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Leadership Studies Interview

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Essay title: Leadership Studies Interview

Leadership Studies Interview

I recently had the honor of interviewing someone in our community who has had more than thirty years of leadership experience in our community. The interview ended up taking much longer than I expected because I was so influenced by what he had to say, I did not want to miss anything. Mr. Kevin Henderson started his career as a cook back in the 60’s for the Jolly Ox (Steak & Ale) restaurant. His leadership abilities were quickly realized, and he was promoted to Store manager. From there he moved on to the Shoney’s Restaurant Corporation where he remained for twenty five years serving as a regional supervisor, and finally working his way up to the President of the Steak House Division of Shoney’s. This consisted of the Fifth Quarter chain, Pargo’s Restaurant chain, and the Barbwires Steakhouse chain. Kevin was in charge of over 5,000 employees in his division and led the company in profits as well as efficiency ratings. He is now the Director of Comprehensive Food Services for the state of Tennessee and directs the food services of hundreds of locations such as schools, prisons and state facilities across Tennessee. My conversation with Kevin took a direction that I did not expect. He attributes his success to the leadership traits that he has learned over the years, and quoted many of the very ideas and theories almost verbatim from our class lecture. This was an incredible experience to witness first hand how these traits become behaviors and practices.

Throughout the course of our interview, Kevin laid out the history of his leadership experience, and pointed out how he has learned many of his characteristics from watching other people. Kevin Heavily noted how leadership and management styles have made a drastic change over the last 40 years from the “my way, or the highway” (Henderson) approach, to a servant leadership approach. Mr. Henderson recalled a plaque that use to hang in his bosses office in the 60’s that read “Beatings and hangings will continue until morale improves!” This was the strategy that was used back then, but disregarded the lingering question of “Why” in the eyes of the employees. Kevin provided me with a great analogy that explained the concept of putting a screw into a board with a hammer. “You can drive a Screw into a board with a hammer, and it will go in; however, both the screw and the board will end up forever damaged and the board will eventually wiggle loose.” (Henderson) Short term results can be achieved through toxic leadership, but long term goals will almost always fail. Throughout his experience with the Shoney’s Corporation, Kevin noticed this approach being used, and vowed to change this within his area of leadership. He attributes his success to this very idea.

Strong interpersonal skills are one of the most important characteristics he outlined for me. By this, he means “take time to be kind.” To achieve positive results out of the people in which he works with, Kevin “turned his division upside down” (Henderson) or transitioned to a servant leadership philosophy. He wanted his employees to feel like the president of the company was someone who not only cared about them and their concerns, but wanted to be someone who they could come to with any problems or ideas they have. “Seek first to understand before you try to be understood.” (Henderson) By taking time through charismatic leadership to be kind to his employees, and being empathetic toward their work and personal lives, Kevin was able to achieve above average results out of average people. The ability to “shut up and listen” is a key trait one must have to be a good leader. I asked him if he thought that by being friendly to his employees, and getting to know them personally interfered with his ability to delegate. Kevin responded by stating that if you are firm but fair, honest and straight forward with people at all times, you will in turn commandeer respect from your employees which will provide both parties the necessary tools to excel in their respective positions. One must beware, however, of being insincere, because everyone will see right through you and loose all respect. One must lead by example and be constantly and actively aware on a daily basis that everyone is watching the leaders and modeling their actions after yours. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” (Henderson)

Another key trait that Kevin noted was that leaders are the ones who are willing to “get up and try it.” When he was in his infant stage of leadership, he volunteered to run the store, for one of the managers. “He just threw me the keys and walked out the door! I was scared to death, but willing to give it a shot! Yeah, I made some mistakes but I also learned how to keep from making them again.”

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