Over the last two decades I have consulted to, provided workshops for, and delivered keynote presentations on leadership to a variety of restaurant chains and individual restaurant managers. I continue to be surprised by the general confusion between management and leadership. Managers push, leaders pull. Managers try to light a fire under people, leaders stoke the fire within. Managers command, leaders inspire. Managers use position power, leaders use persuasion power. Managers control, leaders foster commitment.

For some reason, the contrast between extreme management and leadership seems to be especially sharp in the restaurant business. Management tends to be at the extreme edge in this industry. It often involves fear and intimidation. How can fearful and angry serving staff turn around and provide great service? Research clearly shows that they don’t. As Don Cherry might say, it’s not “rocket surgery.” Unhappy and poorly served staff pass on how they are treated to their customers. In today’s workplace, a management style of pushing people around often pushes the highest performers right out the door.

Maybe it’s just because I was raised on a farm, but whenever I hear managers use the term “head count” (and I hear it a lot), it grates on me like fingernails scratching a blackboard. When managers say things like “we’ve got to reduce our head count”, I immediately think of cattle. In the community where I grew up, farmers would ask each other questions like “how many head are you milking?” when talking about cows in a dairy herd. People were never referred to this way.

Despite all their pious declarations about the importance of people, leadership, and values, far too many managers treat people in their operations with about as much care as they would attach to fixtures, equipment, or dйcor. They are just one more set of assets to be managed. These just happen to be breathing and have skin wrapped around them. Managers who view “their people” as property are cold and dispassionate. In fact, they would make perfect donors for heart transplants – their hearts have had such little use!

Commanding Coaching
Solving Problems Enabling Others to Solve Problems
Directing and Controlling Teaching and Engaging
Seeing People as They Are Developing People Into What They Could Be
Empowering Partnering
Operating Improving
Pushing Pulling
Heroic Manager Facilitative Leader
Quick Fix to Symptoms Search for Systemic Root Causes

Growing Spaces

I enjoy perennial gardening in our yard. As I have tended our gardens over the years, I am continually struck by how some plants will do well in some locations and terribly elsewhere in the garden. Each spring and fall I move plants around to match their preferences for particular soil, wind, and sun conditions, as well as their proximity to other plants. At times I have been pleasantly surprised by how some lackluster plants have suddenly thrived in a new location better suited to their needs. Since each perennial has a different bloom time and length, one of the gardening challenges is to keep color spread throughout the garden from early spring to late fall. It’s one reason I never “cheat” by using annuals that bloom all summer long. A constant chore is cutting off old blooms to encourage new ones and pruning plants that are becoming overgrown.

Managers often use a “one-size-fits-all” approach and try to “mass grow” people. Leaders work with people to discover where they are best able to thrive and succeed. Like a good gardener, leaders treat each person in their organization as an individual with his or her own unique aspirations, strengths, and characteristics. Leaders then work to put people in the best place for them to thrive and succeed. They mix and match team members to build a well-rounded team that can show its best colors according to the season – or is best suited to the current operating conditions of the organization or the team. Leaders tend to each person on their team and coach them to change habits or prune overgrown methods that may prevent further growth. They are consistently moving team members around to avoid overcrowding and to bring out the best in each person.