Bad bosses don’t just offer a crash course in keeping your blood pressure in check under extreme conditions. “Sometimes, you learn the best lesson from your worst boss,” says Ray Stanjevich, co-owner and CEO of Georgia-based Friends American Grill.
Restaurant Business reached out to some industry pros to find out the management takeaways they have learned from their crummiest bosses.
1. Show, don’t tell
A not-so-great boss taught Stanjevich to go beyond preaching and teaching, and demonstrate to employees how to do a job. “I believe it is more effective for a boss to actually give their people the reason we are doing something, so that they understand the goal behind it,” he says. “If the boss can provide a picture of how that job is to be done, that adds even more.”
2. Don't be a jerk
Early in his career, Shawn Cirkiel—chef and owner of Parkside Projects, a restaurant group in Austin, Texas—worked with bosses who followed the Gordon Ramsay style of management. “Working in classic kitchens was exactly as it was perceived many years ago—yelling, bullying, machismo, the whole thing,” Cirkiel says. “I realized from all those bad bosses and situations that you could motivate people and get the most out of them by making them feel a part of something.”
Parkside Projects now focuses not only on technical skills but personal growth. “We hold people accountable emotionally,” he says. “We encourage and inspire without resorting to the lowest common denominator of motivation, which was all the bad mojo from those kitchens many years ago.”
3. Put in face time
Gus Shamieh, co-founder and president of CREAM in San Francisco, had a supervisor who didn’t interact with employees, and, consequently, staff were too afraid to ask questions. The aloof boss impacted operations and morale, Shamieh says. “I did not want to create an atmosphere where people were afraid of me, but rather, I wanted to create an environment where employees could approach me to ask questions of any kind on any subject.”
4. Keep your word
After having a boss that failed to keep promises, Chi'Lantro founder Jae Kim told himself that he would always follow through for employees and customers. “I experienced how not delivering on those promises created so much frustration and distrust among employees,” he says.
This pledge inspired Kim to create actionable core values for his Austin, Texas-based chain. “Instead of using words like ‘authenticity,’ we use ‘be yourself,’” he says. “Instead of ‘dedication,’ we use ‘winning hearts takes more work.’”
5. Listen up
Adam Romo, CEO of six-unit Eatzi’s Market & Bakery, says his worst boss was a classic dictator who didn’t care about anyone else’s ideas, thoughts or opinions. Romo says that boss constantly made terrible decisions because he never gathered the facts. “I believe the more data points you have, the more thoughtful, analytical and comprehensive your final decision will be,” he says.
Today, Romo constantly solicits input from his team members. “Allowing team members to contribute to important decisions that help shape the direction of the company helps them feel empowered and valued,” he says. He holds weekly leadership meetings to help keep employees in the loop.
6. Challenge authority
When Nader Masadeh, CEO and president of 56-unit Buffalo Wings & Rings, worked as an engineer, he assumed that a manager’s title meant he or she knew all the answers. After his boss steered a project in an unfortunate direction, Masadeh learned that it’s good to challenge authority in a respectful manner. “That will translate in saving some time and money,” he says.
8. Unleash creativity
John Kunkel, founder and CEO of 50 Eggs in Miami, says his least favorite boss is the reason his team takes a creative approach to their concepts. “Stifling creativity and limiting your team’s ability to think outside the box only sets you back,” Kunkel says. “In this industry, it’s important to stay current and ahead of the curve with new ideas.” Giving your team the freedom to try new things is the only way to keep your brands moving forward and your guests coming back, he says.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.