Servant leaders turn things upside down. They invert the organizational pyramid, so the customers in the widest segment come first.
It creates a culture that first serves the stakeholders usually placed at the bottom. This puts emphasis on how those served feel, grow, and improve. It doesn’t ask how the servant leader feels, grows, and improves. Instead, it’s fully focused on the customer and trying to understand their wants and needs.
Where power, self-interest, and acquisition drive legacy leadership styles, servant leaders seek to share power, intelligence, and vision. The thinking is that, as leaders support the needs and desires of the served, those followers will return the service with more effective teamwork, fuller engagement, and improved performance.
Entrepreneurs are particularly well-positioned to establish a servant-leader culture and the organizational infrastructure to support it. And, that seems well-suited for the food and beverage industry.
Leading from humility
Air Force veteran Charlynda Scales is a self-proclaimed “servant leader.” A native of Cookeville, Tennessee, she lived with her grandfather Charlie Ferrell, Jr. — an Air Force Korean and Vietnam War veteran who Charlynda says earned the call sign, Mutt, “for his ability to blend in anywhere” — along with her mother, grandmother, aunt, and cousins.
Her grandfather taught her that “humility will take you farther than money” and put her on a path to serve others. He also helped instill in her the determination to unlock the talents within everyone she meets. Beyond that, he would leave her the recipe he created in 1956 for an all-purpose tomato-based condiment that she would turn into a successful business, Mutt’s Sauce.
The business currently employs two people and has one intern. They boast increasing revenues and sales goals of $100,000 a year with a plan to redesign the line and offer two new flavors. The business succeeds because of its quality preparation and taste, of course. But, it was created and is driven by Charlynda Jean Scales, a dynamic alumna of Clemson University.
With a passion for entrepreneurship, fitness, veterans, and food, she has also become a major motivational speaker, award-winning entrepreneur, and recognized veteran in various forms of media including CBS News, Air Force Association Magazine, Army Times, Black Enterprise Magazine, Army.mil, MadameNoire.com, Military.com, and more.
In an article for SheOwnsIt, she recommended, “Stay humble. Besides my faith, I’m humbled by the simple fact that the genius behind Mutt’s Sauce came from my grandfather’s mind, not mine. I’m just the messenger. . . . Be gracious and take care of your people. Thank people when they help you, especially your team.” That’s her take on being leader-as-servant.
And, that advice appears quite consistent with what she indicates her grandfather told her: “Do more listening than talking, and seek people smarter than you, especially when starting out. Make sure to show gratitude when doors have been opened.”
Starting from humility
Charlynda is part of four generations of military service members including in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. In 2013, she was serving in the Air Force as a program manager stationed at Wright Patterson AFB. It was there where her mother told her that her grandfather had bequeathed his sauce recipe to her alone.
The inheritance was far more than a recipe on a neatly-folded handwritten piece of paper conveniently stored in her grandfather’s wallet. This was a piece of history that her grandfather seemingly carried with him virtually all the time and everywhere. She knows that as her grandfather was known to carry around his wallet so frequently that all of his jeans would have the outline of it.
She had no hesitation when founding the business. Her first business mentor was John Soutar from SCORE.org, a non-profit known for providing free advice to startups and existing businesses. She explains that Soutar told her they would “work at the speed of my determination.”
And, just how fast is the speed of determination? In Charlynda’s case, it’s so fast that nothing can possibly clock her speed. Apparently, the determination worked because Mutt’s Sauce went from concept to its first production in only four months, a task most would consider daunting to say the least. Not Charlynda, though, who explains that “Many of the best opportunities are the scariest and the ones you think you’re unqualified to do — do it anyway!”
Seeking help humbly
Charlynda says, “I was fortunate to have a good village of supportive friends and family to keep me moving forward. My mother, Marsha Sanders, has always been my biggest fan. You will very often see her helping at Mutt’s Sauce events. Everyone in my immediate family signed legal nondisclosures to protect any knowledge of the recipe. It’s really a ‘one team, one fight’ mentality with the Ferrell family.”
With her friends and family supporting her, Charlynda is more than ready for any business challenges she may face. As a way of confronting these challenges, she takes the rather bold approach of planning backward. How? She’ll set a firm date, tell people about it, and work backward under the pressure of meeting that date. For instance, with Mutt’s Sauce she set a launch date before she had a product.
Ever the military veteran, she remarked, “Starting a company is a selfless task, similar to the service before self [mindset] we are asked to exude in the military.” Her core values must align with entrepreneurship.
Daymond John, Shark Tank investor and FUBU CEO, and Mike Townsley, CEO/President of Bob Evans Farms, awarded Charlynda one of the 2017 Heroes to CEOs contest prizes of $25,000. Along with that came their commitment to mentor her.
She valued Daymond John’s advice to focus on what Mutt’s Sauce is doing locally. She recalls him telling her that, “Being #1 in your local area (Dayton, OH) can pay dividends, like it did for his company, FUBU in Harlem, NY.”
Charlynda freely acknowledges that an entrepreneur must know their job. In her case, her job appears to also be a passion, one she feeds by continuously attempting to gain as much knowledge as she can by reading as many business magazines and books as she can find.
She began this business while still on active duty, so I asked what connection she saw between military service and entrepreneurship. Charlynda remembered being a 1LT Program Manager for the Military Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFSII), a roll-on-roll-off technology for an aircraft used to help fight surge wildland forest fires, including those in California in 2008.
Charlynda notes that “As a program manager, I’ve had the challenge of leading dynamic teams during times of crisis. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. It’s high-octane, jump off a cliff, and build the parachute on the way down, ops tempo. You have to be ready to face uncertainty and make the mission work when your resources are constrained. The military was the perfect foundation for becoming an entrepreneur. I’m a servant leader. I want to leave the world a better place by serving others.”
Servant Leader: How Charlynda Scales Turned Things Upside Down was originally published in The Mission on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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Author: Eric L. Mitchell