The world lost a beloved leader this week… Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, died at the age of 93. His legacy is far-reaching – including a testimony to the power of servant leadership in our world. For all of us who were fortunate to work with him, Truett modeled both integrity of heart and skillful hands. He was the quintessential servant leader.
I had the privilege to work with Truett for more than 35 years. He was my sole interviewer when I was hired to join the Chick-fil-A corporate staff in 1978. Over the years, I was blessed to have a front row seat to witness his generosity, compassion, business savvy and wisdom. One of Truett’s many talents was his storytelling.
The right story, well told and well-timed, resonates deeply with people. Truett understood this at an intuitive level; he also understood the power of repetition. He combined these ideas and told us many of the same stories over and over again. This was not forgetfulness – rather it was an attempt to help all of us understand and remember the timeless principles embedded in each story he told. I call it strategic repetition.
One of my favorites is a story Truett first told in 1978 …
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Jimmy Carter was interviewing with Hyman Rickover for a position on the newly formed team charged with developing nuclear submarines. During their meeting, Carter was asked about his academic accomplishments. The future president proudly shared he had graduated in the top 10% of his class.
After hearing this, Rickover asked a single question, “Did you always give your best?”
Carter, bound by his personal integrity, told him, “No, sir. Not at all times.”
Rickover’s response, “Why not?”
With that question, the future admiral and father of the modern Navy stood and left the room leaving Carter alone with his thoughts.
Throughout his life, Truett retold this story and asked our entire organization:
“Why not… why not your best?”
Every time I heard him ask this question, it was a reminder that to reach our full, God-given potential, we must give our best. Truett had the moral authority to ask us this question based on the example he set and the life he lived. For his challenge and example, I am forever grateful.
Some might say, “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t met Truett Cathy.” My response, “I don’t know who I’d be had I not met him.” He marked me and changed the trajectory of my life. He always inspired me to give my best.
How about you? If Truett were here, he’d ask you… “Why not your best?”
Mark Miller is the V.P. Training and Development at Chick-fil-A and a best-selling author and communicator. You can follow Mark on his Blog: GreatLeadersServe