The Leadership Formula, Courtesy of That New Guy Over at Wendy’s

If  you hear anyone talking or writing about leadership and the formula for leadership success, you would do well to pause and take a listen.

That’s because real, honest-to-God leadership wisdom is hard to find. Yes, you might end up having to wade through a lot of nonsense before you find it, but that’s because smart and honest management advice is not all that easy to come by.

When you DO come upon it, stop and savor it like a fine wine, because the likelihood is pretty good that you may not find anything quite that good again.

A daunting challenge at Wendy’s

So when I bump into a newspaper story about how new CEO Emil Brolick is speaking candidly about his plans to make fast food also-ran Wendy’s an industry innovator again, I want to check it out and see if the new guy knows what he’s talking about.

New Wendy's CEO Emil Brolick
New Wendy's CEO Emil Brolick

As the Chicago Sun-Times aptly notes, “Brolick, 63, faces a daunting task: fixing a company with 6,600 locations worldwide that has been rudderless in an ocean of competition since its iconic founder, Dave Thomas, died nearly a decade ago.”

How daunting is it? Here’s the challenge Brolick faces, as the Sun-Times describes it:

Wendy’s is hoping its new “Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy” burger line will help turn things around. But many say Wendy’s can’t hold a candle to McDonald’s, which grabbed the new-product creativity mantle from Wendy’s years ago. And after churning through a handful of CEOs over the past dozen years, the burning question is: Will this one stick? Brolick, who worked at Wendy’s before leaving years ago to become president at rival Taco Bell and then COO at Taco Bell parent Yum Brands, must stand today before 3,000 Wendy’s franchisees gathered in Las Vegas for their annual convention, and convince them that he’s the right guy.”

Jumping into a company like Wendy’s that has been lagging for a long time, and has churned through a bunch of CEOs since its legendary founder died, is not a job for the faint of heart.

It’s also a helluva difficult task given that even when Dave Thomas was still around, Wendy’s wasn’t exactly the industry leader. It was, at best, a moderately successful alternative to McDonalds and the other guys.

“Define reality, give hope and execute”

Yes, I want to hear what a guy taking on this kind of a tough leadership challenge has to say. Here’s how new CEO Brolick handled himself when he had the tough questions put to him:

Question: Wendy’s has been stumbling since founder Dave Thomas died in early 2002. What difference can you make?

Answer: I’m a big believer in the importance of leadership in an organization. My leadership can make a difference in this brand. I would not have returned to Wendy’s if I didn’t believe that.

Q: Got a formula for success?

A. I have a simple formula: Have a vision, a strategy, define reality, give hope and execute. A leader has to bring a vision to an organization, because an organization works best when you have an end in mind. Vision is great, but if you don’t have strategies, people get frustrated quickly. A leader has to define reality and give hope.”

Well … wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Brolick pretty much hit those questions out of the park.

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Drucker couldn’t have said it better

After all, didn’t the formula that he spelled out just about cover it? Leaders need a vision and a strategy, yes, but they also need to define reality as well. I’ve worked for precious few managers (I wouldn’t call them leaders by any stretch) who had any sense of the need to define reality. It’s a concept that goes right over most of their pointy little heads.

It’s the other two parts of the formula, though, that really jumped out at me.

“Give hope and execute” sounds terribly simple, but as anyone who has tried to manage and/or lead knows it’s the execution that can be really hard to get right. And when the execution is less than stellar, it’s the hope you give those looking to you for leadership that helps them get by until the execution finally starts to click.

I wouldn’t call Emil Brolick’s leadership formula perfect, but it’s pretty damn good — and I doubt the late, great Peter Drucker could have said it any better.

So, you should read this Chicago Sun-Times interview and get the full story from Mr. Brolick himself. Only time will tells if his leadership formula will work over at Wendy’s, but clearly, this is a management challenge worth keeping an eye on.

For the rest of the story, click here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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