Olympic motivational speaker Ruben Gonzalez

Ruben Making Chick-fil-A Sandwiches in 1978 and Manager Steve Mason in Foreground

My first job in high school back in 1978 was working at Chick-fil-A. We had a horrible location up in a dark corner of the second floor of a small shopping mall in Houston. Back then Chick-fil-A had only 141 stores nationwide. But we were consistently in the top ten stores in sales.

Why did our store perform so well? It was all because of our Manager’s leadership. Our manager, Steve Mason was the Gun Ho, motivator type that made working at a fast food restaurant a blast. Steve was always focused on making work fun and on getting us to constantly produce at a high level. There was always some kind of a contest going on.

One time he divided the crew into two teams and for a month ran an up-selling contest… you know, “Would you like fries with that, Sir?” Then he took the winning team to a FIVE STAR RESTAURANT for a 5 course brunch!

Guess what? After the contest, we had become so used to up-selling our customers, that we kept on doing it!

Steve constantly tied the store’s goals to our personal goals, so we understood that we were really working for ourselves. We understood that the work ethic and the life skills we were learning would make us all more successful in the future. Out of our crew came an Air Force Officer, a College Professor, an Automotive Service Manager, and an author and Olympian…

Steve set high standards and which attracted high achievers. Our crew stuck together and became tight. We worked for Steve for three years and we still keep in touch 25 years later! Unheard of in the fast food industry.

It didn’t take long for Chick-fil-A corporate to figure out that Steve was too valuable to just be running a store and he got promoted. Today, Steve’s the Vice President of Operations of Chick-fil-A.

Needless to say, the manager that replaced Steve was not the leader Steve was, and within 6 months we all quit. The restaurant ended up shutting down a few years after that.

Steve taught me a lot about leadership. He showed me that no matter what your circumstances are (bad restaurant location), a leader can single-handedly create a winning environment, a winning culture wherever they are. Leadership flows from the top down. Not the other way around.

You see it everywhere…

When I speak at a school, I can tell what the Principal will be like before I even meet them. All I have to do is look around and talk to a few teachers. You can either feel their excitement and passion for teaching, or you feel a total lack of motivation and purpose.

Or when you walk into a store, you know what the manager will be like just by looking around and talking to the employees.

Leadership comes from the top. Start becoming the best leader you can be… at home, at the little league field, and in your community. Become a better leader and you’ll attract and keep the top notch people to your team. And as you do, you’ll be changing the world around you!


Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez