What ingredients make an effective senior leadership team? There’s no better person to ask than Jimmy Collins, past president of Chick-fil-A. Collins was second-in-command under Truett Cathy, the man who invented the chicken sandwich. Together, Collins and Cathy built Chick-fil-A from a single restaurant into the much-loved national chain you see today.

Collins distills Chick-fil-A’s wisdom in his book Creative Followership—In the Shadow of Greatness. It’s an excellent guide for senior pastors and executive pastors who want a solid relationship … one with unusually productive results. Much of his advice is wonderfully counterintuitive. Here are the top pieces of wisdom for senior church leaders:

Choose your first chair.

Don’t just pursue a job—instead, hire your boss. After working for a crummy boss, Collins discovered the wisdom in selecting second chair jobs based on the quality of the person he would be working for. Collins resolved these four things:

  1. I will not work for someone who is a lesser person than myself.
  2. I will only work for someone I can respect, look up to, and learn from—someone who can help me become a better person.
  3. I will only work for someone who is building or growing something.
  4. I will only work for someone who will let me express myself and make decisions, and who will value my input.

By partnering with a boss who meets your criterion, you, as the second chair leader, can give yourself wholeheartedly to the first chair. The same is true for first chair leaders (you can selectively choose an organization with which to work). We not only have a choice of career, we can also choose the person or organization we work for.

Culture overstates the value of being “the boss” and undervalues the role of second chair leaders.

Because so much attention is focused on being the first chair leader, people fail to recognize the incredible opportunity in the second chair. By partnering with a leader whose strengths complement yours, the two of you are made stronger. Thus, two will go farther than either one separately. Helping someone else succeed is your quickest path to success.

The authority of the first chair leader transfers to the second.

In the eyes of the organization, an unknown second chair leader can quickly gain the respect and credibility of the first chair leader. Hitch your wagon to a star. A trusted follower shares the reputation of the leader, as well as much of the leader’s influence.

Second chair leaders succeed when they know their boss, encourage the boss, make the boss look good, do what the boss doesn’t like to do and do what the boss does not do well.

This isn’t blind, thoughtless following. It means the second chair is proactively looking at the landscape and strategically doing what needs to be done. These are key things within the organization. The stronger the leader, the stronger and smarter the follower must be to successfully execute. This is how people get ahead. Let others see your boss in you.

To advance, don’t flee from responsibility.

Authority comes packaged with responsibility. More authority can be gained just by taking responsibility. Responsibility and roles are not something that must be handed down; they are taken as one assumes more and more responsibility.

Simple Leadership Wisdom

In addition to exploring the relationship of first and second chair leaders, Collins offers some refreshingly simple leadership wisdom from running Chick-fil-A:

#10—Never sugarcoat bad news or exaggerate good news.

#9—Growth attracts outstanding people.

#8—You learn more from the things happening to you than watching things happen to others.

#7—Mistakes help us make necessary corrections for future successes.

#6—Confront gossips and urge them to tell someone who can actually do something about the problem.

#5—Assertiveness is expressing yourself in a manner that gets things done but does not hurt other people.

#4—Your reputation lives or dies according to the quality of your work.

#3—The very best leaders make us feel as if we are in control.

#2—Do you know who needs the most encouragement but gets the least? The boss.

#1—Good bosses do not have a set of “what to do” rules. Instead, they have “why to do” principles.

Few organizations engender passion and values the way Chick-fil-A does. There are reasons why so many people like it. Jimmy Collins has a heart to share the principles that made his organization great. Creative Followership is a wonderful guide for senior/executive pastors and anyone who wants to move themselves or their organization forward.