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Quint's Column: Waffle House's Bert Thornton shares what makes a successful leader

  • Mar 08, 2018
  • Quint Studer
Bert Thornton, former Waffle House COO, speaking at EntreCon 2018 Bert Thornton, former Waffle House COO, speaking at EntreCon 2018

If you ever have been to a Waffle House — and who hasn't — you are likely aware of a menu item called Bert's Chili.

The chili is named after Bert Thornton, vice chairman emeritus of Waffle House Inc. Thornton, a former U.S. Army officer and college football player at Georgia Tech who spent more than four decades with the 24-hour restaurant chain, created the recipe for Waffle House in 1983. They now sell 11 million bowls of Bert's Chili each year.

Both in recipe generation and in leadership, Thornton has been a valuable resource for Waffle House. He has been an equally great resource for this area.

Bert has been gracious enough to be part of Studer Community Institute's EntreCon, as well as a session on business success earlier this year. He gave a compelling talk about his success tips and is a fountain of information when it comes to mentorship and building business cultures.

Last November, EntreCon attendees received a copy of Bert's book, "Find an Old Gorilla: Pathways Through the Jungle of Business and Life." I re-read the book this weekend and feel it is a valuable read for anyone including small business owners, entrepreneurs, supervisors and employees. 

Last week I asked all the Studer Family of Companies leaders to read the book and apply at least a few of Thornton's tips to their part of the business. It's a quick read and well worth the time.

The book's basic leadership skills are listed on pages 44-45. This includes both the good ones and the not so good. Thornton explains that successful leaders must be competent at four things:

— Understanding concepts and ideas

— Understanding managing and developing people

— Understanding financial matters, both professional and personal 

— Understanding self-discipline, self-respect, self-confidence and self-image.

Bert writes that the truly successful leader "is the voice of reason in conflict." He or she exhibits depth in thought, strong core values, moral fiber and is willing to take full responsibility for all of life and business.

Thornton also lists what he calls "leadership fails."

"The unsuccessful leader takes shallow cuts, giving and taking convenient answers while blaming the world for his or her problems," he writes.

Here is Thornton's list of fails:

— Self-promotion (It's all about me.)

— Arrogance (You and your ideas don't count.)

— Abrasive style (My way or the highway.)

— Sloppiness (Planning and analysis)

— Naivety (But he said he would...)

— Dishonesty (Thou shalt not ...)

— Uncontrollably bad temper (This is the great employee turnover generator)

— Insecurity (What can I do to make you love me?)

— Immaturity (Can you believe the way he acted?)

— Poor grammar (a great distraction ...I would add curse words in here)

— Inability to handle money (If you can't handle your own money, why should I let you handle mine?)

Ask yourself: Could you be better in any of these with your company or employees?

We are so fortunate that Bert is so willing to share his words of wisdom.

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