Leadership Lessons Start Early in Life: Shaping Future Leaders

What leadership lessons can you learn around the kitchen table?


Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, talks about the foundation of leadership learning that she experienced growing up around her family dinner table, and how that foundation set the tone for her professional leadership journey.

“Well my parents were, in fact, amazing and gave me an incredible foundation,” Cheryl recollects. “And as I look back on it, you don't realize, obviously, as a child what's happening at the dinner table. But they, essentially, were teaching us lessons of leadership every night over dinner.”

Watch as Cheryl reminisces about the leadership lessons she learned in her youth.

Interviewer: Cheryl, you have a very impressive background. Really, a who's who in terms of brands. It's amazing. But what stands out to me isn't just the success that you're currently experiencing in really the wake of your leadership success, but I find it fascinating where you began to learn about leadership values. It wasn't necessarily business school or from any of these great brands, but from a kitchen table at home. So tell us about that, what your mom and dad taught you and how they taught you the leadership values that still stay with you today.

Cheryl: Well my parents were, in fact, amazing and gave me an incredible foundation. And as I look back on it, you don't realize, obviously, as a child what's happening at the dinner table. But they, essentially, were teaching us lessons of leadership every night over dinner. We'd discuss our day, their day, discuss the lessons learned. And I think what I understand now about my parents is it was all about teaching us the values of how we conduct our life.

So my parents valued education. They valued good manners. They valued a lot of things, but most of all they wanted us to be people of high character. They wanted us to bring our faith to our work. They had real, how-you-go-about-it ideas they wanted to share. So at dinner, it wasn't unusual for my dad to talk about . . . my dad would say, "I had to fire someone today, and here's how I thought about it." And he expressed his tender heart. "I didn't sleep all night. I struggled with this decision. These are important decisions, people are involved." And through the process, just completely shared with us the how you go about the difficult decisions in business and the difficult decisions in life.

Interviewer: Did you equate your dad going to work with putting food on the table and providing for you? Was that part of you're growing up that, oh, I don't understand how this impacts our daily life?

Cheryl: Well, my dad expressed a lot joy in what he did for a living. And I think what I observed more of was the excitement and joy that he found in assembling teams towards bold goals. He built plants for a living and he would be so excited about the new country they were building a plant and the new team of people he had brought together. And he worked in 16 countries, so he loved touching the different nations and the different cultures and giving people opportunity.

So watching the joy expressed in his daily life kind of buffered us from the mechanics of it. He traveled a lot, and yes, he did struggle like everybody does in their younger years to make a living. And he had four young children and we happened to live in Asia, which was expensive, but it kind of buffered us from that and let us see that work was purposeful and intentional and had real value.

Interviewer: Now I have to ask you this, your parents not only raised one CEO, they raised four CEOs. So tell us about that.

Cheryl: Yes, that's unusual, to be sure. And a real credit to them that they instilled the work ethic, the education, and the values of how you work in their four children. We're each different as night and day, but the consistent thing you would see about us, what we laugh about when we share stories is we often make decisions the same way. We often deal with people problems the same way and yet we don't even it because we're all entrenched in our industry. One's in healthcare, one's in water engineering, so we really don't know a lot about what each other do, but we often are surprised at how similar we do those things.

Interviewer: Because people are people.

Cheryl: That's right. That's right.


Cheryl Bachelder

Cheryl A. Bachelder is the former CEO Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. and author of Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. She is known for her crisp strategic thinking, franchisee-focused approach, superior ...

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