Mark Miller is a business leader, best-selling author and communicator. He began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. In 1978, Mark joined the corporate staff working in the warehouse and mailroom. Since that time, he has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, and Quality and Customer Satisfaction, and today he serves as the Vice President, Training and Development. During his time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to almost $4 billion. The company now has more than 1,500 restaurants in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
Mark began writing about a decade ago. He teamed up with Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, to write The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. Today, almost 400,000 copies of The Secret are in print, and it has been translated into more than 20 languages. Recently, he released The Secret of Teams that outlines some of the key lessons learned from a 20-year study on what makes some teams outperform the rest. His next book, Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life, is set for release in February 2012.
In addition to his writing, Mark loves speaking to leaders. Over the years, he’s traveled extensively around the world teaching for numerous international organizations. His theme is always the same: encouraging and equipping leaders. His topics include leadership, creativity, team building, and more. Mark has an active lifestyle. As a photographer, he enjoys shooting in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach places, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and the jungles of Rwanda.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Mark Miller. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Secret and The Secret of Teams, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Miller: My mom. She instilled in me early the idea of working hard to be my best.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?
Miller: Dan Cathy, the current president of Chick-fil-A was one of my first supervisors. He’s modeled life-long learning for me for over three decades.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.
Miller: Dan has taught me many things over the years, but none had more lasting impact than the idea that your capacity to learn determines your capacity to lead.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished thus far?
Miller: My formal education took a non-traditional path. I attended college at night while working on the Chick-fil-A staff. Since that time I’ve had some phenomenal educational experiences – one of the highlights for me was attending the 8-week Advanced Management Program at Harvard,
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you to work for Chil-fil-A in 1977?
Miller: Everything rises and falls on leadership. Had I known this in 35 years ago, I would have become a student of leadership as a kid.
Morris: In you opinion, what differentiates Chil-fil-A from all other employers for which so many young people now work?
Miller: The success of our brand hinges on the business leader who operates each individual location. We are tireless in our efforts to get the right leader in each location. As a result, the more than 70,000 employees in the restaurants have the chance to work for some amazing leaders.
Morris: Based on your own experience as well as what you have learned from others, how to recognize high-potentials among all the young people whom Chick-fil-A hires?
Miller: It all starts with the point leader in the restaurant, we call them the Operator. We’ve noticed over the years that the best Operators attract the best people. As I said earlier, our success is determined by the local Operator.
Morris: On May 23, 1946, 25-year-old Truett Cathy and his younger brother Ben opened a restaurant called the Dwarf House at 461 South Central Avenue in Hapeville, Georgia, a small town south of Atlanta. With all due respect to what Ray Kroc and Dave Thomas achieved, how do you explain the fact that they have received far more attention as entrepreneurs than Truett Cathy has?
Miller: Truett chose a different path. Because he was not trying to build a big company, he could do things differently: Close on Sundays, all company-owned restaurants, be a privately owned company, etc. The result of these decisions, and others like them, was slower growth. I guess there are fewer news stories on slow and steady growth. A footnote on this point: In 2011 we surpassed $4 billion in sales for the first time and we’re debt-free. Not bad for slow and steady.
Morris: Of all the business books that you have read, from which have you learned the most valuable lessons? Please explain.
Miller: I’ve read more business books than I can count. My goal is to learn something from every one of them. I think I have. With that said, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker continues to challenge me. It is one of the few business books that I read again and again.
Morris: When did you first meet Ken Blanchard and how did your relationship with him then develop?
Miller: Ken and I met when Chick-fil-A was considering him to speak at one of our events almost 15 years ago. He and I hit it off and the day of my first meeting with him I found myself at his home for lunch meeting his wife, Margie. We’ve worked on several projects over the years – Chick-fil-A projects, numerous book projects and we’ve worked together in the non-profit sector. He’s been a great friend and mentor for me.
Morris: How specifically have you applied his “One Minute” concept in your work at Chick-fil-A??
Miller: We created curriculum for our restaurants around Ken’s book, Leadership and the One Minute Manger. Some of our Operators say it is the best thing we’ve ever done for them. We’ve also had Ken conduct his Situational Leadership II workshop for our Operators and corporate staff.
Morris: Has it also proven helpful in personal situations? Please explain.
Miller: Ken’s ideas are powerful! He has an uncanny gift for making the complicated easy to understand and apply. So, once you get Situational Leadership, or any of his other ideas, you can apply them at home, or school, or church, or work. The ideas he tends to write about have a broad, if not universal application. That’s one reason he’s been so successful.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Mark cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites.
How and why leadership is about the growth and positive change that almost anyone can bring about while working with others
All organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of their operations. Few organizations have sufficient leadership and therein lies a huge problem and an even greater opportunity. Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr. correctly asserts that “there’s no greater benefit of becoming a values-based leader than setting the standard for the rest of the organization so that it, too, focuses on what matters most.” Of course, Kraemer is referring to C-level executives but he would be among the first to insist that the power of values-based leadership must never be limited to them. He identifies and then rigorously examines what he characterizes as “the four principles of values-based leadership.” They are:
o True self-confidence
o Genuine humility
None is a head-snapping revelation, nor does Kraemer make any such claim. There could just as easily be seven or ten and each could be described with different terms. Whatever the number of attributes, however they are identified, the fact remains that the greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) are exemplars of the same core values. Kraemer devotes a separate chapter to each principle in Part I, then shifts his attention to what he calls “the essential elements of a vales-based organization” in Part II (one chapter per each element) before explain in Part III how a great leader summons the moral courage and social responsibility to lead her or his organizations (whatever its nature) “from success to significance.” For example, that is precisely what Elizabeth I did after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
After a brisk but thorough coverage of the “what” of values-based, values-driven leadership in Part I, Kraemer devotes the rest of the book to explain its “how” and “why.” He comes across (to me, at least) as a pragmatic idealist, one who has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why so that he can then share what he has learned with as many others (especially aspiring leaders) as he can.
Kraemer introduces a process by which almost anyone, over time, can become an effective leader whose affirmations and (more importantly) whose behavior are guided and informed by the four principles. Those highly-developed leadership competencies can be applied to establishing and then nourishing the essential elements of a values-based organization, one that can indeed then complete a transition “from success to significance.” Such a leader demonstrates the values of what Robert Greenleaf once characterized as “the servant leader” in an essay published in 1970.
In a second essay, The Institution as Servant, Greenleaf observes: “This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”
I highly recommend this book to C-level executives and others who have supervisory responsibilities as well as to direct reports who aspire to become leaders. I also presume to suggest checking out the wealth of information now available at the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Finally, here are some other sources that may also be of interest and value: Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s The Secret, Miller’s The Secret of Teams, Michael Ray’s The Highest Goal, James O’Toole’s The Executive’s Compass, and David Whyte’s The Heart Aroused.