Through thick and thin
If I asked you to name a friend or colleague who stuck with you through the tough times…could you?
If I asked your team members if you, as their leader, stick with them “through thick and thin,” would they say “yes”?
“Through thick and thin” originated in Olde English. It was born from the literal phrase “through thicket and thin wood,” portraying the difficulty of strolling through the often thick woods of the English countryside. We first see it in used in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Reeve’s Tale, specifically), written in the late 14th century!
Unfortunately, today we often find more self-serving behaviors at work than activities that serve others. Our tendency in Western societies is to celebrate individualism, and winning (as in “I win, you lose,” rather than “we all win”). We are competitive, so why should we expect anything different? We are surprised and amazed by stories of leaders acting in service to their team.
Here’s an example. In Austin, TX, a favorite Chick-fil-A restaurant closed for five months for a remodel. The owner paid all 50 employees’ their salaries during the closure, despite no revenues coming in. Not only that, all employees received a $1-an-hour raise!
The franchise owner of 15 years, Jeff Glover, said, “I do not want my group to have to forgo their salaries.” He added, “It would be a real financial crisis for the 50 families represented by the workers here to have to go five months without a job.”
Glover’s highly unusual decision shocked his employees, and probably many others in the food service industry (or any industry, for that matter.)
Why did he do it? He was already spending money on the remodel (which we know aren’t cheap endeavors.) He further bled his cash flow by maintaining salaries. However, he invested in the long-term strength of his franchise.
He did it because he genuinely cares for his team members and their families. During the remodel, there was the distinct possibility of losing many established team members who would not have a choice but to find work elsewhere. Instead, he maintained his team structure and loyalty, keeping his talented, engaged team together. Glover now has experienced team members who can help mentor new hires (the store added a third drive-through lane in addition to expanding the dining room) and get them up to speed quickly and efficiently. His team is committed to their store, their boss, their customers, and their culture. You can imagine that cooperative interactions, genuine service, proactive problem solving and healthy pride became inherent characteristics of this team.
Servant leadership is not the norm but the benefits are astounding. If you want employees to stick with you through thick and thin, you must do the same for them, first.