Leadership isn’t an exact science. And yet, at The Elliot Group, we know that there are a few traits that can be found again and again in effective restaurant industry leaders. Here are the top qualities of great leaders — and how to develop them in yourself and your team.
- They are trustworthy. To be a great leader, you must first serve others, so that they, in turn, are willing to follow you. That’s impossible if you haven’t earned your team’s trust. To do that, stay true to your word and keep yourself grounded. Consistency is key. When you say, “People are important,” you must ensure that every action you take aligns with that statement. It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure a healthy environment for all employees, and never to turn a blind eye to general managers or multi-unit leaders who don’t respect or take care of their teams, even if they are meeting financial goals. The best leaders are humble and authentic. They do what they say they are going to do, make the tough calls to protect the team and work with humility.
- They are mentally flexible. Leaders should be prepared to embrace new ways of thinking and doing. This open-mindedness creates multi-disciplinary teams, breaks the mold of “business as usual,” and unlocks success where others may have failed. We know there is huge value in diversity of thought, and smart leaders are always seeking knowledge from new sources. The foodservice industry is rapidly changing, especially as we learn lessons in e-commerce and customer relationship management from the retail and lodging industries. Try looking at your next challenge from another angle, industry or discipline’s point of view.
- They are life-long learners. We are always on the lookout for “learners.” These naturally curious leaders have a true thirst for knowledge. They are not afraid to say, “I don’t have the answer,” and they look outside for knowledge and wisdom. They learn from the trailblazers. That attitude is critical because a siloed, one-discipline leader is not a recipe for success. Learners are cross-functional and can interface with all aspects of business. They understand how to ride the wave of disruption rather than getting swept away in it. A great way to increase your value as a leader is to accept cross-functional assignments or rotate through another discipline or industry — even if it represents a lateral move. In learning, there are often mistakes. The trick is to learn to “fail fast,” acknowledge your mistake, and use the learning the next time you face a similar challenge.
- They are visionary. A business should always work with a clear set of values and priorities in mind. We value leaders with the vision to identify these critical priorities and weave them into the fabric of the day-to-day, until it is second nature for their team. Eventually, everyone — from the kitchen to the C-suite — knows the focus. We know of one CEO who shared his vision for the organization to consistently deliver an “I love it here” experience. Every meeting and every communication was conveyed through that lens, with specific metrics to measure the team’s improvement. In a year’s time, sales more than doubled in that organization, largely due to the CEO’s laser focus and communication around that priority.
- They are driven and accomplished. Even as you near the top of the food chain, persistence and drive still go a long way. Take on the tasks and assignments no one else wants, and do them well. If the north central region has been the toughest market to turn, be the leader to raise your hand and take on the challenge. Whatever problem has been most difficult to solve, take it on. Those that conquer seemingly impossible tasks will always get noticed. It might seem mundane, but it’s fundamental: Put in the hard work and time, and you will reach your goal. As long as you don’t quit, you can still win.
Joan Ray is executive vice president of The Elliot Group, a boutique retained executive search firm sought out for its expertise in the restaurant, hospitality, retail and service sectors. Respected as industry leaders for more than thirty-five years, The Elliot Group has been globally recognized for its thought leadership and human capital knowledge.