Within the past 3 years of having a part-time (recently full time) job, I’ve encountered interesting and differing levels of following and leading.
Before I go on, I’ll explain how Chick-fil-A (at least the one I’ve worked at) works as far as leadership goes. And, as the visual is likely familiar to most of you, I’ll use a triangle.
For over a year (2014-15), I worked as a regular Team Member. While a promotion to Team Leader was certainly exciting when it came, there is something that is extremely valuable that I lost when I was a Team Member.
The “Team Player”
While I certainly hope I could have been considered a “team player” with the title of Team Leader and Manager, “Team Player” in a sense was already in my job description in leadership. As a Team Member, working for the sake of the team and your management is more of a choice rather than something you’re getting paid for.
Don’t get me wrong… if you want to live up to that paycheck, I’d more than recommend always being a “Team Player”. But while the attitude is habitual now that it is 100% expected, it wasn’t necessarily when I was a Team Member. It was a constant and conscious decision. Not only is there an immense value as an individual in adapting this work-style, but now looking down from a leadership position, I see the wisdom and sacrifice of Team Members when they decide to “give one up for the team”. This might mean standing outside with the iPad for an extra hour. Hauling bucket after bucket of ice to refill *every* bin. It might mean standing in the window for six hours and forcing yourself to be cheerful.
But there is something else extremely valuable. Now managing, I hugely appreciate the Team Member who has no idea why I might need them to stay in a position or why we have to change a procedure. There are frequently multiple questions that I really cannot answer to a Team Member, but they decide to give me a firm nod, an unquestioning, “Sure! No problem!” and rush to do what I’ve asked. This is constantly a wonderful thing, and does *not* go unnoticed.
Cheerleader with a Card and Keys
Congratulations! Your managers sigh with relief to have another pair of an override card and another key that can change. Now you can officially begin training newbies and are experienced enough to step up in a crisis. Go don that blue and white pinstriped shirt and struggle to find a balance between friend and leader.
Two weeks into being a manager, I look longingly at my Team Leaders. They stand next to the team members and work through the shift. They are in a blissful position where they can handle most situations, but still have someone else to pass on an angry guest to. You have an understanding on how shifts operate and how to help your manager. But you also keep your head in the game and in a position. A former director of mine called us the team’s cheerleaders.
I underplayed my position as a Team Leader. My managers and directors told me I was appreciated, but I didn’t quite understand it. The Team Leader gets to *know* the team. They know when to laugh with them and when challenge them to grow.
The End of the Line
As far as the shift runs, the manager is the last one to make the tough calls, handle unhappy guests, unhappy Team Members, or troubleshoot problems with the registers or technology. It only took a few days for me to start glaring at that phone when it rang and dreading that wide-eyed team member running to me with “Uh…there’s this lady… and…” Actual full “breaks” during a shift, are a thing of the past.
But here’s the cool thing.
I have incredible, fond memories of the managers who took me aside to coach me personally and challenge me to take the next steps in my time at Chick-fil-A. As a Team Leader, I could do a lot of “cheerleading” but once I stepped into the shoes of the manager, I actually have the authority to really grant opportunities to eager Team Members and can encourage them at a different level. I love reaching people, but the most satisfying part is that I’m paying back a debt to the managers that invested in me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. It’s a wonderful thing to turn around and hand the baton to the next in line.
I know I’ll sound cliche saying this, but it has only continued to resonate as true as my roles have changed: Team Member, Leader, Manager… all are extremely important and equally necessary to run the restaurant. I didn’t believe it as a Team Member or a Team Leader. Wasn’t it the managers that ran everything? No. I need you, new hire, veteran Team Member, frightened bewildered new Team Leader. I rely on everyone to try hard at everything and seek to learn something new every day.
Growth as an individual happens in different positions. There are things I learned as a Team Member I couldn’t have learned in a management position. There are things I learned as a Team Leader that I couldn’t anywhere else. I’ve discovered Team Leader actually fits my natural gifting better than Management does – and that’s something that I know I will take with me for the rest of my life. It’s all valuable. Life isn’t always about scrambling to climb that ladder. It’s seeing the position you’re in with honest eyes, and knowing that you can have a ton to learn right where you are.