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25 lessons for better leadership

Top insights to sharpen focus and improve results

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. 

Each summer I publish a collection of my favorite fresh leadership insights and quotes and share it in poster form with my consulting clients and seminar audiences.

And I also share them annually with my other favorite audience: Nation’s Restaurant News readers. So here’s a short list of my favorite insights so far in 2019.

The quotes collectively offer a variety of succinct understanding into smart and creative ways to improve our people, performance and profitability.

Read ’em and reap.

  1. Everything now being done in our industry is going to be done better, and smarter, and more effectively. And if we don’t do it, our competitors will. First be best, then be first.
  2. The restaurant business never gets easier. You just have to get better at it.
  3. A customer will forgive you for a higher price, but they’ll never forgive you for lower quality.
  4. The restaurant business is the only business I know where there’s more ways to lose money than make money. The easiest thing is to open a restaurant. The hardest thing is to make it successful.
  5. Winning is great, but there's something greater than winning: It’s helping other people win.
  6. Don’t make customers happy. Make happy customers.
  7. Ask yourself: under what circumstances do my team members do the wrong thing, even though they’ve been told or taught how to do the right thing?  Now, how do I eliminate or minimize those circumstances?
  8. There is no guarantee that the future will be better, only that it will be different. Since the future comes at us one hour at a time, do your best to make each hour better than the 60 minutes that preceded it.  Make the future happen, don’t just let it happen. Change is inevitable. Growth is a choice.
  9. Successful companies don’t build “business,” they build people. People build business.
  10. Worry about being better; bigger will take of itself.
  11. Hold the leadership high ground: If you have integrity, nothing else matters; if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
  12. Don’t blame labor challenges for process shortcomings. Customers will not accept being underserved simply because you are understaffed.
  13. Leadership is pointless without understanding what success means. Details need direction. Teach teams how to think, don’t just tell them what to do. Don’t give trainees four — give them two plus two.
  14. Constantly develop your people to either move up in the organization or out of it. But make the learning process so valuable that they want to stay.
  15. Questions are the Answers: Where do my team members already perform in exceptional ways?  What’s the best way to replicate this performance? What do my top and bottom-performing team members have in common? How can I keep individuals accountable to the team? How do I eliminate customer dissatisfaction? What are my three biggest business problems and what other companies have already solved those problems?
  16. The one thing we all have in common is problems. Just don't let one problem create another one. Apply positive thinking to every mistake.
  17. Constantly audit the chronological customer experience with your business. Make it a priority to find ways to fix and bridge the gaps in their experience.
  18. Consumers are more interested in brands that are useful than brands that are interesting.
  19. What is happening on the inside of your business is being felt on the outside by customers. How your team feels ends up on the plate.
  20. There are four options for Talent Acquisition and Development in a company. Think of them as the 4B’s: you can either buy it (higher pay), bond it (stronger teams and culture), broaden it (invest in skills training) or bounce it (give underperformers a job at the competition). 
  21. People join great companies and leave bad managers. Good people leave when the management is bad. Bad people leave when the management is good. Companies with an enthusiastic tenured workforce are more profitable because it costs less to manage them.
  22. The quality of a company can never exceed the quality of the people that make it up.
  23. The goal is not to be perfect by the end of the year. The goal is to be a little bit better each day.
  24. A bad process will beat a good person every time.
  25. The leader with the shortest to-do list wins.

Jim Sullivan is a popular speaker and consultant with many of the top 200 Restaurant Brands. He’s the author of Multiunit Leadership and Fundamentals, two books that have sold over 340,000 copies worldwide.  Jim has over 400,000 social media followers. You can follow the conversation daily at LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and

TAGS: Operations
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