One of the greatest attributes a leader can have is the ability to lead with conviction. These are individuals with a strong sense of who they are and what they believe in and they allow those values and principles to come through in the way they operate their businesses.
When Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy went public in 2012 with his opposition to same-sex marriage, it launched a wave of protests and calls to boycott the popular Atlanta-based fast food chain. At the same time, there was substantial support expressed for Cathy and his willingness to openly stand up for what he believed in. Two years later, he chose to withdraw from the debate and focus his energies on the growth of Chick-fil-A, but he made it clear that his Christian beliefs had not changed.
The company was on the rise before Cathy made his remarks and the pace of growth has only accelerated since then. Chick-fil-A is now the largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the United States with more than $6 billion in systemwide annual sales. This success didn’t happen as a result of what Cathy said, but the numbers would indicate that his remarks did nothing to slow the company’s growth.
The stance that Cathy took is uncommon in today’s politically correct society where many leaders pursue consensus and are willing to go with it, even if it means straying from the foundational principles that have always served as a compass for the way they lead their lives and their businesses. With a close eye on the bottom line, these leaders either try to avoid controversy altogether or choose the path of least resistance in order to minimize negative publicity.
The problem with leading by consensus is that you spend a lot of time trying to understand what those around you are thinking. It becomes much more difficult to explain a decision that is based on someone else’s beliefs than it is when you try to give details for a choice that was driven by your own convictions.
Whatever values or beliefs guide your decisions, you need to remain true to who you are. It’s the only way you can stand in front of your employees or your customers and speak with integrity. Certainly there is risk in taking a stand on an issue that generates strong feelings on both sides. But it’s your job as the leader to sort through the facts, consider your own beliefs and make an informed decision that is based on what you believe to be the right thing to do.
Put your faith and your conviction first and build a business that is based on the principles which matter most to you and you’ll likely find that success will follow.
Fred Koury is the President and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc., the publisher of Smart Business magazine, which also operates Convero, a customer and employee engagement firm. Fred is committed to focusing on relationships, not transactions, in everything he does.