How To Become a Badass Leader

leadership Feb 03, 2017

Originally posted on Foodable TV Network on November 22, 2016

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

When the topic comes up about, most people will easily say they are a leader. The cold, hard truth is most are not. They simply like the concept of being a leader and the sound of it. (Come on, leader sound much more dynamic than being a manager.)

But leadership is not a title. It’s poetry in motion. It’s integrity. It’s all action. Everyone can be a leader. This bears repeating: Everyone can be a leader in your restaurant.

Leadership is, at its core, about taking personal accountability. It’s about doing exactly what you say you are going to do with no excuses. As soon as you start playing the excuse game, you have dropped from being a leader to being a victim. While we talk about being a true leader at our restaurants and businesses, few actually are.

Let’s explore how that happens. If you want to really become a leader, then be the best version you can be. That means becoming a badass.

The Dirty Dozen for Badass Leadership

1. Don't ask people to do anything you won't or can't do.

There is an old Sicilian saying, “Don't ask for what you cannot take.” As a leader you need to take action every day. When you make the decision to really be a leader, you step up to the big league and make a commitment to play the game at a higher level.

So, before you make the leap to being a leader, make sure it is truly something you want. Leadership is not easy. It’s a challenge and the biggest challenge will come from within yourself. You need to be sure this is a path and a journey you want to go on. Another thing to consider is why you want to become a leader. Great leadership is born from the attitude of being in the service of others.

You need to be willing and be able to do the task you are asking them to do. Being the leader means just that — leading. You lead by setting the example and being visible to your team. Leadership is out where the action is, not in the office during peak-service hours.

2. Results are the goal — the only goal.

Leaders do not worry about the clock. To them, time really seems to stop because they are in what is known as “flow.” This is the state where you get kind of lost in the activity and time seems to fly by. Some people refer to it as a Zen-like experience: no past, no future, just the moment.

When you’re the leader, you need to focus on getting results. Hours are arbitrary and really do not show you can make things happen. You put in 12 hours or more a day? So what? What did you get done? How did you move the business forward? How did you use your time? We all can look busy. The real question is “What are you busy about?”

3. You must have integrity.

When you’re a leader, your word is your bond with the team. Trust builds great teams and when that is lost, it’s very hard to come back from. When you lack integrity, you lose respect. Lose that and you’ll find it very difficult to lead anyone.

You must make it your mantra to do what you say you are going to do. There is no way around this to be a leader. Telling the team one thing and doing something different yourself sends mixed messages to your team. As the leader, they look to you for the example. If you’ll telling then to be on time and yet you are always strolling into work about 15 minutes late, you are sending mixed messages to your team.

4. You need a consistency recipe.

Being average is just that. Average. If you plotted out all restaurants on the classic Bell Curve, most would fall into the middle or average. Let’s be honest and admit that being in the middle sucks. There is more competition in the middle and you’ll have to fight every day just to maintain your guests and your staff. High turnover is a symptom of being average. It starts with the leadership (or really lack of leadership) in a restaurant. It happens because managers are not consistent.

With more and more restaurants opening each year, it’s vital that you get a grip on consistency issues. Here is where independent restaurants should take a lesson from the big chains. You must have systems in place that are clear, concise, easy to use, and teachable. Systems and standards are the two key ingredients to your own consistency recipe. Most people understand the systems part — it’s the standards part most fall short on.

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark." — Michelangelo

Setting your standards high is exactly what true leaders do. They set the bar high for themselves and their team. The late Chef Charlie Trotter was the a beacon in this industry for high standards. His standards were so elevated that most people thought they were unrealistic and he liked it like that. Look at some of the amazing chefs today who excel in this industry from the time spent in Trotter’s kitchen: Graham Elliot, Giuseppe Tentori, Mindy Segal, Art Smith, Curtis Duffy, Matthias Merges, Michael Taus, Rick Tramonto, and Grant Achatz (just to name a few). When you set your standards higher than you than you normally would, you raise the standards of those around you. Water does seek its own level and if you want to be a real badass leader, then you need badass standards.

“I have always looked at it this way: if you strive like crazy for perfection —an all-out assault on total perfection — at the very least, you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night.” — Charlie Trotter

5. You must manage your state.

State is the energy. Your energy. Just like in an atom, there are positive and negative charges. Whether you know it or not, as a leader, your energy has a great impact on your business. It always starts with the leader. If you come into work in a bad mood, you start looking for things to reinforce that bad mood like fuel. Energy begets energy. Negative thoughts crave more negative and on the flip side, positive thoughts crave positive. The problem comes when positive clashes with negative. Sad to say that most time negative will overpower the positive thoughts.

Psychologists call this negativity bias. The human brain is amazing and it has evolved for one basic drive…survival. Negativity bias was built in so we would could pass on our genetic code to future members of our lineage. So, most people are hardwired to be sensitive to bad news over good news. Knowing that you are wired this way is a good thing, because now you can take steps to change.

“Awareness precedes choice. Choice precedes change.”

Making sure your energy is on the positive side when you are at your restaurant is a key trait for badass leaders. They are consistently monitoring their state and making adjustments to keep that energy elevated throughout the day.

How can you keep your state at its peak level?

Eat better
Listen to high-energy music
Get a good night of sleep

Use the way your brain is wired to be sensitive to negative energy and keep a vigilance against it. Post signs in work areas and your office declaring “NO Negativity.” Become a seeker of the good and the good things come to you. The old saying of “seek and you will find it” is so very true. Stand guard of your state and work throughout the day to keep it up.


6. You need to be committed to kaizen.

If you are not familiar with the word “kaizen,” you need to be. It is a Japanese word that means constant and never-ending improvement. True leaders are committed to self-improvement. If leadership starts at the top and flows down, then you are the source for that. When you get better and become your best self, then you will see your people rise in their skills, as well.

How many books do you read? Listen to audiobooks? Read any trade magazines? Dig through other posts on Foodable? Your dedication and the time you invest in yourself will tell more about your chances for success as a leader than you realize. If you think you can be a badass by just putting in your normal work hours, you are fooling yourself. Badass leadership is a dedication to the philosophy of kaizen. Improve yourself and if you are a true leader, the others around you will elevate their game.

7. Work on your communication skills.

It can be said that 99 percent of problems in restaurants are due to communication — from either miscommunication or just bad communication. Badass leaders are able to articulate their vision, core values, and standards. They make it a daily ritual to talk to their team. If you think that posting that memo on the wall telling the team your rules and policies is communicating, welcome to being a part of the problem.

True leaders communicate by being authentic and having integrity. Don't be the manager or owner who makes all kinds of promises and never follows up or follows through. Your team wants a leader that backs up their words with actions.

Communication is a skill that can be learned. Yes, there are some people who communicate easily and naturally. That does not mean they don't have to refine their skills of influence. Your goal in improving your communication skills is to be able to positively influence your team.

People only do things for their own internal drivers. You can be a jerk, be demanding, talk down to your team, and they will comply. For a while. Then you’ll see the energy drain out of them.

Some will take it and become like the walking dead in your restaurant, having no impact on the guest experience, and then soon your guests will find a place that makes them feel better than the experience you are providing. Remember that if is was just about food and beverage, people could eat and drink at home and save money. They come for the experience you and your team create.

8. Seek to understand yourself first, then others.

There are a lot of behavioral surveys available on the market to get better insight into your key traits. The ProScan Survey and DiSC are two very popular ones used by businesses to understand the behavioral matrix that makes us all so unique. Know your strengths. Know how you prefer communicating. Know how you deal with stress. These things are all available by taking a test and letting a qualified facilitator explain them to you.

Most managers are what is known as one-dimensional. They communicate only through the way they are. That’s great if everyone one your team is wired the same way. However, restaurant teams are diversely staffed by a wide range of personalities. When you understand that, you take the first step to becoming a true badass leader.

When you understand yourself and understand others, you can adjust your communication to a style that resonates with them. Most people are only aware of themselves and uncovering how others process information is key to true leadership.

9. Know the difference between confidence and cockiness.

This one is a challenge for many yet is usually the one roadblock holding them back from making the jump from being a manager to a badass leader.

So, what is the difference between confidence and cockiness?

Confidence: the ability to recognize when something isn't working and having the flexibility and knowledge to make adjustments.

Cockiness: the inability to admit when something isn't working and repeating the same mistakes over and over because you're too stubborn to admit you're wrong. 

If that made you a little uncomfortable, good. You might have a little more of one than the other. The good news you can change that with one simple decision: I’m not going to be that person anymore.

10. Less talk, more action.

Action is the cure for so many things in the restaurant. The laws of physics are very true in that a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest sits in the office during service. Everyone talks a good game about being outstanding, pushing for excellence, or becoming legendary. Great visions. Great word. Little action taken to move towards those things. Talk is truly cheap in our industry because most are addicted to average.

Write these three words down and post them where you can see them every day: Deeds, not words.

When you take action, you create momentum and that is a powerful when applied properly. Tap into that to not only get things started, but also to keep them going.

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

11. Tap into urgency.

The only thing you truly have any control of is this moment. Right now. You do not have the DeLorean time machine to go to the past or future to change things. The only thing you have impact on is what you do today.

We talk a lot about having a sense of urgency in the restaurant business. We preach it to our team to move and act with it. Yet, how many demonstrate that trait themselves? A lot of managers are hypocrites. Do as I say, not as I do is the common theme. That goes back to integrity. Without it. you will never become a badass leader.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

Now has power. Use that and do one thing today that your future self would be happy you did today. If you want to be a badass leader, you have to become known for taking action…now.

12. Expect more from yourself than others do of you.

What you put up with you end up with starts with you. You need to demand and expect more from yourself if you ever want to even entertain the thought of being a badass leader.

Let’s pull all of these together. Just like a recipe, if you leave out one ingredient you’ll get a different result.

So, only ask others to do what you would do, results are what you get paid for, your integrity is your code of honor, always be consistent, you must manage your state, commit to constant and never-ending improvement, work on better communication, know your strengths, watch being arrogant, take action, fine-tune your sense of urgency, and always expect more from yourself than others expect of you.

Use all of these in synergy and you’ll be on your way to becoming a badass leader in any restaurant.

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