The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What is the most important quality a leader should demonstrate?” is by David Gordon, president of The Cheesecake Factory.
Can you remember where you were on December 1, 1993? I can remember that day perfectly. I was newly married and it was my first day of work as a manager at The Cheesecake Factory. Back then The Cheesecake Factory was a public company with nine restaurant locations and employing more than 1,500 staff members. I had the typical emotions anyone would have before starting a new chapter in their lives—excitement, nervousness, a little anxiety—and I was certainly bursting with energy. Now 22 years later, I am president of The Cheesecake Factory and often experience those same emotions on any given day.
About eight or nine times a year I meet with new managers within their first six to nine months on the job. They frequently ask me the following question, “How did you go from our seat as a brand new manager 22 years ago, to being the president of an organization with more than 36,000 staff members around the world?” Certainly a question I would ask if I were in their shoes.
I’ll often share stories about pivotal moments throughout my career when my core values guided my decision-making and served as the foundation for “why” I have been able to achieve professional and personal success. But at the root of these values lie three core beliefs: humility, self-awareness, and a desire to serve others. I’ve learned that these values are the “roots,” and when firmly planted, can help all leaders to grow—while enabling and empowering greatness in those around them.
First, it’s about humility—truly accepting that I don’t actually know it all and I make mistakes. I am willing to speak up and share my experiences — good and bad — so that others can learn from them. I know none of us can build a business or achieve extraordinary goals by ourselves. We are all greater when we build on each other’s strengths and leverage the capabilities of an aligned team.
Next, self-awareness is essential—having the ability to slow down, look in the mirror, and understand that my non-verbal cues communicate more than the actual words that come out of my mouth. I have to create an environment where the people I work with consistently provide me with honest feedback about the messages I’m sending—messages that either inspire others towards new levels of accomplishment, or create a stifling environment that limits their potential.
Lastly, the concept of serving others is fundamental. Certainly in my line of work, the hospitality industry, if you are not built to serve others, then perhaps you are in the wrong business. But in the broader context, and in today’s world more than ever, leaders must strive to do work that matters; work that makes the lives of those they serve, directly and indirectly, better. When we are able to derive joy from making those we serve a little happier, or healthier, or stronger in some way, we fulfill the true role of a leader.
So, it has been approximately 7,700 days since my first day at The Cheesecake Factory. I may be a bit older, a few pounds heavier and have not quite as much hair on my head (I have no hair on my head). However, what I do have is 22 years of staying true to my values and allowing my three core beliefs to guide my daily decisions and behavior.