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Personal Purpose In Action – Lynne Zappone

Last week I shared with you the importance of knowing why you work and how you can put into words your purpose of leadership. While we’ve tried to make the process simple, knowing where to begin can often be difficult.

Over the next eight weeks, I’d like to share with you interviews with Popeyes leaders as well as leaders at other companies that are inspired by personal purpose. Leaders who have defined their purpose for leadership – a purpose that is individually unique, but has the potential to impact others in a powerful, positive way. Hopefully, in reading these stories, you will be encouraged in your journey to defining your purpose for leadership.

This week, we will begin with Lynne Zappone, chief talent officer for Popeyes. In addition to her role as Chief Talent Officer, Lynne served as our Brand ambassador when she went undercover to work the front lines in Popeyes restaurants. Her experience was featured on the CBS television series Undercover Boss which aired March 2, 2012.

Cheryl – When asked to describe yourself as a leader, what thoughts come to mind?

Lynne – I aspire to be an approachable leader. People tell me that they are comfortable coming to me to talk about their career or issues. That’s really important to me. When I went “undercover” in our company, one of the personal goals I had for myself was to see if I was still attentive and accessible to our restaurants teams. And it was so rewarding and comfortable to work side by side with our teams again. The people opened up to me. And I felt right at home.

Cheryl – So, what really motivates you about your work? What is your personal purpose?

Lynne – At first blush, everybody works to provide for their families. But, I know that I have to ENJOY work and I have to be able to contribute. For that to happen – I have to feel like I am challenged and that I can be creative, and that I am adding value in some way. Adding value to me is bringing people together so they can be more successful; creating a space that brings out the best in all. My core purpose is to build communities that bring out the best in others. And I love that because I believe if you create a space where people can feel comfortable, it brings out the best in them. They feel safe to learn, safe to reach out to others, and safe to take risks. My goal is to create communities where that magic can happen.

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
~ Mother Teresa

Cheryl – When you are doing work that is aligned with your purpose, what is it like?

Lynne – I can remember one of the best work days I’ve ever had. For some odd reason, I ended up with three appointments with three different people I was informally coaching. I remember one was offsite for breakfast in the morning; another was in the morning in the office; and another in the afternoon. I felt so energized that day because they invited me to be part of their community and their career journey. They asked me into their world to help them grow and thrive.

Cheryl – What life experiences have shaped you?

Lynne – Well, first, it would be the family I grew up in. It was a big Italian family. My parents created a place where aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers, friends gathered together. I was always surrounded by a lot of people. We didn’t have a lot, but I always felt like my life was really rich and full. So that really informs who I am.

The other very formative experience was teaching school in an urban environment. It reinforced for me the importance of meeting everybody where they are, and where they’re from. That no one is better than anybody else. That everyone has something to contribute. That also conditioned me to never feel like I was better than others, to stay humble.

Cheryl – What are your core values and principles?

Lynne – That idea of being inclusive; enjoying all kinds of people. The values of transparency and honesty. You kind of get what you get with me. When we do the values card exercise at Popeyes, I always pick integrity. I like the definition, “I am who I am, regardless of the circumstances.” I also like to have fun and be creative. Once I wrote a story for our company called The Grinch Who Stole Servant Leadership. That was fun.

Cheryl – What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received in your career?

Lynne – When I worked in the hotel business, one of the division presidents reminded me that my uniqueness added value to the work I did and made me more approachable, more authentic to people. He encouraged me to be my authentic self at work and not feel like I had to be someone else. That was important feedback to me and has helped me leverage my strengths and be true to myself.

Cheryl – How do make sure you stay “on purpose” in your daily work?

Lynne – I try to pay attention to the community, to really keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on. I walk around and ask:

  • “How are we doing?”
  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “What’s going on?”
  • “What do we need to fix?”
  • “What do we need to do better?”

It’s important to stay connected. This year, I want to be out in the restaurants and spend more time with the field people just to be connected with them. If you’re going to say you want to create communities, you have to understand your community and you have to earn the right to be in it.

Cheryl – What do you do if you find yourself straying off your purpose?

Lynne – Well recently, I realized that that maybe I was paying attention to everybody but my own team. Sometimes in Human Resources we are like the cobbler’s children who always need new shoes. I need to spend more time with my own team. I need to be sure my purpose is working for the people closest to me. So this year, I will focus on strengthening community in our Human Resources team. If I do that, it will have a multiplier effect in the organization.

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