Nathan Buchanan is an operator of two Chick-Fil-A franchises in Martin County, Florida. He’s also a husband and the father of five children as well as a pastor’s kid and a follower of Jesus. He manages to get exceptional quality service out of a group of rotating teenagers. Join me as I interview Nathan and discuss how the principles found in the Chic-Fil- A franchise can help you parent your children.

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Show Highlights

J: What is the ideal culture in your restaurant?

N: First we have to define culture. I would define it as the sum of all the behaviors and attitudes within an organization. An ideal culture is one in which we have individuals with positive growth-minded mindsets, who are well-trained in behaviors that we want them to perform and have a great attitude. In management, we manage the behavior side of it. Behaviors are quantifiable. I can see your smile or your physical or verbal reactions. Attitudes on the other hand are qualifiable. So I can tell if you have a good or bad attitude, but I can’t really manage it.

J: Do you measure smiles in your house?

N: We measure behaviors. In my restaurant, I rent the behaviors of my team for the time they are in my restaurant. However, in a house it is a different set of behaviors. Children have chores and things they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining. They have to behave a certain way towards their siblings or their parents. So we manage the behavior. We say “don’t do that, but do this behavior instead.”

J: Go more deeply into what you mean by “renting behaviors.”

N: There are two types of relationships in the world. There is a conditional relationship, such as an employee-employer relationship. In this relationship the conditions are: you do a certain type and amount of work for me and I give you a certain amount of money. Then there is the unconditional relationship, such as a father-daughter relationship, where that relationship cannot change no matter how good or bad it is. In the conditional relationship of the restaurant, I rent the behavior of the team member while they are on the clock. I tell them what to do, what to say, what to wear, etc, but only in that limited context. There are some unconditional relationships where I have that same responsibility. I have a responsibility to teach my kids how to interact with others, how to dress, and how to behave. I have a responsibility to go through those same management principles in that unconditional relationship as I would in the conditional relationship of my restaurant to help my child come self-disciplined.

J: So, “renting” in regards to parenting is like: “this is the expectation and this is the payout for what you do.” You don’t have to bring any emotions into it.

N: Emotions are a tricky thing. They are really important. They are useful to convey the depth of feeling that is driving the conversation. But when you parent with emotion, your child responds to that emotion, and your child then has justification to their own actions in response to yours. They can self-justify.

J: You spend your life now recruiting and developing high school students to work in a professional environment. Your workforce is constantly changing, but in your restaurant, the service and quality of the food stays excellent. It feels like it depends on the individual that you have there, so what have you figured out in your environment that has helped that?

N: There are a couple of things that we have figured out that may not correlate directly to parenting:

1) If you choose the person that fits your job, it makes life a lot easier. We look for people with specific talent-sets or natural talents. We look for self-discipline, shared values, and intrinsic hunger or drive. All we have to do is inspire them to be better than they already are.

2)  If we hire someone who can’t do the job or won’t do the job, we part ways with them quickly. But you can’t do that with your children.

J: You mentioned figuring out when people can’t, wont, and don’t know how. This is a really helpful parenting skill as well. How do you figure this out?

N: We go through the roster and measure their actions and whether they help the team. We ask “Is it because they can’t?”And if they can’t then we ask them “How can we help you get to a better place?” The Wont’s are great but they’re immature, so we set specific expectations and hold them accountable or we get performance out of their replacement. The Don’t Know Hows are a group of people who can’t figure things out intuitively. We focus on them and make sure they know exactly what we expect. In parenting, specificity drives accountability, and accountability will drive performance. As parents, it’s our role to really get specific about our expectations with the kids. The more specific you can get, the easier it’s going to be to hold your kids accountable.

J: As a parent you don’t get to recruit your children and you don’t get to fire them. But there have to be principles that are translated back and forth. What can parents learn from the way Chic-Fil-A runs its operation?


  • Get on it early. Make sure your child know what you mean when you say no and then it gets easier from there. Also, celebrate the behavior that you want.
  • Get specific with expectations and rules and hold ramifications for those expectations. Specificity drives accountability and accountability drives performance.
  • You need to be friendly but not their friend because you’re going to have to hold them accountable.
  • You have to constantly challenge them to grow. When children have self-discipline, you can give them more trust.
  • You have to be trustworthy as a parent. Integrity, authenticity, and personal discipline make trust happen.
  • Discipline in principle and not in anger.
  • Be aware of who your kids are spending time with. You do have the authority to tell them what to do and how to do it.

J: Describe the culture that you think parents should strive for to have a thriving, fruitful home?

N: I want to provide a safe and secure environment where young people can grow and mature rightly. The culture that you want in your home is a safe and secure environment where people are challenged to grow and mature and are given guidance to grow and mature. I want my kids to become great adults, not necessarily have a fun childhood. You create the culture and that’s just the expectation that happens.

J: How do you think parents miss the mark in character formation?

N: It’s a twofold answer:

  • I think as parents we are too caught up in our own lives and, sometimes, we just want the kids to leave us alone. We miss teachable moments.
  • We make the mistake of trying to get outward compliance instead of an inward change of attitude. A lot of times as parents we just want compliance because then we can go on with our day. And our children will comply, but then they’re silently still rebelling in their hearts. We miss that to our peril. We are the first authority figure that God has given to them. If kids don’t learn to obey us, they’re not going to obey their boss, the police, the government, etc.

J:  Parents, don’t miss that mark of how much character formation takes place in the home.

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Resources Mentioned

It’s Ok to Be the Boss: The Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need by Bruce Tulgan

Patrick Lencioni

Marcus Buckingham

Jim Collins

Daniel Pink

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell


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