Leaders and Entrepreneurs - Hala Moddelmog, President, Church's Chicken on Leadership
An Interview by Marie J. Kane

MJK: What do you think makes for a good leader?

HM: Passion for the business that you are in and a willingness to show your excitement about your product or your company. You also need to be willing to work as hard or harder than everyone whom you lead is. You need to keep people pumped up all the time. I think leading from pleasure is important, that is finding something in yourself that you truly enjoy and love and then leading from there. You must also not be fearful of making a fool of yourself or of exposing yourself. If you are authentic you have a lot better chance of connecting with people because you are laying part of yourself out there. If you are in a leadership position, by definition your people have to listen to you so you have the potential to be boring. You may just be spouting what you think needs to happen if you are not leading from a place of pleasure or really connecting as a human being. Another thing is that it really, really does have to be about more than the numbers. Nobody is going to get up early, work late, or have any level of creativity over just making a number. It's got to be the pride in making the numbers because you think you are doing something to move mankind. All of these things are really interrelated.

MJK: Let's talk a little more about pleasure because that is not a word you very often hear associated with leadership. As you think about that, is it the same thing as fun or is it different than fun?

HM: I think it is different than fun, but I think fun goes in there. There is a group in our company of franchise partners. Those are the people that put up their hard-earned money to buy these restaurants and run them. They are truly the ones who have everything on the line. I believe I have really been able to connect with that group because I truly do love and enjoy my job. I love this brand. When I'm trying to convince them to do something or lead them to some path, I'm really leading from pleasure because I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'm completely comfortable with what I'm trying to do and why. I think it's that kind of pleasure. I think fun is associated with that and people want to be associated with something positive and fun. They want that emotional connection. I think if you allow your pleasure to come out then the emotional connection is there.

MJK: Lets play a little bit with the notion of heart, soul, or spirit. What are your thoughts about any of those elements with respect to leadership?

HM: I think all of the things we've been talking about: the passion, the pleasure, making it be more than the numbers and connecting to something that you are proud to do for the world at large really just goes right back to that. I know part of that is around how you treat your people in general, in terms of things like family issues for example. And of course people are more productive if they are treated well and if they are treated with respect. In the corporate world sometimes people feel they are treated like children. I don't think there is anything worse for an adult, but sometimes the hierarchy sets it up. There is one book I read recently that I don't recall the name of, but it was an all male study of leaders and managers about who are the most effective and what they do with their day. The men in the study who were most effective at most of the companies did a lot of just being with the people and talking with them and socializing. I was so pleased to read it because it's what I do with a lot of my day. Part of it is because I'm a social person and my work environment is a big part of my social environment. I enjoy it and thrive on it. What ends up happening is that you are then connected to the people you spoke with and they feel better and more productive. What happens with our team is that this is sometimes when the best ideas bubble up. It goes back to this "warm and fuzzy stuff." You hear things about sending birthday cards and that kind of stuff and that's great, but it has to be real like some of these guys delivered the cards personally. I'm all over it and I'm excited to know the world is accepting it.

MJK: Supposing Emory Business School called you up tomorrow and asked for input into a new leadership curriculum, especially in terms of giving important messages to people who are just getting out in the world, those who haven't yet got fully formed ideas about what leadership is all about. What would you put in that curriculum?

HM: That's a good question. I think the things we are describing, because they are more nebulous are hard to put into a curriculum, but essential. There are two things I might suggest. One would be to include information on EQ, which is getting a lot of attention now, that is the emotional quotient versus the IQ. At the end of the day it doesn't make that much difference if you have the IQ, if you don't have the EQ because you can't connect with people, especially in leadership. Without that emotional understanding of yourself and others and the implications of that in any given situation or for any given job, you can hardly function in life. I think the other part would have to be just case studies. I think they would need to explore just how people really lead.

MJK: What are your challenges as a leader?

HM: My personal challenge is that I am very wrapped up in the brand and if the numbers are ever not good I'm very emotional about it and I get kind of " bummed out." It's funny because everybody wants me to be up all the time, especially the young women. I don't think I should let them see too much upset, but a little is ok. It's not bad to show you care emotionally and not just intellectually because that's another part of showing you are genuine. A general leadership challenge I see is to be sure you end up with people on your team who are not only very good technically, but also have good leadership skills especially since groups need to be led in different ways. At the end of the day titles matter very little. You've got leaders popping up at every level. What also translates to leadership and to business results are people who really think. They think of new ideas or new ways. I think a challenge that leaders have is to encourage people to think because that is so much more powerful for the company and for the people involved.

MJK: How do you develop leaders at Church's?

HM: We've taken a look at all of our restaurant managers and all of our multi-unit leaders. We used to call them district managers and we changed the name to market leader to get this message out. We did an assessment of them including management and leadership skills. It was pretty amazing and I'm so thankful we did it. We promoted 8 or 10 restaurant managers into market leader positions and before we did that this base just wasn't getting covered and this group just didn't see any way to grow. That's been wonderful so that's our base program. We developed a new program called universal training that takes a week where we cover a lot of management and leadership skills. We've got what we broadly termed as diversity training. To me that is a real leadership issue. Along that line there is something that my senior team does that has really blown us away. We get together every few months at one of our senior team member's houses and we talk about race relations and that kind of thing. Before I came to Church's and before I went through Leadership Atlanta I thought you weren't supposed to talk about these things. You were supposed to act like everybody is fine and happy and of course everybody is not fine and happy. We are honest with each other as we explore these issues. We've had our African American teammates share with us some of the things they still go through today and we've read books that are eye openers as well. The first book we read was Invisible Man and the book we are reading now is Up From Slavery. Everybody on my team has their hearts and heads really in the right places, but some people have never talked about race issues. We started kind of teasing each other because Chris, my COO, lives close by and is a big wine connoisseur and I live fairly close by so we had the meetings at mine or Chris' house. I finally said to the group that there are probably some people in our group who have never been to an African American's home and sure enough that was the case. Then we said we've got to go around to everybody's house. I'm very excited about this process. It's a real personal growth thing for a lot of people and to me it's really about leadership. The other thing that's happening from this is that the senior people are coming back from these experiences and can have one of these meetings with their group that will blow them away. I think those things translate to leadership skills because you have to put yourself out there. You cannot fail to have this conversation.

MJK: Let's expand our horizon and talk about the role of corporations as leaders in the world. I'm not talking about leaders in terms of making money. What are your thoughts about corporations as leaders?

HM: Well I think it's a smashing idea because governments are not going to do all that needs to be done, nor all of these charity groups. The heads of corporations include some of the best and brightest people out there. They are certainly some of the more ambitious and some of the more aggressive. Given that, wouldn't you like to see them be aggressive about social issues and the environment or whatever you think they need to lead in? I'm all for it. Corporations are where the money is and where the power is. And, as a practical matter, doing these altruistic things absolutely does impact the bottom-line from recruiting to retention and customer goodwill. The other thing my husband and I talk about all the time is that if we don't stop and educate our kids and try to get people out of these drug-infested neighborhoods, what's going to happen? Who's going to take care of all of us when we are old? There are many altruistic and bottom-line reasons for corporations to be social cause leaders. Even in our relatively simple jobs in the restaurants, people need some basic math skills just to make the mashed potatoes. We've got measurements and you've got to be able to follow directions and steps. When people have problems it's not because they are dumb; it's because they have not been trained or educated. My biggest focus would be education as a place that corporations can and should work to make a difference.

MJK: There is an obvious connection. It's no reach to see how making education better gets you a better labor pool.

HM: Corporate America needs more good white-collar technical people and that requires even higher education. In places like the Philippines there are whole buildings filled with people who answer service calls in the US for technical computer support because we don't have the people here. The labor is dirt-cheap there, they are desperate for jobs and they are smart.

MJK: If you were speaking to leaders in Atlanta and the world about being a leader and about corporate leadership responsibility, what would you say?

HM: It goes back to just what we've been talking about. The work force and the work environment and the sheer economic situation for our country are going to get tougher and tougher. Labor is already my biggest issue. Isn't it in everyone's best interests to work on educational issues and widespread technical and leadership training? It would be nice to think that children would get some leadership training as well. I would encourage people to have that as part of their mission or their company's mission. I know some corporations do things like adopt schools and they have various programs. I certainly think that is admirable and I'm sure it helps, but the issue of systemic improvement of the education system is similar in scope to issues like racism and poverty and those kind of things. You like the idea of helping one student or one school and that kind of thing, but the changes to raise up the whole country have to be institutionalized. We have to put our influence and resources towards making fundamental changes in the system for the better. Unless we institutionalize changes we cannot make a real lasting difference.

N.B. This article was originally published in Competitive Edge Magazine.


Marie J. Kane has been an executive coach and corporate consultant for 20 years. She specializes in innovative approaches to executive development with a special emphasis on individual and group virtual coaching. She is the author of a comprehensive team assessment and development process, creator of "The Leader's Way" executive development program and a co-creator of an integrated strategic and operational planning process as well as offering state-of-the-art employee selection and development systems integrated with performance management and organizational culture. Marie may be reached at Marie@executiveevolution.com , and visit www.executiveevolution.com for additional information.

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