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Sullivan’s 25 laws of restaurant leadership

These sayings can put the transition from manager to leader in perspective

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership, franchisee and GM conferences worldwide. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Effectively transitioning from restaurant manager to restaurant leader is like a casserole — only those responsible for it really know what goes into it. 

The move incorporates equal parts patience, passion and performance. And how do you describe leadership, a skill so complex that a simple Google search reveals over a million pages on the topic? One good way is by considering a variety of different viewpoints on the topic in the form of leadership quotes. 

Here’s a list of the ones I share with consulting clients. Read ’em and reap!

1.     Sullivan’s 1st Law of Hierarchy: If you’re at the top of the ladder, cover your butt; if you’re at the bottom, cover your face.

2.     Sullivan’s 2nd Law of Hierarchy: The people that have the power to fix something don’t know what’s wrong, and the people that know what’s wrong don’t have the power to fix it.

3.     Sullivan’s Law of Team Harmony: Work Hard. Have Fun. No Drama.

4.     Sullivan’s Law of Probability Dispersal: Whatever it is that hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.

5.     Sullivan’s Law of Employee Churn: Of all the people who will never leave you, you’re the only one. Companies with an enthusiastic, tenured workforce are more profitable because it costs less to manage them.

6.     Sullivan’s Law of Meetings: The meeting you must attend this week is scheduled on the day you are slated to be at a seminar you paid for six months ago. You did not have any mandatory meetings the week before. You do not have any scheduled the following week.

7.     Sullivan’s Law of Timing: If you want something to happen, it will take twice as long as you expect. If don’t want something to happen, it will happen in half the time.

8.     Sullivan’s Law of Demeanor: Your objective is to be cheering and steering, not domineering.

9.     Sullivan’s Law of Competition: If you can’t win, make the person in front of you break the record. Be maladjusted to mediocrity.

10.  Sullivan’s Law of Letdowns: Failure is an event, never a person. Forget your mistakes, but remember what they taught you.

11.  Sullivan’s Law of Focus: If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

12.  Sullivan’s Law of Human Resources: A bad process will beat a good person every time.

13.  Sullivan’s Law of Work vs. Play: “Work hard, play hard” is the mantra of a drunk who doesn't work that hard.

14.  Sullivan’s Law of Reciprocity: The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

15.  Sullivan’s Law of Culture: Don’t lose focus on your core values. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

16.  Sullivan’s Law of Absence: The true impact of Leadership is not what happens when you are there, but what happens when you are not there.

17.  Sullivan’s Law of AI: Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

18.  Sullivan’s Law of priorities: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Saying yes to one thing always means saying no to something else. If you spend time on non-productive tasks, that means there’s less time or no time to spend on productive tasks.  

19.  Sullivan’s 1st Law of Service: Customers are like spouses: If you don’t show appreciation, they will go someplace else. 

20.  Sullivan’s 2nd Law of Service: A customer will forgive you for a higher price, but they’ll never forgive you for lower quality. 

21.  Sullivan’s Law of Performance: If you consistently do your best, the worst cannot happen.

22.  Sullivan’s Law of Enlightened Ignorance: The best is to know and know you know. The next best is to know that you don’t know. The third best is knowing, but not realizing it. The worst is not to know that you don’t know. 

23.  Sullivan’s Law of Quality: People may not remember how fast you did your work, but they will always remember how well you did it.24.  Sullivan’s Law of Coaching: Every day that you are not improving your training is a wasted day. I have never witnessed a spontaneous recovery from incompetence.

25.  Sullivan’s Laws of Happiness: 1. Make a list of things that make you happy. 2. Make a list of things you do every day. 3. Compare the lists. 4. Adjust accordingly.

Jim Sullivan is a popular speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. You can check out his training catalog of products and services at His clients include Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Marriott, Olive Garden and Panera Bread. Follow him on LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter @Sullivision.

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