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Building Safer & Stronger Teams: Lessons from a young leader to another

They need more than a set of keys and the ability to comp food to be successful.

Be honest, have you ever given someone the keys and made them a supervisor without setting them up for success? I certainly have, and most likely you have, too. 

Here’s the way it usually works: You need someone to open, close and be in charge, so you give the most reliable person the opportunity to step up. This doesn’t mean they actually have the experience, development or maturity necessary to be a skilled manager. Yesterday they were hanging with their friends in the alley and now they’re the boss and have to manage the team. Suddenly they have a ton of responsibility, liability, excitement and, well, anxiety.

Supervisors and shift leaders are the glue between company expectations and team execution. They’re working in the mix with the other team members, so they usually know what’s going on as far as operations and morale. As the leader during a shift, they have the ability to increase accuracy, sales and throughput while reducing liability and turnover. A happy and effective shift leader creates a happier and more productive shift. They’re just about the most important people in the building.

When my company, ARROW UP, was commissioned to create leadership training for a multi-unit client, I was nervous and excited. As a young supervisor, I remember struggling with the balance of holding everyone accountable while still wanting to be liked. This course was an opportunity to coach the future, younger me. We developed a program that supports new leaders with tools that help them manage their peers and foster a more positive work culture.  We teach them to support their teammates and connect on a human level, giving them simple hacks that strengthen a leader’s confidence and communication skills. These aren’t just lessons that help at work; building confidence and better communication affects every aspect of someone’s life. Human development like this feels good and makes business sense.

Building safer and stronger people helps build safer and stronger teams.

Our leadership course starts by looking inward. Instead of saying, “How can I exert my will and opinions on my team?” start by looking inward and taking stock of yourself. First focus on finding your personal balance, then work on effective communication, de-escalation and accountability. To grow great teams, you should incorporate all POVs — especially the folks in entry-level positions. We get smarter by having diversity of thought. As usual, we interviewed seasoned operators, new leaders and entry level employees to learn through their eyes.

As a veteran in the hospitality industry, I try my best to stay open to new ideas and an evolving workplace climate. The new generation of workers means we may have to shift our approach a bit. Learning from an 18-year-old supervisor feels incredible, and some of their insights are below. These lessons might seem obvious to an experienced leader, but it’s essential for young leaders to practice these skills without getting hung up on the little mistakes they might make along the way.

5 Highlights from the Restaurant Leadership Course

Explain ‘The Why’

People are more inclined to follow rules when they understand why it’s done a certain way. Take time to explain “the why” behind the rules and your team will feel more respected and involved. This helps your team remember how to do something and gives them insight into how it’s connected to other tasks.

Build Relationships; the Small Moments Matter

We are humans, not robots, so treat people with some humanity. Knowing your team and showing a real appreciation for them and their personalities, wants, needs and work styles will build a sense of trust and community. This starts with being approachable and open to initiating small talk. Capitalize on quick moments of downtime, but make sure to keep it professional — don’t make your team feel uncomfortable by getting too personal.

Continue to Check In With Them

One of the best things to come from the pandemic was the acknowledgement of mental health and the importance of checking in with your teammates and friends, asking, “How are you holding up?”

This doesn’t mean you need to make an elaborate show of it. Often the little things have the biggest impact. Supervisors that take the opportunity to say hello to their team and ask them how they are doing allows for opportunities for more in-depth informal communication that can be the starting point for longer conversations that allow for the exchange of more thoughts, worries and personal connections.

Ask open-ended questions like, “How was yesterday’s shift?” Listen and give them the space to talk. Hopefully you really do care, because they’ll notice and appreciate it.

Be Fair, Transparent and Consistent

When we asked a young leader how they balance managing friends, her answer was to be fair, transparent and consistent. Don’t surprise them.

It’s crucial for organizations to set their leaders up for success by clearly outlining expectations and providing a process to hold everyone accountable. Everyone should be on the same page, and then the responsibility falls on the employee to perform. Leaders should support their team, not just discipline them.

Being fair, transparent and consistent means holding everyone accountable to the same standards; everyone gets the same treatment for showing up late or wearing a wrinkled uniform. Be impartial — favoritism can get you in a lot of trouble.

Say “Thank You”

The young leaders we interviewed mentioned the power of receiving and giving a “thank you.” It’s the simplest, most efficient and cost-effective way to strengthen a team and one's sense of purpose. Two simple words that can build bonds and camaraderie. 


Getting the keys and the ability to comp a dessert doesn’t make you a supervisor; being a competent leader comes from good training, following smart processes and then practice — and more practice. Support your rising leaders and set them up for success. The lessons they learn can transcend work and drive real human development.

JasonHeadshot.jpegAUTHOR BIO

Jason Berkowitz is the founder of ARROW UP Training, innovative online training for the hospitality industry. Jason’s first job was as a 14-year-old fast-food cashier. Today he’s built teams large and small from fast casual to Michelin stars. He’s the author of Please Don’t Sleep With The Host.”

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