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  • journeyswithann

Self leadership as the prereq for public leadership

The author in Phoenix, AZ
The author in Phoenix, AZ

It is summer of 2017, my first summer as a multi-unit manager of the sandwich Franchise, Ike’s Love and Sandwiches, with exclusive rights to the Arizona market. We had two existing locations at the time with one that just opened. It was my job to ensure that the three locations ran well. I was 25 years old. I had barely managed one restaurant for two years, yet here I was preparing to oversee three of them.

I had just become a father; my son wasn’t yet a year old. I was stressed.

One of the locations was on Arizona State University’s campus. It was a big-time home run location. I had just terminated the General Manager (GM) after one day on the job due to egregious behavior. The new GM was inexperienced but was an internal hire who I felt would grow into leadership nicely. Turns out, she didn’t. Hindsight being 20/20, she never received any formal leadership training (neither had I, that concept didn’t exist in my brain back then) so how could I expect her to lead a team right away and meet all of my expectations? I don’t know how, but that is what I expected!

Fast forward to two weeks before Arizona State was to come back in session; the new GM had run off 75% of the staff. I was panicking. I had to demote the GM and train a new GM alongside about 12 new team members in about two weeks. I began making the schedule and realized the remaining staff were all students; their availability to work was insufficient. The restaurant simply did not have enough people to operate once school started. I was in over my head and feeling like a failure, struggling to keep one restaurant open while trying to support two others who I was worried would feel neglected while I sorted out this crisis.

As I stared at my computer screen looking at the staff across my three locations, I was figuring out how I could get team members from the other two locations to help me with the one that, for lack of a better term, was failing. Then the idea hit me; I’m sure there are team members who would like the opportunity to make more money and grow with us.

The GM’s of the two stable locations would probably get on board with lending team members if they knew they were going to develop into shift leaders down the road. What if I created a “Shift Lead Training Program,” hosted it at the failing location so I could staff it, train the up and coming leaders on leadership principles, and also use them to train the new hires on how to make sandwiches?

The author with his son
The author with his son

I proposed the idea in an email to the owners first, then the GM’s. To my surprise, everyone backed the idea. They understood the severity of the situation at the failing location. The GM’s liked the idea of having team members in the pipeline for managerial roles and the owners loved the idea of having a leadership training program in their business.

All that was left to do; design the program! I started powering through books like “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey, and I created a whole segment of the program dedicated to Stewardship Delegation. I read “Good To Great” by Jim Collins and defined our company’s hedgehog concept. I read “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande and demonstrated the difference between a “read-do” checklist and a “do-check” checklist. The owner of the business gave me another book, “Change The Culture, Change The Game” by Roger Connors and Tom Smith which would become the foundation for how we built our company culture thanks to an understanding of “experience-design” at the operational level. Under the pressure to perform, I was also feeling lit-up and inspired by the books I was reading and the conversations I was having.

As a result, the program I was designing on the fly was working. Long-story short, the program was a success. The restaurant was staffed, the new GM greatly benefited from the training program and would become the longest tenured GM that location ever had, only leaving after I had left the company. New shift leads were promoted and new team members were getting higher-quality leadership as a result. The program was successful enough that team members were beginning to ask, “When is the next leadership traning program? I’m thinking about becoming a shift lead, I think it would look good on my resume.” I had to pinch myself, “People really want to be in this program? This is something people WANT to be a part of?”

Perhaps nobody benefitted more from that program than me. As I grew into my own leadership in the following years, I was made an operating partner by the franchise owners. During the toughest times, like minimum wage increases that put pressure on the business, personal struggles with alcohol and a deteriorating home life, fatherhood, COVID… facilitating this leadership training program was the one constant in my life that helped me keep everything together, if only by a thread. I was committed to showing up for my trainees which helped me show up for myself.

To this day, the most rewarding aspect of the program is when a graduate from the program reaches out and tells me the program made an impact on their life.

The franchisees sold the business in 2021, allowing me to stop working for a short while, which allowed me to heal and reflect. I took the time to start my own company, The Sustain Network, where I get to facilitate my leadership training program full time. My mission is to empower as many people as possible to become self-leaders. It is my belief that self-leadership is the prerequisite for public leadership.

A core principle in my program is that leadership is simply scaled self-leadership, which is essential to integrity as a leader. I believe when the majority of leaders in our economy become self-leaders, many of the issues we face in business today will be alleviated. When leaders teach others how to lead themselves, business will truly be serving society by providing more than a paycheck; business will provide self-leadership training, which will empower the most vulnerable members of society and propel them into a better standard of living.

How do I know? Because I’ve lived it, I’ve watched it and I’ve trained it. Leadership training works.


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