The Purpose of Our Lives Is Not About Us At All
Have you ever wondered why God allows us to experience success? What is His ultimate purpose behind it? Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc., shares her thoughts on that question and also talks about what she is most proud of from her time as CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc.
You can listen to this entire conversation with Cheryl on our podcast, Driven 4word! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.
The biggest career success you’ve had was your time as CEO of Popeyes and the 10 years of transformative work that you did there. What do you consider to be the highlight of your time there?
My career was characterized by a fascination with “what is good leadership?” From a very early stage, I was constantly reading about leadership from academics, from consultants, book writers, authors—just trying to understand. In my mid-career, I was kind of disillusioned with some of the leadership I’d seen and thought, “You know, what would good look like?” And I came across this idea of servant leadership, which Robert Greenleaf talked about. He was just another business person, like me, trying to articulate what a good leadership approach might look like. He said that those who serve people as the filter for decision making not only create the best results, but they create the best environment for people to do good work.
I really bought into that. It made a whole lot of sense to me! I read other authors like Jim Collins who wrote Good to Great, in which he talked about humility in leadership means having an ambition for the enterprise, not for yourself. I thought that was compelling. I was a huge fan of Steven Covey who wrote about win-win decisions, listening skills, and some of the traits of good leadership. Eventually, I looked around and many examples of servant leadership. I had never really worked for faith-based leaders or values-based leaders, and I certainly had never worked for anybody who called themselves a servant leader or had the mindset of service leader.
The Popeyes opportunity was truly a fabulous capstone career experience. Very few people get to be CEO of a public company for nearly 10 years. It was an exciting and rewarding experience. But the thing that I’m proudest of is that we used that opportunity to live out the principles of servant leadership in the workplace and create a place where people thrived and performed their best work. My team and I are publicly known for delivering an incredibly successful turnaround of the Popeyes company, where the stock price went from $11 to $79. But what I was passionate about was getting the story out of how we accomplished those results through servant leadership. And that’s why I wrote a book about it called Dare to Serve. I wanted to capture the lessons we learned and share them with others who hope to lead in that passion in the future.
How did adopting your daughter impact you as a parent and make this chapter the most satisfying success of your life?
I think when we are asked about success, particularly those of us in the marketplace, we should think about the whole person. I always wanted to be married and have a family—it was part of my anticipated life plan from the very beginning. I would not be able to call any aspect of my life rewarding or successful had I not achieved that personal desire for a family. Your family is the foundation of all those other things you experience in life. Getting married was a very important decision. Deciding to have children and raise them in our faith was a very important part of our lives. We had two daughters natural born daughters: Tracy, our oldest, and Katie, our second. My husband and I enjoyed raising them and seeing them develop into beautiful young adults with great giftedness and now their own beautiful families.
Our third daughter we adopted kind of unexpectedly. She was adopted first by another family, and when that did not work out, we brought her into our family. She was our third girl, so we thought more fingernail polish and more fun! She has been a delight in our life. When you adopt a child, you go into it hoping to offer the child something. I think what I rejoice in is what we learned from the experience of adoption because adoption of a teen girl is difficult. She was in her identity formation and from a very challenging childhood. She didn’t know what she wanted out of adoption in the family. There were some challenging years for her and for us, but what I would call the success is that today, she’s a lovely young woman working in the city of Atlanta as a medical assistant, maturing and growing, and coming to her own understanding of life and work and faith. We’re just so proud that we could be a part of that. It has enriched our family and enriched our lives to be part of her life.
Why do you think God allows us to have and experience success in our lives?
That’s a really good but complicated question! My best shorthand response is that I have come to believe and understand that the purpose of our lives is not our purpose or even about us. The purpose of our lives is figuring out what God’s up to and how we join Him there. For me, success in the realm of my purpose is, “Does it align with God’s purpose? Have I done work that brings honor and glory to Him more than it does to me?”
I came to understand my work purpose as kind of resurrecting servant leadership, which really is the leadership, teaching, philosophy, and actions of Jesus Christ. So if I could be evidence of that, teach it as a platform for leadership in the marketplace, I in some small way was joining God at work. When He created work, God said it was good. It was only our nature that messed it up and created poor or toxic workplaces. If I could be one person working on God’s team to make work a better place, where people thrive and become close to Him and use their gifts, and do work that can be held up as glorifying to Him, I would be really excited about that. That’s how I think of my career: working for God.
Cheryl Bachelder is a passionate, purpose-led business leader — the former CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. From 2007 to 2017, she led the transformation of a tired brand and discouraged organization into a top-performing quick service restaurant chain. The story of the Popeyes success is chronicled in her book Dare to Serve: How to drive superior results by serving others. Cheryl’s earlier career included brand leadership roles at Yum Brands, Domino’s Pizza, RJR Nabisco, The Gillette Company and Procter & Gamble.
Today Cheryl’s aim is to encourage and invest in senior leaders, helping them to understand and implement Dare to Serve leadership in for-profit and non-profit workplaces.
Cheryl serves as a director and chair of the compensation committee at US Foods Holding Corp (USFD). She is currently the lead independent director at Chick-fil-A, Inc. She is an advisor to Procter & Gamble’s franchising venture, Tide Dry Cleaners. She is a member of CEO Forum, an organization that encourages and disciples Christian CEOs and senior leaders. She is a mentor to ministries that develop future Christian leaders: Spring Hill Camps, Crossroad Farms, Work Matters, and CRU.
Cheryl holds Bachelor and Masters of Business Administration degrees from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. She is married 40+ years to Chris Bachelder and they have three grown daughters, two terrific son-in-laws, and five handsome grandsons. Cheryl and Chris reside in Pinehurst, NC. They are avid learners, fans of the classical education movement, and can always be found reading a good book!
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