don’t have that discipline, you find yourself so often in reactive mode. And then you get these little shower snippets of thinking time, or when you’re driving and that’s good, but it’s not great. And that discipline that you’ve had for years and years of library time, the discipline of your morning routine the discipline of reading every day over decades, they pay off.

Tim Tassopoulos (20:59):

I think for people that may not be, you know, as wired towards written goals or Gus, the idea of a life plan is kind of daunting. I kind of think back to where I started, which I have to give credit to my owner-operator Gary, get us. Who’s had a huge impact on my life. I was a college sophomore, and he gave me a set of cassette tapes. Now you’re talking about how far back this is, but have a motivational speaker, Zig Ziegler who talked about the goal setting. And then he also gave me a tape of Lou Holtz talking about a hundred you know, lifetime goals. And and it was pretty impactful in the sense that it made me think about thinking ahead probably has some value. And at that point, you know, we didn’t have computers or iPads or blackberries or anything.

Tim Tassopoulos (21:45):

And I had the little brown day at a glance calendar that could fit in your pocket. And the back of it had a one section that just said notes. And I remember I was a sophomore in college and I wrote down my first couple of just like, if I had any life goals, what would they be? And so it kind of started with those few scratched out goals in the back of a data glance calendar. And it’s it over time developed to a written life plan and an annual retreat that I go every year in the fall for two days by myself, just to say, you know what, in each area of life, what do I need to focus on in the next 12 months? That’s part of the life plan. I mean, I didn’t start with that stuff. It’s just developed over time, but my encouragement is just start somewhere with the idea of looking ahead and trying to think about what’s the unique giftedness that God’s given me, and what’s the unique contribution I can make and try to translate it and says that some goals and practices that you think can make a difference.

Tim Tassopoulos (22:45):

So that’d be my courage of this.

Daniel Harkavy (22:48):

Well, you and I have so many of the same practices and you know, I think back when I first started taking what I call on days, which your library days, right? And I was 30 years old and had just moved to Oregon. And I remember my first summer of trying to have a Friday discipline of on days every Friday. And I remember one Friday in particular, as you know, I live outside of Portland and I used to live in lake Oswego. Now I live just a little further south, but I was on the lake on my boat. And I brought three different projects that I wanted to be thinking about. And I put the boat out in the middle of the lake and I’m sitting out there and there’s beautiful homes that are, you know, all within I’s side away. And I was such a spazz still am, but even more spastic at the age 31.

Daniel Harkavy (23:43):

And I remember trying to focus and I was kind of like on a hamster wheel, I would go to the front of the boat where I was going to focus on project when I’d go to the middle of the boat project too. And then the back of the boat project three, we’re not talking about a yacht, we’re talking about a 21 foot speed, right? And I’m like, oh, I don’t want to focus on this. I want to go focus on this. And I couldn’t settle my busy mind. And finally, I just had to sit on the very back of the boat and lay down and just pray. I’m like, oh, come on, calm this thing down. Because I, at the time launching building champions, there was so much to do and so much to think about, but just developing that discipline of just show up some on days or library days are so fruitful and productive and others are, can be a struggle. So if this is new to you, don’t quit. If it’s a struggle, you might find yourself on a hamster wheel, just stay with it. Because today my on days are beautiful. Most of the time I show up, I have what I want to think about work on, pray about, and I go, and I shut down all the other noise and I just have the ability to focus, but that’s, as a soon to be 57-year-old, when I was 31, it was different.

Tim Tassopoulos (24:50):

Well, one thing I’ll add Daniel environment matters, you know, the place that you want to both disconnect and go deep. And so that’s why I go to the library. My retreat days, I go to the north Georgia mountains and we really try to get away. And even the solo time I encourage our operators. I, I’m very fortunate. I get to, to be part of every new operators, initial training experience. And one of the things I talk about is this principle some of the time, and I’d just encourage them. Don’t do it in the Chick-fil-A 90 minutes. Don’t do it in your dining room. You know, it’s a great excuse to go to Krispy Kreme or Starbucks or Dunkin donuts, whichever is your favorite. But to get, have to get out of your own environment, I think to actually look back at your environment and say, what do I need to do differently? It’s a, there’s a common expression around Chick-fil-A are you working in your business or on your business and changing your environment can help you have the right mindset to like I’m working on my business instead of in it,

Daniel Harkavy (25:48):

That’s something we’ve been coaching on back in 1996, I wrote an article on that in your business, on your business and off, and what are and growth time. And I called it the daily routine. So Tim, you and I have been talking about so much of it has to do with self-leadership and we’ve had conversations over the years around how self-leadership always precedes team effectiveness and team effectiveness, always precedes organizational impact. You’re working in all three of those realms all the time. You don’t ever graduate from the topic of self-leadership because who we are as humans and how we lead ourselves, you and I would both agree that plays the greatest role on how effective we are with our teams. And then overall, what kind of impact we have as leaders and co-leaders with our teammates on the overall organization. So what are your thoughts on that?

Tim Tassopoulos (26:38):

So, first of all, I completely agree with your premise and here’s the way that I try to communicate. In fact, you sort of think about this as a little bit of an equation in, if you start from the right and go back to the left, you know, it was always organizational effectiveness is on the right and you ask the question. So what’s the driver, what’s the multiplier that constraint organizational effectiveness. It is team effectiveness. You know, people talk about Chick-fil-A often in very affirming terms. Well, it’s really all about Chick-fil-A’s individual owner-operators and their teams. And it’s the, it’s the, the performance of those teams rolled up. That’s the key multiplier or the constraint for organizational effectiveness, but what drives team effectiveness to me, it’s leadership effectiveness and teams really do reflect the effectiveness of the leader. And so that’s where building leadership capability is so important.

Tim Tassopoulos (27:34):

Obviously, leadership character vitally important, but what drives leadership effectiveness. And so you go to the beginning of the equation to the left is personal effectiveness. And that personal effectiveness is, is so key. And that’s where we talked about some of these daily disciplines and some of the the kinds of things on a weekly and a monthly basis that are critical. So if you’re trying to make an organization more effective, you can’t leave out one link of the chain. And so if you’re trying to impact, you got to think about how are we raising the bar on the organizational effectiveness with things like shared vision team effectiveness with what are the right collaboration capabilities to build, of course, leadership effectiveness. And then ultimately don’t just assume, well, you know, personal effectiveness, that’s everybody’s own choice. I can’t, I can’t really, you know, set an example for that or coach to that, or have expectations about that.

Tim Tassopoulos (28:34):

Well, that’s true. You can choose not to do that, but that’ll actually impact the effectiveness of the organization at some point. And so that’s why I think all of those links in that chain matter, or each of those variables in an equation. And for me, they’re just key drivers. And you ask about a couple of, of, of sort of key disciplines are self-leadership. I do think that as a leader, you have to remember that there’s a fuel, so organizational effectiveness and it’s shared vision. I mean, that’s the ultimate fuel is shared vision last tomorrow, going to be better than today and how does everybody come together to help make that happen? And so part of that self-leadership is okay, what’s my role for shared vision for the team. What’s my role for the organization. And so just an example for me, when I had my latest role at Chick-fil-A, I really spent time thinking library day, like what are going to be my just top priorities?

Tim Tassopoulos (29:41):

And I picked three, and they’re still holding true today. Strategic clarity, trying to put emphasis on that shared vision, healthy growth, because growth is like oxygen for organizations, but it’s gotta be healthy. And then the last one is leadership development and succession, and it’s the driver of the first two over the long term. So part of that leadership effectiveness, part of that shared leadership is knowing what your priorities, your strategic bets are, so that actually you can help make those happen. Organizationally, whatever those organizational strategic bets and priorities are versus being a constraint on it. So let’s just kind of a view of that premise of yours that I completely concur with.

Daniel Harkavy (30:26):

Yeah. As I listened to you, and then I reflect on the comment you made the quote from Dan Cathy, we’re a leadership development company disguised as a, you know, a restaurant or a chicken business. You know what I’ve observed over the past 15 years, as one who has had the privilege of journeying with you as well as many on your executive team and hundreds of operators that we’ve coached over the years is I, I want the listeners to understand, I don’t know if I have ever seen an organization that has put so much emphasis and investment into leadership development. I don’t think I have ever been around a business and that, that has done to the degree you have. And as you know, some of our clients are they’re big. I mean, you’ve got some pharma companies that just have massive, massive capital and manufacturing firms.

Daniel Harkavy (31:14):

And when I look at the investment that stems from the very deep belief, that leadership development and these frameworks, these beliefs around self-leadership team effectiveness, organizational effectiveness, this is stuff that’s people. This is not something that Tim’s just talking about in our interview. Here. There are strategies, there are tools, there are partnerships, there is so much focus on the development of leaders. They really are a leadership development company. And you think about it. How does an organization where you look at the average age of those working in the delivery system and the supply chain, what’s the average age of a teammate in, in a restaurant. Yeah. So what you’ve got is you’ve got a cult following that takes place of interactions and effectiveness of young adults who are teenagers, right? And you’ve created this, this brand where, like I said, a few minutes ago, you got two-year-olds who can’t wait to go there and then their parents and everybody else is excited about it as well. It’s pretty phenomenal.

Tim Tassopoulos (32:25):

Well, we’re blessed. And I have to say so much a Chick-fil-A is grounded in the founder. I mean, true Kathy’s person, his identity, the way he did business. I mean, I just think today about some things he decided decades ago. I mean, first and foremost, closing on Sunday, his 24-hour, six day a week, not seven days a week restaurant that he opened in 1946. He, he closed on Sunday then. And of course every Chick-fil-A restaurant and every other concept associated with Truett is closed on Sunday since then. It’s just, he says it he used to say the best business decision he ever made was closing on Sunday. And of course he made it for non-business reasons. But I think it’s just such a commitment to caring for team members, for family and friends, and being able to spend time with them that they will worship if someone chooses to do that.

Tim Tassopoulos (33:19):

But that’s what we’re, we’re grounded, we’re built on. And then on the leadership front Truett from the very beginning had this unique idea of a Chick-fil-A owner operator where an owner-operator is a franchisee, just like any other franchise system in the country, except their capital investments, relatively limited, compared to most other franchise organizations, why the customer felt like the franchise or had some access to capital and an idea from a business concept. And what he was really looking for was the person who wanted to be an entrepreneur, wanted to be in business for themselves, but not by themselves. And so he, he had this idea really in the, in the mid sixties of I can help people go into business and they’ll express their leadership and we equip support. But we’re in business. That’s why it’s called the support center. We’re in business to support these leaders. And those leaders will develop other leaders. And by the way, a high percentage of future owner-operators have actually started out as hourly restaurant team members check like restaurants because they see what they’re, owner-operators done and they want to, they want to have similar opportunities. So it’s kind of a virtual cycle in that regard.

Daniel Harkavy (34:38):

Pretty amazing. You know, one of the things that impressed me and I wrote about it 15 years ago and becoming a coaching leader. So I remember my first time on corporate campus and seeing the name badges back then, and the average years of tenure on everybody’s name, badge, and the gentleman who picked me up at the airport and drove me to the campus. You know, he was 27 years and the guy that greeted me at the front desk, she was 22 years. And then somebody gave me a tour of the lobby and showed me all the cars. And they were like 19 years and then meeting the executive team and everybody, it was decades there. And all of that, I think birthed out of those deep convictions, that true it had and what he wanted to create. And what I would want listeners to hear is that I am absolutely confident that the leaders that are the most effective and who have the greatest impact in their organization and then in the communities, in which they operate are leaders who take the time to get really clear on those convictions and on their purpose.

Daniel Harkavy (35:40):

And those are not a slogan that get talked about one time and are then made into neat posters. They become part of the DNA of the organization and they impact everything from hiring and selection to investment and strategy. Every single thing is birthed out of those convictions and the purpose and, and Tim that’s what you’re speaking about. Your founder was a man of deep conviction and clarity of purpose, and you’re living it out.

Tim Tassopoulos (36:06):

He was, and I’ll tell you one that is often unnoticed in terms of his convictions. And you’ll love this. Cause you talk about, you know, being human Truett, Cathy treated people as whole persons, he thought about your family. He thought about your education. He cared about your, your health, your emotional health, spiritual health, mental health, not in a parental way, or, oh, I’ve got to make sure this person’s got all that figured out because there’ll be a better employee for me. You know, it wasn’t about that. He just cared. And so whether it was investing in scholarships or the fact that spouses come to every one of our annual as we call it a seminar, next that we call it today. That there’s that time off on Sunday. All of that was because he cares about people and he cared about people as whole persons. I just think it’s just really a great example for all of us. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the restaurant, business, selling stocks, bonds, cars, or anything else. I think that’s a great way to treat customers. And you’re on staff.

Daniel Harkavy (37:17):

Partners because I’ll tell you the first time I sat down with him, one-on-one his interest in Daniel Harkavy, it was Daniel Harkavy it, wasn’t Building Champions. And what are you doing with our company? It was who are you? And I felt that genuine care. And at that time he was probably late eighties and still coming into the office and still be in him. And I think, you know, you look back at who we are today at building champions. And we have a core principle that is better humans make for better leaders. And when we, as humans get to engage the brain and all of the learning, all of the competence, all of the tactical execution that is required for leadership effectiveness. When we get to engage the brain after it has been connected to, and directly linked to the heart of the leader, now we can make a real difference, but the heart of the leader has to be one who truly cares about people and you can’t go learn that in a class you either do, or you don’t.

Daniel Harkavy (38:21):

And if people are listening to us and they’re going, and they’re thinking they’re having this conversation, I just don’t care about people that much. Well, then that’s your opportunity is to ask yourself why. And, and I’ve been so impacted over the by leaders like Truett. You’ve met one of our clients, Martin Daum, who is the chairman of Daimler. And you know, I remember Martin saying Daniel, I don’t see, I don’t see the tops of people’s heads. And I don’t see their chins. I see their eyes. And, and he would always tell me stories of how, when he was the CEO of Daimler trucks and bus north America, multi-billion dollar organization, and now, you know, the head of globally, he would so enjoy his conversations back in the day, going into the mail room and talking to the individual that was sorting the mail. And he knew everything about him. He knew everything about the janitorial staff and, you know, you link those types of stories where these leaders have had such significant success like truant. I mean, such impact in so many people’s lives. The leader just cares. Listen, I mean, there’s something there. And I think that it’s hard today because we find ourselves so busy and we’re so compressed that it’s actually harder to sit back and care, which is why library days are key.

Tim Tassopoulos (39:37):

It is. And you know, there’s a lot of attention and should be on emotional, mental, spiritual health right now. It’s vitally important today and into the future, but it’s grounded in ancient wisdom. You know, we know above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. And so we have to stay healthy and we’re never perfectly healthy, but we’ve got to at least be pursuing that emotional, mental, spiritual health to be able to pour into others. And I think if, if we’re not investing in that, I think it’s likely we’re gonna end up being more selfish and less caring. And so that’s why I think it’s really, it’s very important.

Daniel Harkavy (40:18):

It’s everything, Tim. All right. I like to ask these last couple of questions to all of my questioning leadership guests. I probably have 15 more questions. I want to run by you, but I want to be respectful of your time, as well as our listeners. You now serve in one of the highest roles at Chick-fil-A. You are responsible for everything in your role. And I know that’s not a comfortable statement for you, but as president, as one, who’s responsible for not only the development of strategy, the managing of the business, the resourcing and the results, that’s your job. You’ve been at it for a long time. How was your career impacted your personal life and what have you learned along the way? The good and possibly the bad?

Tim Tassopoulos (41:08):

I don’t think there’s any question that the premise of stewardship is fundamental to. That I was very fortunate to grow up in a family. My parents very active in the life of the church. They were not financially well off to be clear, but they were committed to stewardship. It was part of everything we learned in our family. And it wasn’t common phrase outside of my fame. I didn’t hear it talked about in many places, but stewardship of time, talent, treasure, it was just a big deal in the house with my mom and dad. And then, you know, I get to be part of Chick-fil-A and we’re so blessed that Chick-fil-A has got a corporate purpose that let’s say it’s a little unique to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all this entrusted to us and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A in our stewardships, right at the heart of that.

Tim Tassopoulos (42:02):

And if you’re pursuing faithful stewardship, you can, again, glorify God with that and you can have a positive influence, but you have to remember that life is a stewardship that we’re giving gifts and it’s true at work. And it’s true at home. It’s true in the community and acknowledging what are the gifts that you’ve been given and how do you multiply those gifts? Not for your own credit, but actually to honor those who gave you those gifts. And so for me, that’s part of what I’ve seen happen at work, because I’ve seen a business that’s, that’s grounded in that purpose and it’s really sort of a affirmation of how I grew up and what I learned. And so I’ve just tried to put that into practice. You know, I’ve been very blessed Daniel, and I mean, you know this cause you know me well, but you know, I’ve been very fortunate to have people like Truett to have my owner operator gear, to get us, to have my high school, senior English teacher that, you know, just invested in me soft things in me that I didn’t see in myself.

Tim Tassopoulos (43:10):

And I will never be able to pay them back. And so the only choice is to be a steward of the gift you’ve been given and try to pay it forward. And you hear that sometimes when you’re like, let’s say I was going to try and pay it forward. It’s like, no, but like really now that’s the deal is how can we pay it forward? And so that’s why I teach every new operator class that Chick-fil-A, it’s why when I’m on the road. And I go in a Chick-fil-A restaurant, I was a 17-year-old hourly restaurant team member. I greet every team member on the floor and I ask every one of them, what’s your name? How long have you been at Chick-fil-A? And then when I leave, it’s an intentional, Hey, you know, thank you goodbye. And it’s not just a practice it’s because that’s what Gary did for me. When I was 17, he told me, thank you at the end of every one of my shifts. And he did it for every one of our team and it was real. And so I just want to want to apply those lessons learned and if I can share them with others in our organization, you know, that’s just a multiplier and another gift. So anyway, that’s, that’s some of what I think I’ve learned and applied,

Daniel Harkavy (44:19):

It was so good. So people listening, you know, you hear Tim and I, and we have alignment and faith, and I want you to know what we’re talking about right now is leadership. And regardless of where you are in your faith journey, the absolute truths that were just shared around leadership, I’ve seen as a constant truth, regardless of where people are. It doesn’t matter. You know, I get to coach clients leaders of businesses who come from all different faith, angles, everything, you know, over the last 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of journeying with men and women who have, who see life so much differently. And you know, a lot of diversity and, and the truth that you just shared Tim, is I think one of the most core truths to a leader’s effectiveness. And that is what do you believe about yourself as a leader and the opportunity you have to serve versus the privilege you have of being served.

Daniel Harkavy (45:26):

And there’s a big difference there in how a leader moves a group of people forward, based upon that very core identity and belief about why they’re here and who they are and what I just heard from you, absolutely in alignment with who I know you to be, you serve an organization and your personal life is one of service. That’s why you’re here. You are here to serve fellow mankind as a result of your deep belief in who you are and who created you, and you saw it modeled with others, others transferred, hope and belief in you. They served you, they saw you and today that’s how you’re living. And I can sniff that out within five minutes in a conversation with the leader. Are you a servant or are you here to be served?

Tim Tassopoulos (46:18):

Yeah, I mean, that’s the ultimate leadership trap. Daniel is that we think leadership is synonymous with title, position and authority and even power. And that’s just not true because power is power. Authority is authority, but that’s not leadership. Leadership comes based on contribution and that contribution, not achievement, but contribution that’s essential for leadership. And so do we have to remind ourselves all the time absolutely. Any of the privileges that come with the responsibility who you towards the track? Absolutely. And so that’s why I think, you know, having people in your life that can be, truth-tellers like you are for me, but having truth tellers in your life to say, Hey, be careful. Don’t get pulled back in that trap. Don’t pull into that trap and busy-ness, doesn’t help trying to stay out of the trap. So you gotta, you gotta make sure that you can pull away,

Daniel Harkavy (47:17):

But so many wonderful gems. I am confident that those listening, whether they are colleagues and leading organizations like Chick-fil-A or others, that we have the opportunity to around the world, I am confident that those leaders, they had some, some gems and some affirming points that they can now focus on as a result of you sharing. And then I’m confident that all of those young leaders out there that want to grow in their desire to make a difference in this world. They’ve got some absolute things to think about and some tactics to execute on. So as always, your sharing will pay off. And I appreciate you. Thank you so much for joining me

Tim Tassopoulos (47:59):

Grateful for the opportunity to be together, Daniel, and really, really great for this time. I love you too, buddy. You’re a gift. Thank you.

Daniel Harkavy (48:11):

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with my good friend, Tim. He is truly a gift. He’s a phenomenal human and a phenomenal leader. And, and he’s one that when I first started testing this model in my most recent book, the seven perspectives of effective leaders, he’s one that really spoke into it in this book. I say that a leader’s effectiveness is determined by just two things. The decisions they make and the influence they have. So not only did Tim help me in the crafting of this framework, but he actually spoke in as did many other leaders on the different perspectives in the book. So if you want to learn more from Tim, pick up the book, Tim speaks to two of the perspectives that customer and your role, and he adds just fantastic insights. So you can check out the book, pick it up wherever you  download or purchase your books. And if you enjoyed this, this episode of questioning leadership, stay tuned, there’s more coming.  Of course, we would love your rating. We would love for you to share it.  We’d love to, to know how the podcast can be even better. So if you’ve got some thoughts for us, let us know. And until next week, I hope that you apply some of what we we discussed. And this helps you to elevate your leadership game, take care.

In This Episode

Tim Tassopoulos
President & COO of Chick-fil-A