Restaurant and Hospitality Leadership Development Series

Developing the Leader Within You

In the book Leaders, Bennis and Nanus make a simple statement. “The truth is that leadership opportunities are plentiful and within reach of most people.” This is true in the restaurant industry. There is a need, whether your sites are set on a job position as a general manager, restaurant manager, or some other restaurant job.

Many people have the skill set and experience to perform these hospitality jobs effectively. They may even have the mindset, but they lack one thing. Leadership skills. A little known fact is that the term ‘born leader’ is a misnomer that keeps many potential managers from taking bold steps in their career plan. The truth is, leadership is a developed skill. It is a learned habit. It may be more true to claim that it is an ‘unlearned habit.’

What a Leader is Not

Leaders are people who can influence others. The general trend is to bully and coerce people into obedience. This is a very short sighted and unprofitable leadership model. It results in high turnover rates which add a laboursome burden to most restaurant’s budget. It results in poor staff moral which destroys the customer experience. It can also lead to employee apathy and lack of respect. This last problem is an intangible that can destroy a restaurant by degrees. One employee may break a piece of equipment, another is disrespectful to the patrons, another wastes food, and the problem snowballs. A once profitable restaurant is now in trouble and no one can find the problem.

It is easy to rely on disrespect, bullying, rules, and even abuse to keep a team in order. This type of leader is able to keep business running on a mediocre level. A close look at their business model shows a hardworking, over worked, underappreciated manager. What they don’t see is that if they adopted a more leadership position and dropped the totalitarian model they could work far less, focus on the important projects, and watch their restaurant flourish.

What is a Leader

The solution is to hire leaders who have stopped relying on control, and rely on influence to lead their team. The key to success in any endeavor is to lead a team successfully.

The president of Hyatt Hotels said in Newsweek, “If there is anything I have learned in my 27 years in the service industry, it is this: 99 percent of all employees want to do a good job. How they perform is simply a reflection of the one for whom they work.” (David Hartley-Leonard, Newsweek, 24 August 1987, 11.)

The visible habits shared by successful leaders:

  • They lead by example
  • They are present on the floor with the staff
  • They take an interest in the staff
  • They learn how to communicate well
  • They learn how to implement change without rebellion
  • They have a high level of self-discipline
  • They are problem solvers
  • They have a positive, optimistic attitude
  • They take responsibility. No excuses. No lies.
  • They make decisions based on facts not feelings and wants
  • They listen
  • They understand the difference between a task problem and a people problem
  • They solve problems before they become an emergency.
  • They deligate
  • They praise and affirm
  • They are numbers people

The unseen aspects of leadership include:

  • As they climb the ladder you have more responsibility and less rights
  • They learn to separate and individuals behavior from the individual
  • They value their prime ‘assets’ – people
  • Failure is not a goal. It is a chance to restart more intelligently
  • They respond to situations. They do not react.
  • They have a plan for success that can be articulated verbally
  • They can explain their job in less than 50 words
  • They have adopted and developed a systematic problem solving strategy that can be written on paper

There are more habits leaders share. The important theme is that leaders are focused on people, they are problem solvers, and they have a positive attitude. This can be difficult to maintain on a daily basis without educating, coaching, and practice.

Leadership Development Plan

There are distinctive areas that need to be addressed. The amount of time and energy invested is directly related to how high a person aspires to climb. A general manager needs to develop a different skill set than a restaurant manager. A person on the floor needs to focus more on people. An administrator needs to focus on numbers.

The first step to becoming a leader is to learn what skillset you need. The next step is to become proficient in those skills.

There are some general areas that all good managers need to improve and sharpen.

  • Communication skills
  • People skills
  • Problem solving skills

The most overlooked is communication skills. There is an old adage ‘say what you mean, mean what you say.’ It is not only important to be able to find a solution, a manager must be able to make everyone understand what they want. This is complicated by the fact that people have different vocabularies, levels of understanding, and comprehension. There are also six different ‘love languages’ and ‘communication styles’ that come into play.

The love language is one of the easiest skills to learn. The love language determines how a person feels rewarded. If a person is physical, then buying them a gift will not have the same effect as a hand shake. On the other hand, if someone needs quality time, then a pay raise won’t produce the same level of loyalty as sitting down and talking over lunch.

Communication styles determine how a person hears a message. One person may need visuals, another may need a direct and understated message. Communication should always be direct, with no personal attacks, simple, and focused. Personal communication can include names, and is more geared to building relationships. There is no evasive language in good leadership. People must be given the time necessary to learn that your yes means yes, no means no. There is no room for colorful or ‘over the top’ language.

There is also no room for emotions in leadership communication. The higher a manager climbs the less right they have to their emotions. They also have more responsibility to put aside their own communication style and accept another individual’s communication style, allowing that individual to use colorful language as well as emotional influence.

A good leader realizes that communication is not about their needs, being respected, or being treated in a specific manner. It is about getting the job done. On the job communication is a tool, nothing more.

Leaders are Problem Solvers

This is the first area that needs to be developed if you want a career as a general manager, restaurant manager, or even as head of the wait staff or kitchen staff in a large restaurant.

Communication Skill Development

There are ample courses that help people improve their communication skills. There is no quick way to improve both verbal and written communication. It takes more than one course. It is an ongoing task within a job seeker’s career plan. The leader needs to become aware of what they say, and how people respond. This takes time, practice, and experimentation.

There is more involved in being able to construct a sentence, or talk without grammatical errors. Good communication requires more than being able to write a note without spelling errors. It all comes back to the root of leadership – influence.

What you say + How you say it + attitude + integrity = influence

When the message is focused and given by a solid leader then influence is strong and focused. Everyone works towards a common goal. People understand what is expected of them and act on it.

People Skill Development

There are many elements to develop if you want to become a person of influence. A good leader understands the following:

  • Personality types
  • Love languages
  • Motivational factors
  • Emotional triggers
  • How to influence agendas
  • Coaching vs coercing
  • Listening skills

Like communication, many people fall short because they take a single course, or read a book, and then decide that they know all that is needed. I recently talked to a manager who claimed she took years’ worth of courses but it did no good. After coaching her for a few weeks I learned that she had a solid understanding of ‘what’ needed to be done, but had never been taught ‘how’ to do it.

Reading books can teach a person what needs to be done. Once armed with knowledge, a person needs to go out and develop their own strategy for success. This is done through controlled experimentation, trial and error, and risk taking. This is why many restaurant owners will fill restaurant manager jobs position with someone who has worked up through the ranks, instead of a candidate with a BS and a masters in restaurant management. The university candidate knows what needs to be done. The experienced candidate knows how to get the job done.

It takes daily practice to learn how to influence someone without them feeling manipulated. A good leader can identify their personality type and use it to their advantage. They listen for cues and clues to emotional triggers and love languages. They set aside their own agenda, wants and needs, and do whatever it takes to lead the other person toward a desired outcome.

The good news. Anyone can start developing this skill immediately, and work on it at every level of their career development strategy.

Problem Solving Skills

Success is a Habit.

Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail.

Attitude is everything

When a management candidate embarks on a career development project they quickly become inundated with quotes meant to help them focus on the goal – good leadership. Leadership is a high risk career. The leader is not measured by their past successes, but their present failure. The leader is not brought down by the problems they see, it is the one they didn’t see that knocks them to the ground.

This is why problem solving needs to be developed into an art and science. was not involved in the creation of this content. Information contained on this page is provided by an independent third-party content provider. makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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