One of the blessings of my role at Popeyes is the opportunity I have to meet and learn from amazing leaders. This week was exceptional, meeting 10 leaders in four very different businesses: CEO of General Electric, Jeff Immelt; former U.S. President, George W. Bush; CEO, Jim Haudan of Root Inc., a firm that helps companies execute strategy through people; and last but not least, the entire executive team of Southwest Airlines.
As I listened carefully to these leaders, a theme emerged: Leaders who have a clear goals and clear principles make better decisions and deliver better results.
“There are three constants in life … change, choice and principles.”~ Stephen Covey
The lesson from GE was about the recent turnaround of a division of the company, GE Capital – Franchise Finance. A few years ago, a new leader was put in place at this business unit, Agustin Carcoba. His charge was to grow the company’s loan portfolio in restaurant franchising. His principle was come alongside the middle market customer and help them grow their business. Today, middle market customers are getting more value from this team and GE Capital – Franchise Finance is prospering again.
The lesson from the former President was about a goal to reduce the spread of AIDS in Africa. Bush launched an initiative in 2003 called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR). The principle was simple – we must help save lives. When the program began, fewer than 50,000 HIV-infected people on the African continent were receiving the anti-retro-viral drugs that keep the virus in check and halt the progression toward full-blown AIDS. By the time Bush left office, the number had increased to nearly 2 million. Today, the United States is directly supporting anti-retro-viral treatment for more than 4 million men, women and children worldwide, primarily in Africa.
The lesson from Root Inc. was about leading people to improved performance. Jim Haudan said, “If the goal is to change the performance of your company, the principle is listen carefully to the people and let them invent the changes required.” He then showed case studies from companies like Hampton Inn and Petco evidencing that when people feel valued and involved in a change in strategy, people actually change their actions and perform better.
The lesson from Southwest Airlines was about providing low-cost travel that is a pleasant experience. With this as the goal, the principle is take good care of the people who work for you. Southwest has an internal care team that contacts employees to celebrate or support them in life – a child’s graduation, a family member illness, a birthday, to name a few. These caring acts towards employees have created a company known for caring employees who provide a pleasant low-cost travel experience to their customers.
Leaders have clear goals and clear principles. When they do, decisions are easier and more effective.