If I had to distill my life’s work into one sentence, it would be this:

Leaders have the opportunity to impact people’s lives for the better – and that’s the only real work that matters.

When I got a job as a “bean boy” at a barbecue joint at the age of 16, I had no idea a lifelong path was about to unfurl in front of me. I met the owner and his daughter – he was a bit intimidating at first, but she quickly became my favorite person in the world and, eventually, my wife. With that, I became a part of one of Kansas City’s most historic and beloved family-owned businesses, known today as Jack Stack Barbecue.

Nearly 40 years later, there are two things about this business I’m most proud of: we’ve successfully navigated three generations worth of succession planning (without tearing the family apart!), and we’ve built a best-in-class professional experience for our employees, defying the restaurant business’s typically unhealthy work culture.

Interested in hearing more of that story? Join the upcoming webinar.

So if people are the only work that really matters, what steps can we take to put them first?

Start with respect.

Every individual needs to feel cared for and respected in their professional life to have the opportunity to do their best work. As you interact with customers, employees, family, and friends, nothing will have better results for everyone involved than starting from the default position of respect.

What does respect look like? A listening ear, high expectations, and the ability to lean in and support when needed, willingly and without condescension.

Make no assumptions.

We all make mistakes. And none of us truly knows how others perceive us.

When I say we must make no assumptions as we engage with people, I mean that however well-intentioned we may be, however clear we may think we are being, it is never safe to assume we are being received and interpreted accordingly.

Where is this more obvious than in relationships with family – and with our own children, in particular? While you strive to honor and support those around you, remember that you see the situation from your limited perspective. If you want to be sure your actions and words are genuinely honoring and benefitting those around you, you will have to place your own assumptions aside and ask them:

  • What is it you need and want from me right now?
  • How are you feeling about me and my role in this conversation or situation as I try to support you?

Putting people first means starting by truly listening to them and accepting that your actions and words may not always be interpreted as the kindness you intend them to be – at least not at first. Put in the work of gaining mutual clarity, and you can start truly moving forward.

Dig into hard conversations with love.

Whether doing the hard work of relationship-building with a family member, friend, or employee, hard conversations will inevitably arise. Our family has had to navigate multiple generations of business transitions – from my wife’s father to me and my brother-in-law, and now from my wife and me to our own children. There were times that I thought our family would be torn apart during each process, but here we are, still standing. Ultimately, tough conversations resulted in everyone getting what they wanted and needed, with all relationships still intact.

We tackled our hardest conversations powered by:

  • Intentionality.
  • Lots of prayer.
  • An explicit agreement to prioritize our love for one another above all else.

Build hope for those around you.

Jack Stack’s purpose statement is “Hope Through Hospitality Today.” I firmly believe that we are called to create hope – to help others feel trusted, loved, connected, believed in, and that their lives have been changed for the better. For my family and Jack Stack as an organization, this is accomplished through hospitality. We treat our team, guests, and community like family, humbly serving them with warmth, kindness, and generosity and giving them more than they expect every time.

Before becoming a leader at Jack Stack, I saw a lot of poor leadership and values played out at many different restaurants. I felt spiritually led to do things differently when my turn came around. Plenty of our employees have struggled mightily and come from all walks of life, and we work hard – as a family and as a business – to show them what it can look like to put people first and to live in hope. I have seen that work pays off in the form of individual, personal transformation time and time again.

As business leaders, we’re all in the people business. Nothing – not your legacy, bottom line, or detailed retirement plan – will ever matter quite as much as building up those around you. How we treat people will determine our success or failure in business and life.

Don’t miss out on hearing Case’s full story! Register for the webinar today.

Case Dorman
Post by Case Dorman
June 5, 2023
Case Dorman is the Chairman of Jack Stack Barbecue – a fourth-generation, family-owned business with headquarters in Overland Park, KS. Beginning his restaurant-industry journey at the age of 16, Case worked as a cook at Smoke Stack Bar-B-Q of Martin City, MO. Smoke Stack’s owner was Jack Fiorella, who would later become Case’s industry mentor and father-in-law. Throughout the 70s and early 80s, Case worked side-by-side with Jack to learn the ins and outs of the hospitality industry, gaining valuable insight that helped create the unique hospitality experience that Jack Stack Barbecue offers today. In 2009, Case and his wife Jennifer purchased the family business, growing the brand to include six KC-area restaurant locations, a nationwide shipping business, a barbecue catering operation, a fine-catering brand called Storia, and an event venue in Southern Johnson County called Fiorella’s. Today, Case is joined in the business by his sons Keaton and Taylor Dorman and serves on the boards of the School of Faith, The Learning Club of Kansas City, KS, and the Nativity Parish Council.