How The Filet-o-Fish Can Teach Leaders To Truly Listen


One of the many issues that plague organizations is that leadership doesn’t truly listen to their people.

Companies are generally good at listening to customers, but when it comes to their own people on the front lines, the tendency is to become a little tone deaf and out of touch.

So how can leaders be better at truly listening to their teams? The answer lies in a most unusual place – McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich.

Back in the early 1960’s, as the hamburger chain was gaining momentum in growth, one of their franchisees, Lou Groen of Cincinnati, came to new company owner Ray Kroc with an suggestion. Due to his store being in a predominantly Catholic area, he suffered sluggish Friday sales during lent, when Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays.

Groen proposed selling a fish sandwich on Fridays to counter the slowing sales. He developed the correct formula by looking at what other restaurants sold, did his homework on the numbers, then prepared his pitch.

Kroc was not generally accessible to the franchisees, only a few, and Groen had to jump through many hoops and meetings of upper management to get a portion of Kroc’s time. While Kroc at first balked, complaining that his idea was junk and irritated that Groen was wasting his time. In addition, he said he didn’t want the stores smelling of fish. After balking, he then proposed selling his own meatless burger – a Hula burger w/ grilled pineapple and cheese on a cold bun. After some concession, Kroc said to Groen to sell both and to stick with the one that sold the best. The Filet-o-Fish won effortlessly, far surpassing even Groen’s expectations, and has stayed on the menu ever since. Kroc continued to plug for the Hula Burger for a few more years before retiring it permanently in the late 1960’s.

This story shows the following lessons for leaders to truly listen:

  • Understand your people know what they’re talking about.  Leaders should never discount what their employees says as they are the closest to the customer.
  • Make yourself accessible. The best listeners are accessible listeners. Availing yourself to your people makes you more ready you listen to others.
  • Don’t discount an idea pitch that has been worked on. Always listen to the rationale and ask questions to clarify. Understand the other person’s perspective by asking the key questions from their perspective.
  • Don’t diminish an idea by being irritated. Always be gracious and open to any pitch given. Being truly professional allows people to feel comfortable asking and presenting you with ideas.
  • Don’t stroke your ego with a counter pitch. Great leaders won’t use their own pet project to squelch someone else’s suggestion. Truly listening means letting that person’s idea rise or fall on it’s own merits.
  • Know your limitations, and your people’s strengths. Kroc was a great businessman, but a poor culinarian. Many of his franchisees knew what was in the marketplace and created lasting menu items based on trends and tastes, such as the Big Mac about 6 years later by a Pittsburgh franchisee. (Kroc resisted that pitch as well initially.)
  • Understand you never know where the next big idea comes from. Leaders who truly listen will listen to wherever that next big thing is pitched from. Listening means to use your people as an extension of your vision and to do what is necessary. It also means giving away control over every decision and project to give your people credit for their innovation.

Truly great leaders are truly great listeners. Use these principles to make yourself a person people feel comfortable bringing ideas to.

(image: amazinavenue)

About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on December.11.2016, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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