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Interviewing My Boss

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to my “boss,” Mr. John Cranor, Chairman of the Popeyes board of directors. Over the last 8 years, John has been a great boss. He has challenged me, encouraged me, and listened to my ideas. He has made me feel valued and celebrated with his concern and thank yous. Now, you get to learn from this servant leader. . .

Cheryl: What were the traits of your best boss in your career?

John: The best boss I had exhibited four essential traits:

  • Shared overall goals of the business with me and my team;
  • Provided clear expectations of performance;
  • Gave feedback on a regular basis (both formal and informal); and
  • Said thank you.

The result was that I always knew what had to be done and by when. I knew how my actions “fit” into the larger context of the organization. By the same token, my boss gave me room to create the “how” of a particular assignment after we had agreed on the “what”.

My favorite boss did not “micro-manage” me or my team. Occasionally, he would check-in — asking how a project was progressing, and whether I needed any help.

When a project was completed, my boss was quick to extend both thanks and congratulations on a “job well done”. When needed, he provided suggestions on how a job might have been better executed “next time”.

Looking back at this experience, I appreciated the confidence this boss had in me. I felt trusted to make a meaningful contribution to the team.

Cheryl: We often learn the best lessons from a difficult time. What did you learn from the worst boss of your career?

John: Early in my career, when I was an Assistant Product Manager, I had a boss who was cavalier at best, as well as generally lazy. His favorite afternoon activity was to sit around and tell jokes. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I would have to be responsible for my own performance and productivity– because this boss wasn’t that interested. In this situation, I became much more proactive and often took projects or ideas to him for review and his (somewhat limited) input. Fortunately, I was soon transferred to a different brand and boss where I had more autonomy and more fun.  But I never forgot the importance of expressing interest in my team members, giving them clear expectations and coaching support along the way. It was a clarifying lesson.

Cheryl: From your vantage point as Popeyes board chair, what has made the leadership team of Popeyes successful in delivering results?

John: First, there is recognition that ours is a “shared enterprise” with our franchisees. Neither the management nor the franchise community holds a position of dominance – it is a true partnership.  Major decisions are arrived at together after thoughtful debate and discussion. Facts and analysis inform decisions instead of power plays and personal opinions. Management and franchisees “own” the outcomes. The goal is to serve the enterprise well, not self-interest.

Second, the leadership team has been selected and vetted for intelligence, functional capability and character. This team is very capable – and they also share important values of candor, integrity and collaboration. Their egos are in check. The result is one of the most effective teams I’ve observed.

Third, everyone in the company has a crystal clear understanding of the goals and objectives for the entire enterprise – it is called the Popeyes Roadmap. As a result, each function and person understands what is needed and expected of their team. They receive regular feedback on performance. They are willing to adjust when the plan isn’t working –taking action to make sure they meet the goals. This agility is ingrained in the culture.

Cheryl: What is the easiest thing to forget as a leader?  Something you constantly have to remind yourself of?

Listening carefully to others. For example, as Chairman of the Board, I must remember that each Board member brings unique capabilities to the Board table. The best outcomes occur when each member contributes his/her expertise and experience to the discussion, so that the decision reflects the input of the entire Board – not just the most vocal person. My job is to ensure that thoughtful discussion yields sound decisions. At the beginning of our board meetings, I remind myself to listen carefully for everyone’s input – seeking to bring about a robust dialog among this talented group of board members.

Cheryl: If a leader wants to leave a legacy in the people and performance of the company, what advice would you give them?

I would tell you to establish clear and measurable goals and objectives for the enterprise and each individual. Then, provide constructive feedback to the team – both positive and negative. Always recruit smart, creative, independent, honest people and give them stretch goals. Last but not least, enjoy your work and your colleagues – have fun and celebrate success!


cheryl ceo interview blogJohn Cranor is a retired CEO with an illustrious career at consumer brand companies including General Mills, Frito Lay, Wilson Sporting Goods, Taco Bell, Pepsi Cola, KFC, and Long John Silvers. He currently serves as Popeyes Board Chair.  He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a passion for education. He has served as Executive Director Center for eWorld Education (Bellarmine University), President and CEO New College Foundation, and as Tutorial Leader “Business Strategy” @ New College (8 years).

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