Leadership Lessons from Hole In The Wall Dives


Lessons in leadership can be learned just about anywhere if you’re looking to learn. My aunt and I watched two tv shows last night I had never seen. The first was “Restaurant Impossible” where Chef Robert Irvine helps turn around failing restaurants. The second was “Restaurant Stakeout” where Willie Degel uses hidden cameras to reveal what is causing restaurants to struggle. The two restaurants featured on the shows were dumps run by families that started out as a grand dream and were on the verge of puttering out to complete failures. Both shows demonstrated four re-occurring themes that I believe every leader could learn from for any type of organization.

1)   Nobody knows how to fold the map: Both restaurants had owners who started out strong with passion but didn’t put systems into place to continue the momentum. As a result each person added to the organization received less and less training causing the infrastructure to become diluted and incompetent. Each new employee was not given the company expectations or goals but was still expected to share in the vision even though it was not clearly communicated to them. Leaders of healthy organizations must spend an inordinate amount of time training staff about culture, history, product description, and customer satisfaction. Leaders that provide direction and vision through strong tools such as effective communication and employee protocols the organization build a strong base level for each employee to build from. Leaders in healthy organizations have to provide the map of where the people and business are headed.

2)   Negativity breeds negativity– The owners of each business allowed a culture of negativity into their business. In turning a deaf ear to gossip, bad language, horrible manners they almost cost themselves their business. Negativity is destructive no matter what direction it comes from. Bottom up, it breaks down productivity, loyalty, and creates division. Top down it’s a death sentence. Negativity sneaks in when employees no longer feel they are a valuable part of the system. If they have identified themselves as an outsider they no longer see how their actions and words affect the business. Healthy organizations have to zero in on every positive aspect. Leaders who celebrate and reward employees ensure employees who will grow in pride and ownership

3)   Garbage In , Garbage Out- Despite the obvious problems that these restaurants were dirty dumps with sub par food and awful service, the owners couldn’t figure out why their restaurant was failing.  It’s a simple function.

            Crappy Environment + Crappy Employees+ Crappy Product= Crap

 The owners had fallen into the trap of thinking cheap. They thought if they just got by with junk it would somehow turn itself into a success. It was amazing the turn around when Robert and Willie introduced the novel idea of quality, fresh food, clean space with strong character and ambience, and smartly dressed employees. These concepts actually saved money which in turned allowed them to make more money. As leaders we have to provide environments, experiences, and products that we can all take pride and ownership. Falling into the trap of just making do, having a broke mindset, or worse, not feeling like we deserve is highly detrimental to the mental outlook of any organization. Healthy organizations expect greatness to come from greatness and are dedicated to excellence. 

4)   Nobody to Man Up- After the owners got into the restaurant business, they realized it was much more consuming than they had ever imagined. From their exhaustion they tried to limp along hoping that somehow magically things would turn a corner. However, when things started to go downhill the owners blamed everybody else. They yelled at the employees, they whined that nobody was listening. They pointed finders rather than pointing the way. Their excuses were incredibly unbecoming but understandable under the desperation they were feeling. After a while with no one taking responsibility it was unclear if there was any leadership at all. No one really knew who was in charge. Tasks were unmet, money not tracked, revenue took a nose dive.

Interestingly enough, the situation changed drastically when they had to take responsibility and own up to how they had let things slide themselves. When the blame was taken off the staff, it provided breathing room to brainstorm together a new direction and solve the problems.  Healthy organizations are successful because of strong leadership that is man enough to lead through rough waters and take full command of the helm. It’s easy to lead when everything is going good. True leadership emerges when everything is headed south.

The four lessons from these Food Network tv shows reveal strong leadership in a healthy organization is based in clear direction, positive attitudes, dedication to excellence, and fearless responsibility.

What would you add to this list of strong leadership traits?


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