You Don’t Have to Give it All to Show True Leadership

Photo by Kasumi Loffler

If you want to build employee loyalty, consider the example of Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor. He just donated his $800.000 in salary and bonuses to help keep his employees during the shutdown. Texas Roadhouse hasn’t had to lay anyone off or cut anyone’s pay.

Well, no one got their pay cut except for the CEO, who did so voluntarily.

He sounds like a great guy overall but the cynical side of me always raises it’s head and I wondered how much this guy is worth. Turns out he’s worth $459 million as of January 2020. That’s 0.17 percent of his net worth that he donated. He also donated an additional $5 million to Andy’s Fund, which helps employees with expenses.

I say this because I want to point out that doing the right thing doesn’t always involve massive sacrifices on your part. He made a minor sacrifice for his employees. They will still appreciate him for it.

Additionally, no one is under an obligation to give you anything other than what you’ve earned, so even if it’s not a big percentage of their income, it’s still a fabulous gift.

Sometimes we think that what we have to offer won’t be enough if we can’t give something huge and meaningful that will get us positive press in People Magazine, so we don’t give anything. But, we can give small amounts of money, time, or talents to our employees and coworkers.

One of the things that I think is super important–especially in a small business–is who does the icky and unexpected tasks. If you get the newest admin to clean up the mess a customer made in the bathroom, you’re a bad manager. Senior leadership should take on the task of doing those things.

Yes, technically, the VP’s time is more important and more expensive than the admin’s time, but think of the example this type of small gesture sets for your staff. If the owner is happy to take her turn wrestling with the ink cartridges in the printer, it sends a message that we’re all in this together.

This is not to say you can’t hire a cleaning service or that senior leadership needs to do a bunch of menial tasks. It’s just to say that small things matter.

What the Texas Roadhouse CEO gave seems like a lot of money to me, but to him it’s a small sacrifice.

You can help your employees with your own small sacrifice–be it cutting your salary, staying late, or taking over an unpleasant task. It doesn’t have to be huge to be meaningful.

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8 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Give it All to Show True Leadership

  1. My Son was the General Manager of some local start-up restaurants. I actually had the pleasure of working at a couple of them during his tenure, and observing things first-hand. One of the restaurants was similar to a Chuck E. Cheese; that is, a pizza place with a lot of games geared to children’s birthday parties, etc. Many of the employees were teenagers on their first jobs. My Son was an awesome Manager. In teaching his employees their jobs, he would start out by performing the job himself, fully explaining the process, while the employee watched and could ask questions. It didn’t matter what the job was, from the most dreaded to the most desirable ones. It was not unusual to see him — “the Big Boss” — mopping a restroom, for example, while a new trainee watched. The next time, he would have the trainee perform the job, while he watched and offered constructive suggestions, encouragement and praise, and answered any questions they might have. I was always struck by the patient, caring, respectful, way he interacted with his employees. The result was incredible employee loyalty. The restaurant business is notorious for treating employees as expendable, resulting in extremely high turnover. In that particular restaurant, most of the original employees were still there 6 years later, and the restaurant was a resounding success, which is also unusual in the restaurant business, which has a very high rate of failures among new start-ups.

    1. The more reliable sign of a well run restaurant is seeing the same faces there every time you go in.

  2. A few months back we were in a School-wide meeting, which lasted until it was time for all of the hourly/admins to leave for the day. After the meeting, our Dean started cleaning up the refreshments so that all of the admins (my self included) could go home at the regular time and did not have to stay late. Of course we helped her but the fact that she started doing it herself was a *big* deal. I have never seen a Dean do anything like that before. Yes, I thanked her.

  3. When my company had to reduce employee costs during a recession awhile back, instead of picking employees to lay off, they spread the costs across all of us by closing the plant every other Friday, cutting everyone’s pay by 10%. Then they filed for unemployment for that day for everyone so that some of the pay was restored with no effort on the employees’ part. We were tided over what might have seemed more like an awful economic crisis without fear of losing our jobs, with just a little economic bite, and three day weekends to boot. It was a gift, and I’ll always remember the company fondly.

  4. I’m not sure framing this as a sacrifice is the right way to present this. The CEO did this as an investment. Losing staff costs money, and if he retains his staff the company will be in a great position once things open up again (I drive by two of these steak houses regularly, and they are already packed to the gills). That 0.17% investment is likely to make him millions.

    That’s not a bad thing. His action is also helping keep a large number of people and families fiscally solvent, and I think it’s right that he should be rewarded for it. I don’t buy into the popular delusion that employers are the natural enemies of employees; this CEO is betting that being a decent human being is financially advantageous. I hope he’s right because it will encourage more companies to take that route in the future.

    My point is, it’s not a sacrifice for a manager or executive to invest in their business or their team–in terms of money or time. It’s what we’re supposed to do, and we reap the rewards for doing so.

    1. CEO compensation may have a relatively small salary component in order to permit this sort of gesture… and sidestep questions about excessive compensation. With long-term stock options, retention bonuses, transportation allowances, forgiveable low-interest loans, etc. there could be minor impact on CEO cash flow.

      1. If he’s able to make a gesture that is for him very mild, but still manages to keep numerous staff employed during the worst health crisis in a century, I’d say that’s a good thing.

        I do not believe that virtue requires “giving until it hurts”; I believe it requires actually doing good things. And I believe virtue should be rewarded. If you disagree with either premise, you’ll obviously disagree with my conclusion.

  5. I started eating at Texas RH specifically because of their great Covid practices. I never ate there before but have ordered monthly since then.

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