7 Life Lessons from Truett Cathy

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Dave makes no secret that he studies successful people and does all he can to imitate what makes them great. As he says, you become an eagle by flying with eagles. He’s always ready to meet—yellow notepad in hand—with individuals who have won in business and in life.

One mentor who has made a huge difference in Dave’s life over the years has been Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, who passed away on September 8 at the age of 93. Dave has often spoken fondly about the time he got to spend with “Mr. Truett” and his family and how he learned so much at the feet of this incredible man.

In honor of Truett Cathy’s life, here are seven principles he consistently demonstrated through the years—guidelines that will work in making a living and in building a life.

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1. Define your values and stick to them.

Truett Cathy believed that one of the keys to success was focusing on what never changes. As a result, his restaurants have always observed a “Closed on Sundays” rule. While the decision to keep the doors closed on Sundays gives Chick-fil-A team members a welcome day off, the policy is rooted in Truett Cathy’s commitment to honor the Lord’s Day. It was a part of who he was, and he refused to compromise.

2. A little customer service goes a long way.

If you’ve ever visited a Chick-fil-A, you know the routine. Your efforts at expressing gratitude for solid service are met with “It’s my pleasure.” That’s just one of the hallmarks that sets Chick-fil-A apart from their rivals. It’s also the kind of commitment to customer service excellence that creates an incredibly loyal customer base.

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3. Make family a priority.

A company’s true core values always “drip from the beard” of its leadership. That’s why Chick-fil-A goes beyond being a family-owned business and works hard at being family friendly. The “Closed on Sundays” policy gives team members a regular opportunity to spend time with their families. In addition, special family nights and emphases affect not only the culture of the workplace, but they also have a powerful impact on the culture of communities.

4. Know why you exist.

Business expert Jim Collins says that successful companies understand what they do best and then focus on doing it. You might think that Truett Cathy’s focus was on chicken, but that’s not the whole story. Chick-fil-A’s purpose statement reads, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.” For Truett Cathy, chicken was simply a tool to accomplish his real purpose: honoring God and helping people.

5. Plan ahead.

One of the biggest things Dave learned from the Cathy family is how to prepare for the future. Early on, Truett Cathy began grooming his children (and even grandchildren) for leadership, so they were ready to take the reins effectively when the time came. His vision was to extend the legacy of Chick-fil-A well beyond his lifetime—a goal that seems well within the company’s reach.

6. Invest in others.

Cathy liked to say that he wasn’t really in the chicken business at all. He was in the people business. In 1984, he followed up on that commitment by creating the WinShape Foundation, which encourages leadership development and offers academic scholarships for team members. That effort was followed by WinShape Homes, which provides long-term foster care for children, and WinShape Camps, which gives kids summer camp experiences based on faith and character.

7. Don’t be afraid to start small.

At time of Truett Cathy’s death, Chick-fil-A had more than 1,800 restaurants in 40 states (plus the District of Columbia). But it wasn’t always that way. In 1946, Cathy and his brother, Ben, were the only staff manning the Dwarf Grill—later known as the Dwarf House. It took more than 20 years for the first Chick-fil-A to open in an Atlanta mall in 1967. From those humble roots, Truett Cathy and his family made restaurant history—and made a difference in the world as well.

From the generations of boys in the Sunday school class he taught for more than 50 years, to the team members he inspired across the country, to the customers who trusted his brand, Truett Cathy never wavered from his commitment to serve people. And he left a powerful legacy—not just for business, but for every corner of life.

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