I once had a beast of a dog, a 125-pound, all-black German shepherd named Dakota. He was foreboding in the looks department, but in reality he was just a big marshmallow. Dakota would frequently do the oddest thing; whenever we were standing close together, he would lean on me. His weight was enough to shift my center of gravity and at times I would have to scramble to regain my footing.
At one of his annual veterinary check-ups, I asked the vet whether this posture was common for big dogs looking to take a load off or if this dog just liked being close to me. The vet told me that it is the nature of dogs to slide up against each other and test the weight of the newcomer. I guess my dog was on instinct autopilot, subtly trying to test the competition in case there was going to be a tussle.
I don’t know if the vet was dealing in facts but I like to use this analogy when speaking about management and leadership. There is always something sliding up next to you trying to test your mettle. You are being constantly tested and assessed by the staff, customers, budget, boss, or competition—even your peers.
This book is about giving you a healthy dose of heft. After almost thirty years in the industry I’m hoping to share the solid footing that comes from hard-won wisdom.
Over time, with hands-on experience, I have come to understand that I prefer to work with authentic, caring, trustworthy, and competent people. People who do not possess these traits generally seem to fail at a higher rate. As such, I devoted much of my career to developing myself and my managers into people who were successful (by my assessment and by those who signed our paychecks) even though most of the time, we heard different music in our heads.
I call us leadagers (pronounced as – leed/i/jers), and we are a tribe, a group united by our shared values.
Let’s be clear; not everyone who has worked for me has liked me and certainly not everything I touched turned to gold. However, from the beginning, I was driven to produce more leadagers and tribal leaders, not just more managers or hourly workers. It was somewhere at about the eleven-year mark that I began to realize I excelled in the development of leadagers.
As an owner/operator running a college town hot spot, I got started developing people when I was twenty-one years old. I was learning from my management mistakes before most people get a chance to make ’em. (Check out Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, and look up the 10,000 hour rule-of-thumb. He basically states that ten years of practice is just about how long it takes to become really good at something.)
It’s not like I ignored any of the million little details that go into running a successful hospitality operation; you have to know the right thing to do to teach the right thing to do. It’s just that developing managers into strong leaders is what I poured my heart into.
I come forward now with this humble effort, targeting the following audiences: (1) assistant managers looking for more traction on their way up the mountain, (2) any level of manager in the service sector (general managers included) who is trying to improve their plate-spinning abilities, (3) hourly tribemates with ambition, and (4) anyone wishing for a peek into the mind of a “new-style” manager.
Let me be clear: There is no one right way to be successful in this industry or any other, for that matter. This book is an answer to many questions but it is not the answer to all problems.
With that in mind, may my mistakes help you to avoid some pitfalls, my knowledge be a force for good, and my travails tickle your fancy.
(Damn, I loved that dog!)