The New Basics: Leadership Insights from the Field

I’ve had the privilege of doing dozens of service and sales-building seminars for thousands of managers and hundreds of area directors. And the Words of Wisdom stream both ways when you get to interact with and motivate so many of today’s stars and tomorrow’s leaders as I get to. So here’s a compilation of the same of the best and brightest quips, quotes, quibbles and bits I’ve heard out there. As always, read em and reap…….

By Jim Sullivan

I’ve had the privilege of doing dozens of service and sales-building seminars for thousands of managers and hundreds of area directors. And the Words of Wisdom stream both ways when you get to interact with and motivate so many of today’s stars and tomorrow’s leaders as I get to. So here’s a compilation of the same of the best and brightest quips, quotes, quibbles and bits I’ve heard out there. As always, read em and reap:

  • Keep Your Telephone Greeting Script Mercifully Brief. Yes, I know, answering the phone at your restaurant is a marketing opportunity. But it’s getting out-of-hand. Lengthy greeting scripts (“Thank-you-for-calling-Joe’s-home-of-the-Mother’s Day-for-our-champagne-brunch-and-we-guarantee-a-15 minute-lunch-Monday-through-Friday-or-it’s-free-this-is-Shannon-may I help-you?”) don’t help promote anything but annoyance on both ends of the phone. “Overburdening your hostesses with a lengthy script just flusters the employee and frustrates the caller,” says Sam Rothschild, VP of Operations for Tony Roma’s in Dallas. You want to know what’s more important than spewing a paragraph of droning, monotone information to everyone who calls? Enthusiasm and friendliness in the voice of the person answering the phone.
  • Move Chance to Choice when it comes to selling. What you say and how you say it has a profound impact on the guest’s purchasing decisions. “Give the guest a choice between two desserts and they’ll pick one,” says Andy Gladstein, president, Gladstein’s Restaurants. ”Give ‘em a chance and they’ll say no.” In other words don’t say “want any dessert?” or “want to start out with an appetizer?” That leaves it to chance. Instead, offer a choice: “which dessert sounds good tonight – the Heath Bar Crunch Pie or the mango sorbet?”
  • Be more patient with new program rollouts from HQ. Tim Hackbardt, former VP of Marketing for Del Taco says, “I think that headquarters often tires of new programs quicker than the managers, front-liners, franchisees or even customers do. The new program every quarter cycle can be deadly. We need to let programs root and develop over time.” He’s right. We’re not just “promoting” an LTO (limited time offering) item, we’re really teaching the entire customer-facing staff how to effectively nurture and build a whole new potential brand via menu merchandising. I think that deserves a little more care, preparation, and collaboration between the Marketing Department and the Training Department.Forbes Collins, a director with Sizzler corporate in Sherman Oaks, CA agrees. “I can remember a GM training program we had a few years back where we focused hard on neighborhood marketing. They got it and got good at it. Then after 60 days we switched our focus to building incremental sales. And guess what? They got real good at incremental sales building. Unfortunately, they stopped doing their local store marketing tactics.” Like a mind with limited shelf space, one discipline takes precedent over another. There’s only so much attention to go around, so give the new program room to breathe, root, blossom. But most importantly, support the program with daily training, understanding and education.
  • Want a Raise? Give Yourself One. Once when I was a bartender, a very smart and very successful Denver restaurateur named John “Doc” Gardner told me that the biggest mistake you can make as a tipped employee is to believe that you’re working for someone else. This led me to embrace and master the art of suggestive selling. This made me a healthy, wealthy and wise bartender. Thanks Doc, you’re still the Man.
  • Lead from the middle. One thing I’ve learned from watching the leaders of our industry is this: the best ones lead from the middle and preach what they practice. They’re awesome teachers. David George, president and CEO of Longhorn puts it into perspective: “Most GMs are in charge of what—5-6 shifts per week? That leaves 8 or 9 shifts per week run by junior managers. If you’re a great GM but not a great trainer, you’re not a great GM.” Educating those other managers should be job one for the GM because they could be making more money for you while you’re sleeping. So invest your potential leader’s time into developing their communication skills, not constructing mission statements.And one more point on this leadership topic, if I may. “Leadership is an affair of the heart as well as the head,” says Golden Corral CEO Ted Fowler. Well, he’s right, times have changed and so has management. For the better, thank God. Some of us excelled in this business despite some very harsh tutors. I remember an area director I once had whose first words when he first stepped foot in your restaurant would be: “I came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” Yow! So give out some pats on the back today. Treat and teach your people well, daily. Always invest your time first into developing your leaders, not constructing mission statements. As author John Maxwell says, “people buy into the leader, not the vision.”
  • What goes around comes around. Like clothing trends, political parties, and boy bands, so too is our business cyclical. One thing never goes out of fashion, though: passion and purpose.

So let me conclude this month’s sermon by a reading from the Book of Edison: “In the long run, managers only hit what they aim at. So aim at something high.”