Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Lessons from Frank Perdue

A Visionary Leader

He entered many of our homes via television, winning our hearts with his clever ads about his chicken.  Appearing in hundreds of ads, Frank Perdue turned Perdue chicken into a national brand.  “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” the ads touted.

Frank Perdue was a visionary business leader.  He focused on culture, leadership development, packaging, promotion, and operational excellence perhaps years before others.

Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

Recently, his wife, Mitzi Perdue, wrote a biography Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue.  The book paints the picture of the man, allowing us glimpses into his personal life, but also is full of business and leadership advice.

Mitzi herself holds a BA in government from Harvard, a masters in public administration from George Washington and was for years a syndicated columnist for Capitol News then Scripps Howard.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her late husband.

 

“Find out what the customer wants and then make it better.” –Frank Perdue

 

Take Care of the Customer

There are so many business and life lessons in this book.  Let me just ask about a few areas.

One story you tell was about packaging.  It grabbed my attention because he wanted better packaging, but his team said no.  They said it was too expensive.  I know he was frugal, so his commitment to make it happen speaks volumes.  That little story says so much about his style and determination. Would you help us understand why this was so important to him?

Funny you picked on that story because it happens that I’m (I think) unusually qualified to comment on it.  My master’s thesis from George Washington University was on the importance of packaging.  I felt that the packaging of an idea or a product wasn’t as important as the content, but it was way up high as a consideration.  Frank intuitively understood this concept without having to get a master’s degree!  In the cases of the cartons that chicken was delivered in back in the late 1960s, it was pretty much industry standard to have flimsy boxes that might leave someone’s processing plant looking fine, but by the time they arrived at the distributor’s loading dock in a big city, the box might be crushed and leaking.  Crushed and leaking boxes were a mega-headache for the distributor because it’s hard to handle them on a forklift, and it’s unsanitary.  Frank realized that if he could create boxes that wouldn’t crush or leak, he’d be solving one of the distributors’ major problems.  His attitude was that as long as his goal was to be the best, the price almost didn’t matter, he had to fix the fragile boxes because, “We can’t afford not to.”  It fit in with his motto of, “Take care of the customer,” and the result was that when a distributor wanted chicken, he probably had Perdue on his speed dial. Packaging was an extraordinary competitive edge for us.

Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

“A business that doesn’t change is a business that is going to die.” –Frank Perdue

 

Build A Culture of Disagreement

Take us into the culture of the company.  It tolerated disagreement and strong opinions.  As you say it tolerated “really forceful disagreement.”  How did Frank encourage this?  When did he, as a leader, stop the argument and unify the team?

Take Command: Leadership Lessons from A First Responder

Not many of us will face hostile enemy fire in foreign lands.  We won’t lead a team to intervene in humanitarian situations, nor will we need to manage a crisis with lives literally on the line.  Still, the leadership principles from these experiences are adaptable and applicable to all of us.

Jake Wood served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning numerous awards for his distinguished service.  He has been named a 2012 CNN Hero.  In 2010, he co-founded Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization focused on disaster response. The organization gives military veterans a purpose as they intervene in various humanitarian situations.  His new book Take Command: Lessons in Leadership offers a unique perspective on how to lead a team through any situation. 

 

Build a High-Impact Team

How do you build a high-impact team?

I think first you have to understand the critical value of having the right team.  Oftentimes people think that process trumps people; or willpower triumphs over interpersonal dynamics.  That’s just not the case, so understanding the need to build a high-impact team is the first step.

 

“Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.” –Jake Wood

 

I write about five components of building a high-impact team in the book, but I’ll just highlight two.  First, we have a saying at Team Rubicon: Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.  When we’re looking to add team members, we aren’t looking for resumes laden with accolades.  We’re looking for things that demonstrate passion.  We try to start that weeding-out process from the get-go by having really quirky job postings.  We demand that only the most awesome candidates apply and generally warn about how underpaid and overworked any candidate who is accepted will be.  If someone reads that and applies with a resume and cover letter that screams, “Bring it on,” then we’re on the right path.  The second part of that saying though is critical: Culture is king.  Passionate and talented people abound, but are they right for your team?  We’ve had high-output, high-passion people in our organization before who were total cultural misfits.  They proved cancerous to the morale of the organization, and we had to eliminate them despite their talent.  Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.

 

“Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.” –Jake Wood

 

The second thing I’ll highlight in building high-impact teams is roles.  My football coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, always talked about roles.  “Know your role!” he’d scream time and again.  What he meant was that starter or backup, star quarterback or water boy, we each had a role.  Furthermore, each role was critical to the success of the whole–the team.  Some were more high profile, others received more praise, but damn it, if we didn’t have new cleats on our shoes when we went to play in the rain, then nobody was going to succeed.  Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.  When people understand and embrace their own role, they tend to take more pride in its execution and are more likely to hold others around them accountable for the execution of theirs.  That’s a win-win.

 

“Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.” –Jake Wood

 

Cultivate Trust and Transparency

Trust is crucial on the battle field, as a first responder, or in business.  How do you cultivate trust?

When I talk about developing trust, whether from my time in the military or in Team Rubicon and the corporate world, I talk about three things: training, transparency and trials.  When everyone is trained to a common standard, then people feel like they can operate liberally, knowing that everyone around them is competent in the execution of the functions necessary for mutual success.  My time in the sniper teams was a great example of this.  When our team needed to call in close air or artillery support from a unit we’d never met, never worked with and often didn’t speak the same language as us, we needed to know that that unit was trained in the same protocols and to the same standard as we were.  If that wasn’t the case, we might hesitate to call in a life-saving artillery mission, or worse, we might call it in and have an artillery shell land in our foxhole.

cover.takecommandTransparency is critical because it levels the playing field.  When people feel that they have access to the same information as their leadership, they feel like they are empowered to come to the same conclusion.  Secrets naturally breed mistrust.  Naturally, some information within a corporation needs to be held in confidence, but to the extent that information can be shared, why not?

Finally, I often talk about the need for a galvanizing trial or tribulation.  The best teams come together in times of duress.  Those periods reveal what’s necessary from each member and displays each member’s respective worth.  Getting all the chips on the table allows a true assessment of one another, and that’s critical for truly coming together.  The Marine Corps attempts this in boot camp with the “Crucible” exercise, but nothing compares to the first time a unit gets in a firefight.  Doubts about who is capable of what disappear, and suddenly the team is flooded with unwavering trust for one another.

Lead With Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

On March 13, 2013, 115 cardinals cast votes inside the Vatican to elect the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  At 19:06 local time, white smoke could be seen drifting upwards following the election.  The new pope, who would take the name Pope Francis, emerged from the conclave as the new leader of a global organization facing a number of serious issues.

Stepping onto the world stage, this new pope would inspire everyone with his humility and his concern for the poor.  And, in so doing, he demonstrated a new model for leadership.

 

“Leadership is the ability to articulate a vision and get others to carry it out.” -Jeffrey Krames

 

Jeffrey Krames has written a new book about the pontiff, Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope FrancisHe offers a practical guide for how any leader can take the same principles to become an authentic and humble leader.  I asked Jeff a few questions about his research.

 

Be Authentic.

What is it about Pope Francis that has made him so incredibly popular?

He is absolutely the real thing. I call him “The Authentic Leader.” How rare is that today? No political leaders seem to do anything for the betterment of anyone but themselves, and only after polling the issue. That is the opposite of Pope Francis, who is the most compassionate pope I have experienced in my lifetime. It is why I have dubbed him the “anti-Hitler.”

 

“If we can develop a truly humble attitude, we can change the world.” -Pope Francis

 

 

Advocate for the Least of These

What attracted and inspired you, as a Jewish author, to research and write a book about the new Catholic pope?

The answer above answers this question in part. Growing up in a “Holocaust household” is a very difficult thing to do.  There are ghosts of all the people who have perished (and now my kids must grow up as third generation survivor).  So I see Francis as the first person in my lifetime amazing enough to earn the moniker of the anti-Hitler.  He is the 21st century’s answer to the 20th century’s most malevolent mass-murderer.  Hitler hated and attempted to eradicate what he felt was society’s worst.  Francis works every day to lift up the people who have the least—the ones who have been relegated to “society’s dustbin.”

 

12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

  1.  Lead with Humility.
  2. Smell Like Your Flock.
  3. Who Am I to Judge?
  4. Don’t Change-Reinvent.
  5. Make Inclusivity a Top Priority
  6. Avoid Insularity.
  7. Choose Pragmatism over Ideology.
  8. The Optics of Decision-Making.
  9. Run Your Organization Like a Field Hospital.
  10. Live on the Frontier.
  11. Overcoming vs. Sidestepping Adversity.
  12. Pay Attention to Non-Customers.

 

 

 

Pope Francis continues to gain popularity and press every month.  How will Pope Francis influence leaders in other organizations?

Serve to Be Great: 7 Lessons from Matt Tenney

We all make mistakes.  When we learn from those mistakes, we are said to be wise.  When we not only learn from those mistakes, but also then decide to use the experience to better the world, we become an inspiring example of what is possible.  When we make serving others our primary goal, our view of the world shifts and new possibilities emerge.

I am excited to introduce Matt Tenney, who has written a terrific new book, Serve to Be Great.  I’m always looking to learn from others, and here are a few lessons I learned from Matt’s powerful story:

 

“There is no better way to build our influence with others than to serve them.” –Matt Tenney

 

1. You can create happiness anywhere.

Few people have experienced the depths of despair like Matt Tenney.  His failure landed him in prison for years.  And yet, in prison, Matt learned to be happier in a cell than he was when he was free.

 

“Leaders who consider others’ needs first are more likely to empower employees.” –Matt Tenney

 

2. Your greatest failure may be your life’s greatest catalyst for change.

As I spent time with Matt, I could see that his zest for life and appreciation for everything around him was somehow different.  Undoubtedly this came from experiencing the loss of all that he knew.

 

“Asking ‘How will this help me to serve others?’ makes us more effective and happier leaders.” –Matt Tenney

3. When you change your self-talk, you change your world.

Reading Matt’s terrific new book, Serve to Be Great, I noticed that his self-talk changed throughout his story.  As he planned a crime, he was justifying his actions.  Now, his self-talk is all about how he can serve others.

 

 

“Being fully present with a person is one of the most effective ways to show that we care.” –Matt Tenney

 

4.  Learn how to change selfishness to selflessness.

Matt is constantly asking himself this question: “How will this help me to serve others?”  By focusing everything outward, it changes his motivation and the trajectory of his actions.  Matt’s goal is to be the most kind, compassionate person he can be.  Get around him and you will find that you, too, want to be more compassionate.

 

“Wisdom is much more likely to develop while we are still than when we are in motion.” –Matt Tenney

5.  Service leads to greatness.

Leaders who lead with love are the ones we remember.  Among the many examples Matt shares in his keynote speech is Joel Manby, who wrote Love Works.  Joel is a CEO, featured on Undercover Boss, who leads with love.  When leaders serve with love, the positive impact creates sustainable success.

“The more focused I became on how I could serve others, the happier I became.” –Matt Tenney

 

6.  Notice the extraordinary small moments.

Previously, Matt wrote a guest post for Leadership Insights about what he learned about leadership from Daniel.  Daniel was a teenager dying from cancer, and yet he taught lessons that still make Matt emotional.

“Every time we interact with another, we have the opportunity to add value to a life.” –Matt Tenney

7.  In stillness, you can change your state of mind, your present and your future.

Practicing mindfulness and awareness training, which he learned from monks, is important for leaders.  Lowering stress, becoming focused, and increasing your compassion for others is all possible through the practices he shares in his book.

Last week, I spent some time with Matt.  I had the opportunity to watch him keynote for industry executives.  I watched him interact with people from all walks of life.  And I learned from his story.  I think you will enjoy Matt’s story and his book.

As I wrote in a blurb he included in the book: Serve to Be Great is both inspiring and practical.  Matt Tenney delivers a powerful narrative that takes you on an incredible journey.  The insights from that journey and the examples he shares of truly great leaders will improve your performance, widen your perspective, and raise your leadership game.”

Because service does lead to greatness.  And servant leadership is the best form of leadership there is.

Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom

9 Leadership Lessons from Mom

 

In my very first blog post, I shared the unique way I grew up.  Instead of filling our home with things, my parents filled it with people.

Our childhood home was always open.  There was always room for one more person at the table.  We had countless people live with us of all nationalities, backgrounds, and religions.  Some would stay a night, but most would stay months.  A few stayed for years.  Most of our adopted family members arrived with serious needs and issues from drug addiction to abuse to serious psychiatric needs.

As I reflect on Mother’s Day, celebrated on Sunday May 11, I think about the lessons I learned from my parents.  And, just as my mom prefers to give to others more than receiving gifts, I thought I would share that spirit and pass these lessons on.  Today I honor her with more than flowers by sharing her wisdom.

 

1. Personal power is more important than positional power.

 

As I reflect on my childhood, I cannot think of a single time that my mom used her “positional” power as parent.  But she always used her personal power, her persuasion, and her personality to influence.  Anything I learned about how to relate to people started by watching her in action.

Even today, my mom is never interested in titles or your position.  She is interested in you.  What is your story?  What are your talents?  What are you doing for others?

 

Leadership is not a position. It radiates from within. -Skip Prichard

 

2. Giving to others will always make you happier than receiving.

 

Yes, we’ve all heard that it is better to give than to receive.  But why?  Mom taught me that happiness is always rooted in service to others.  I’ve seen people with depression improve dramatically when they serve others.

Mom was always happy, always singing, always sharing.  And that may be because she was always giving—to us, to friends, and to all of the people she met each day.  Our house was always full of people in need, and so the opportunity to give was always present.  She is still the same way today as she was then.

 

Leaders give of themselves more than they take from others. -Skip Prichard

 

3.  The spiritual is more important than the temporal.

 

Some things are temporary, fleeting, lasting but a moment.  Other things are forever.  Make sure you are spending time on what matters in the long run.  One of the very few rules I can remember was this:  If you needed a place to stay, you were welcome to stay as long as you needed.  But, you were required to attend church with the family.  There is something powerful about connecting to forces greater than you.

One of the verses she would share with me was Colossians 3:2: “Set your affection on things above, not on things of the earth.”Mrs. Prichard

Here is one story my wife recalls about my mom:  Someone was staying in the house and she was learning a new skill for a job:  How to cut hair.  As I recall, she was somewhat troubled and my mom was counseling her.  Mom volunteered to let her practice her newly learned skills.  The girl transformed her hair, butchering it on one side.  Instead of anger, my mom graciously turned to her in love.  As she poured love on this girl, she taught us all what really matters.

 

Leaders realize what is forever and what is fleeting. -Skip Prichard

 

4.  The heart is greater than things.

 

If you broke something—even something precious to her—she didn’t care much.  Sweep it up, throw it out, and it was long forgotten.  But, if your heart was broken, she spent as many hours with you as you needed.  She would agonize with you.  If you were broken in spirit, she would encourage and lift you out of a dark place.  She still does.