Do you remember that one defining moment that impacted your career more than anything else?  Is there one person whose influence helped to chart your professional path more than anyone else?  As a young woman beginning my career at Chick-fil-A, I was fortunate to have many mentors, and at the time, they were all men.

My first boss at Chick-fil-A gave me some outstanding advice.  One day he appeared in front of my desk and he said, “You are young and you are female. Now get over it and win them over with your competence.”  Obviously, one of those factors took care of itself over the last 33 years and I tried not to allow the other one to be my focus.  I was fortunate enough to learn key people principles, personally, from Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy. Through our formal mentoring process, I learned so much from our Chief Financial Officer and our Chief Marketing Officer mid-way through my leadership path.  For sixteen years, I reported to Tim Tassopoulos, who is the current President and Chief Operating Officer for Chick-fil-A, and he demonstrated servant leadership by example day in and day out.  There is no one who stimulated my creative thinking and innovative mind more than Dan Cathy, our current CEO. Yes, it was an amazing group of men who helped me find my professional way.

However, no one was more of a mentor, sponsor and champion to me than Chick-fil-A’s former President and COO, Jimmy Collins.  He interviewed me for my first job at Chick-fil-A when I was 21.  I remember it well.  He asked me if I was a perfectionist.  When I claimed I might be, he asked if I kept the shoes in my closet in order.  “Sometimes” is the truthful answer to that question.  How unusual, especially in those days, for a man later in his career to take a professional interest in helping a young woman succeed.  He was that one person that completely changed my trajectory.

Sometimes, we think of a mentor, sponsor or champion as someone who makes the path easier.  He, no doubt, did at times, but first, he made it harder.  If we have been fortunate to have the help of someone else, it is our responsibility to help others, too.  Jimmy played four key roles that helped develop me into a professional and a leader.

  1. Jimmy taught me.

Jimmy was an excellent teacher.  Great teachers don’t tell you what to do.  They teach principles and then demonstrate what they teach.  Jimmy set clear expectations.  He guided me by teaching me a principle and then explaining to me why it was important.  Once he taught a principle, he did not have to tell me what to do over and over again.  He knew that I understood the principle and could apply it as appropriate.  One of the most important principles he taught me that has served me well in life is,”It is kindness to refuse immediately what you eventually intend to deny.”

It's kindness to refuse immediately what you eventually intend to deny. Jimmy Collins Click To Tweet
  1. Jimmy role modeled character.

Like Truett Cathy, Jimmy did not have to say much because his actions spoke so much louder than any words he could say.  He was consistent day in and day out.  He was so very generous, but much of what he gave, he gave anonymously. Beyond his treasure, he was also generous with his time and his talent and he still is to this day. He demonstrated servant leadership without using words.  He worked hard and served Chick-fil-A faithfully and had the strongest work ethic of anyone I have ever known.

  1. Jimmy held me accountable.

Once Jimmy taught the principles, he expected people to use good judgment and make good decisions.  If you didn’t, he was not afraid to tell you.  He was a truth teller and his truth was far more helpful than his accolades.  Compliments were well-earned and never empty from Jimmy. Mistakes were allowed, but not usually repeated.

  1. Jimmy encouraged me.

After telling the truth, Jimmy encouraged me.  One of the greatest ways he encouraged me was to give me more responsibility when I proved myself capable.  Three years ago, I was visiting with Jimmy and I was hesitant to share with him that I was leaving Talent, a function he had personally placed me in three decades prior.  When I finished telling him about my new role to launch and lead Sustainability at Chick-fil-A, he responded with, “I know of no one better suited for that role.”  He likely had no idea how much it meant to me for him to still express his belief in me.

Jimmy retired from Chick-fil-A over 17 years ago, but his words and actions have never left me.  His influence shaped me.  His impact changed me.  If I have ever helped anyone, ever influenced a person or impacted a life, it is probably because of the investment Jimmy made in me.  So, don’t thank me, thank Jimmy.  Without him, I would likely have had much less to offer.  Thank you, Jimmy, for playing such a big role in my Chick-fil-A career and in my life.  I am forever grateful.