Lessons in Leadership: Breaking down bad management

By Donald Burns

Promotions can come quickly in the restaurant business. One day you’re a server and the next thing you know, your manager just walked out. Guess who’s being called up to take on the position? Getting a battlefield promotion is quite common. The problem is, it might come before you’re ready. That’s alright — not everyone’s ready right away. So before you become management, let’s bring you up to speed.

Lesson From the Past

We are a collection of our experiences, both good and bad. Everything that has happened in your life up to this moment has shaped who you are, and like it or not, everyone you’ve met has helped shaped you as well. Sadly, there are few true leaders in the world that set the example for what a real outstanding leader is. If you’ve been lucky maybe you had the chance to work with such a leader, but odds are that you didn’t have that luxury. You probably got stuck working with a person who could be described as intense or passionate. Maybe they were just a jerk.

Too few managers are leaders. Too many are bosses that bark orders and talk down to people. Despite being in a people industry, they lack of people skills to really become a catalyst for the wrong kind of change in their organizations. Much like a magician upon the stage, they implore the use of distraction to keep their jobs by getting others to focus on something, anything, but them. It can have dire consequences on the team, profits and brand.

The Breakdown

Look back now on those lessons. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write down all the traits you admired from your previous managers; on the other (you guessed it) write down the traits you didn’t. Soak in the good stuff (even deficient managers have a few redeeming qualities). Now steel yourself for the other. Those negative traits likely amount to a particularly destructive way of dealing with personnel: breaking them down before building them back up. It might work in the military, but there are few worse ways to manage your restaurant’s staff.

People are really good at breaking down others. Humans seem to have a natural tendency towards entropy. Perhaps it just the universe doing its thing. But maybe we should aim higher.

While many bosses are experts at breaking people down, they are not as good at putting them back together. If you have ever taken something apart, put it back together, and been left with an extra piece and nowhere to put it, then you’ve been in the situation before. Either the piece wasn’t important, or more likely, you screwed up. Messing with the human mind is very dangerous ground to say the least.

Don’t break people down, because in the end, you just end up with broken people working in your restaurant. Do you really want that?

An Alternative

Instead of breaking people down, look back at that list of good traits from former managers. Hopefully you connect with things like: confidence, trust, communication and appreciation. These are traits you want to cultivate not only within yourself, but your team as well. Leadership is really at its essence leading by example. Model the good and channel that. Outdated management techniques plague our industry. It starts by breaking down walls, embracing equality and having open communication with each other.

How do you change an industry? One person at a time. Be that change you wish to see reflected in your restaurant.


About the Author

Donald Burns is The Restaurant Coach, named one of The Top 50 Restaurant Experts to Follow in 2018 and one of 23 Inspiring Hospitality Experts to Follow on Twitter. He is the leading authority, speaker, and international coach on how restaurant owners, operators, and culinary professionals go from just good to becoming outstanding. A former USAF Pararescueman (PJ), restaurant owner, and Executive Chef with Wolfgang Puck, he has the unique skills to break restaurants free from average and skyrocket them to peak performance. He works with restaurants that want to build their brand, strengthen their team, and increase their profits. He is the author of: Your Restaurant Sucks! Embrace the suck. Unleash your restaurant. Become outstanding.

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