Five Powerful Leadership Lessons from Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak

You can find great leaders everywhere, if you just look. Perhaps you’ve heard of one from the news recently. His name is Joey Prusak. He’s 19-years old and he has more leadership ability than most 40-year olds I know.

Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak

Five Leadership Traits You Can Learn from Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak (Tweet That)

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If you don’t know his story, here is a quick recap courtesy of NPR:

Prusak, a Dairy Queen manager, back on Sept. 10 saw a woman pick up a $20 bill that a blind customer dropped. When Prusak told her to give it back, she refused. So, the 19-year-old manager refused to serve her. He then took $20 of his own money and gave it to the visually impaired customer.

Prusak’s good deed might have gone unnoticed. But, as KARE-TV reports:

“Other customers saw what happened and one of them wrote an email to Dairy Queen. The email was forwarded to the owner of the store, who posted it on the board for everybody to see.

“A co-worker was impressed by what happened and posted the message on Facebook, where others found it and shared it. Joey’s story is now all over the Internet.”

The story filtered up to billionaire Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns Dairy Queen. “He called [Thursday] and thanked me for being a role model for all the other employees and people in general,” Prusak tells The Associated Press.

The wire service adds that Dean Peters, a spokesman for International Dairy Queen, said the company is figuring out how to reward Prusak.

Yes, there are still some good people left in the world.

And yes, you can learn a ton from him about leadership.

Five Leadership Traits You Can Learn from Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak

1. Great leaders know right from wrong.

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Joey knew what happened was wrong. He knew how to make it right. And he acted on it.

2. Great leaders act fast.

He did not wait around to do the right thing. There are times in life and especially if you’re a leader, when what is needed most is action. And this was one of them. No committee was needed. No approval from higher ups. Just action.

3. Great leaders have fanatical integrity.

The first time I heard the term “fanatical integrity” was from Dave Ramsey in his Financial Peace University course. He quoted a study done by Tom Stanley on millionaires. The #1 trait that most of them had in common was fanatical integrity. Joey did not compromise on his integrity. He could have served the woman and made a few more bucks. He could have kept his $20. But he did neither. He had fanatical integrity. If refusing to serve a paying customer and giving away $20 of your own money with his salary doesn’t qualify as “fanatical,” I don’t know what does.

4. Great leaders serve others first.

He put the blind man first. He put his team’s integrity first. He showed servant leadership at its finest.

5. Great leaders demonstrate the right behavior.

Joey knew all eyes were on him. Leaders, in case you didn’t know, all eyes are on you. Your team is looking to you for everything. How to act, how to treat an angry customer, how to

dress, how to eat, you name it. Joey showed his team exactly how he wanted them to act in a similar situation.

Bonus Trait: Leaders leave a lasting impact.

His team, and now millions of other people, will never forget what he did. His legacy will be remembered for generations. Great leaders do that.

What legacy are you leaving as a leader? At work, at home, in church, or wherever you lead others.

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  • Ken Newsome

    #7 – Great leaders say “no” to short-term gain (the customer’s next $5 purchase) for long-term success.

    • Definitely Ken. I think that is a big part of #1 and #3 too.

  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    He had the instinct to do the right thing… it starts young. We must intentionally help our children grow into the leaders they are capable of becoming.

    • Good point. I haven’t thought much about it, but any thoughts on how to cultivate that in kids? Guest post? :)

  • Great story, Matt. Great leaders are not manipulative or coercive.

  • Katherine Leicester

    Terrific story and good teaching, Matt.

    The question I ask myself is how do I create that kind of heart in all my team members?

    • 1. You hire people like that.

      2. You show them like Joey.

      They either come around or leave, by their own choice or yours.

      • Yes. This would be a great story to show to team members.

  • Steve Pate

    great question to be thinking about today! This has been on my heart for a while ever since I heard the interview with Robert D Smith, what kind of legacy will I leave behind. More on the work end lately.

  • First of all, I love DQ. There’s nothing like a Blizzard any day of the week.

    Second, what a great story. This kid definitely is an example to follow.

    To answer your question, I think I’m leaving a legacy in multiple arenas. At work, I’m known for my integrity and hard work. At home, I’m impacting my kids as I point them towards Christ. At church, leading starts with serving. I hope I’m known more for my servant heart than for my leadership.

    • I would also add that great leaders look out for those who can’t look out for themselves. There’s a balance here, but I think common sense will prevail.

  • Great post Matt. Very true on all 5/6 leadership traits. Servant leadership is the only way to truly lead that lasts. Blessings Matt.

  • And then we complain about young people being so indifferent, shallow and unhappy. His parents and leaders did something right in raising Joey! What an uplifting example of a true leader.

    • Goes to show the youth of our country (scary that I am referring to them as an exclusive-of-myself group) is not lost.

  • brentmkelly

    Great story Matt. Doing the right thing may not always get notice, but it’s always the right thing. I actually wrote a blog post about a week ago title, “5 Things I Learned From a McDonald’s Employee.” Seems fast food has a few people doing the right thing!

    • As much as I cannot stand fast food as an industry, it has done more than double our healthcare costs :)

      I read somewhere that something like 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs once worked at a McDonald’s. That is amazing.

  • David Mike

    I want to be just like Joey! It’s amazing that he had that kind of integrity. The lady who took the $20 needed better parents!

  • Paige Gordon II

    Woot Woot! Man, if a 19 year old kid has that kind of character maybe there is still some hope for humanity! Thanks for sharing that story Matt. That’s the first i’ve heard of it but it made my day :)

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