Back to Blog

Will the Real Leader PLEASE Stand Up

leadership mindset peak performance Nov 19, 2017



These are words thrown around our industry as if they are one and the same. Let's be clear that they are not. Actually not even close. One works on push and the other pull.

Don't misunderstand, there are times you need to push people to get things done, and for that being in the role of manager would be appropriate. However, if you want to break free from the cult of average and really take your restaurant to the highest level, then the real leader must stand up. Leaders pull people forward by being the example. By being a positive example. You can't sit on the sidelines and bark orders; leadership requires being out front. At its basic level, leaders lead the vision, while managers manage the shift.

How do you step up to be the leader? Here are five steps you can take to get you going in the right direction.

1.     Your Emotions Induce Emotions in Others.

You must understand that your restaurant is a reflection of you as the leader. You know that old saying that sh*t rolls down hill? That translates to restaurants in that how you feel and how you act will flow down to your team.

If you are stressed and nervous, your team will be as well. When you stepped into the role of leadership you also were given a big spotlight (like the ones used for Hollywood movie premieres) that is now on you. Leadership comes with responsibilities that perhaps no one discussed with you. Managing your emotions and energy is one they usually forget to tell you.

We are at our essence social creatures that copy and mimic the behavior of the leader. That means the good, the bad, and the ugly things as well. Are you constantly upset that people show up for work late? How is your punctuality? You cannot expect more from your team than you do from yourself (well you can, it just never ends well).

2.     Take Care of Yourself.

The restaurant industry can be brutal on you physically and mentally. You might think that you’re young and you can take it. The body has limitations and if you push yourself without proper self care you’ll discover that truth very quickly.

Long term success in this business means looking at your mind and body like a professional athlete would. You’re a professional right? Start acting like it. Go to the gym and exercise. Sign up for a yoga class. Do something that will push your body to adapt and become stronger. Too many people sacrifice their body for work. The stronger your body is the more endurance and energy you’ll have.

Make sure to eat better. It is always ironic that many people who work in the food business have terrible eating habits. You are surrounded by food, not eating is just you wanting to be the martyr and being able to say, “I worked all day and didn’t eat.” Please, stop that (the only people who care are your mom or significant other). If you have the excuse that you don’t like the food at your restaurant, then why do you work there? If you have dietary or budget concerns, pack some food.

Oh, and take a few minutes to eat at a table or sit in a chair to consume your food. You don’t need to stand over a garbage can shoveling cold food out of a deli cup into your mouth like it’s the last meal you will ever have...stop acting like a barbarian. Sit down and enjoy your food like a human being. 

Train your brain too. Just like you need to push your body to become a world class athlete, you must also condition your mind. Reading blogs, books, and industry magazines are a great start. Don’t limit yourself to just restaurant topics. Be open to other life interests as well like art, social science, philosophy, poetry, and classic literature. Don’t like to read? Get audio-books and tune into YouTube. There is no excuse for not learning when you have a world of information available on the internet and your smart phone.

3.     Focus on the Positive.

What’s wrong is always available, and so is what is right. Negativity bias is a condition you must be aware of. Humans are wired to adapt and survive. It’s what we do as a species. That kind of self preservation kept your ancestors from being eaten by larger animals. We still have that code deeply embedded in our brains. Have you ever seen someone freeze up like a “deer in headlights”? That is a prime example.

You might like to think that you look for the good in your restaurant. If so, you are one of the few. We tend to notice those things that are not right in our world. Some people tend to focus on what is wrong in their restaurants and sadly, in that case will get more of the same. You get what you focus on. Water seeks its own level.

Try looking for and noticing all the things that are going right in your restaurant. Try it out for a week. Negativity is like a dark stormy cloud that hangs heavy in a restaurant and pollutes the culture. If you have a toxic culture, a sure symptom is having a bias towards looking at the negative. Now, this does not mean to become Pollyanna and look at things in denial or think, “It’s not that bad.” If it’s bad that’s okay. Accept it and look for positive ways to move forward. Negativity is like wearing 100-pound lead boots and trying to dunk a basketball. Good luck with that unless you are Michael Jordan.

4.     Just be Yourself.

Some think that they have to act a certain way to be effective. Let’s be clear that you will never get to the top of your game pretending to be someone you are not. You don’t need to yell to get your point across. Amateurs raise their voice; professionals improve their communication skills.

Being yourself, the real you is the only way to ascend into true leadership. This involves being authentic and being vulnerable. Those two words, authenticity and vulnerability can cause many to have that fore mentioned “deer in headlights” look! Take a deep breath, it’s not as catastrophic as you think.

Being authentic is being you. Now if you worry that they may not like the real you, have you ever tried? If you have never ever had a friend your entire life (not even an imaginary one), then okay you might have a personality problem. If you have had someone who has become a friend than you can succeed as a leader by being yourself.

Being vulnerable does not mean becoming a wimp,  letting people walk all over you and take advantage of you. It means being open to talk about things with sympathy. You have been there, you can relate, you understand. Please note the difference between sympathy and empathy. Let say someone is sitting in a boat and dealing with some strong emotions (drama). Sympathy is standing on the side of the boat and understanding what they are experiencing. Empathy is letting them pull you into the boat with them! Don’t let others pull you into their boat of drama! 

5.     Ask, Don’t Order.

True leaders understand that influence skills are paramount to success. Influence is built by harnessing the power of a few key ingredients:

Respect: Many leaders have the assumption that to be a leader you need to be a jerk. You need to make the team fear you. Bark orders and make them bend to your will. Yeah, that might have worked in the 70’s, in 2017 it is a sure fire way to keep your turnover very high. You’ll spend more time placing help wanted ads and interviewing the few candidates that apply because now the word is out that you are not a nice person to work for. You never demand respect; you earn it from your team by proving you deserve it. Nothing is given in the restaurant world. You will have to fight tooth and nail to become (and stay) a leader. Leadership is not a title, it’s the actions you take everyday for your team and your guests. Notice that order.... your team, before the guests. Show your team respect and they will return it back to you (that’s basic reciprocity). Even better is that they will treat your guests the same.

Trust: this is the element that makes and breaks teams. Leaders understand this and they diligently work to maintain that with their team. You must trust your team to do what you expect (that also means having authentic conversations about expectations) and then allowing them to do their job. If you have to micromanage or bug them constantly you either don’t trust them or you might have the wrong person on the team. Trust them, train them, declare your standards, and then allow them to shine. You must also have integrity between your words and actions. No one trusts a hypocrite.

Requests: which of these sounds more likely to get the team to act?

“You need to wipe the booths down after every guest leaves. If you don’t, I’ll have to write you up.”


“I have a request. It’s important to make sure we are always ready for the next guest. So, I am requesting that you stay diligent on keeping the booths wiped down as soon as the guests gets up. Can you help me with that?”

Here is a key to influence...ask. Ask with clear directions, expectations, and a reason why. People who do things you order and reinforce with threats will comply out of fear. People who understand the reason (or why) behind the request will commit to holding the standards.

If you have been hanging back in the shadows between being a manager or a leader, then it’s time to take a stand. Step up and be the leader your team is looking for.

Join my tribe BEFORE your competition does!

Tips, tools, and the latest ways to help your restaurant break free from mediocrity delivered right into your inbox!

I hate SPAM too. I will never sell your information, for any reason.