This fast-paced, high-turnover industry creates plenty of opportunities to experience subpar leadership, spawning valuable teaching moments. We reached out to foodservice operators to find out how not-so-stellar bosses—as well as great ones—have shaped their management styles.
1. Forget 'yes' people
Hiring is tough enough without getting ego involved. That’s what a previous boss taught Jill Kidd, director of nutrition services at Pueblo City Schools in Pueblo, Colo. “It showed me that I need to hire the most qualified people, not just the people who will do it the way I want it done,” Kidd says, noting that a diversity of viewpoints is more valuable to an operation than a boss imposing his or her beliefs on employees.
2. Address issues head-on
When a former supervisor of Brian Hickey’s decided not to confront an underperforming employee, Hickey, an area manager for Greenville County Schools in Greenville, S.C., saw that avoidance leads to bigger challenges. Hickey says his boss created an inhospitable workplace for the staff member so that he would resign and the company wouldn’t have to provide severance. “I immediately lost respect for this manager and saw the benefit of addressing concerns candidly,” he says. “Although some conversations are difficult to have, it is far more successful than avoiding a problem and unintentionally creating additional problems that tend to expand frustration to coworkers that shouldn’t really be impacted.”
3. Ask and receive
Don’t underestimate employees. “I learned from a really great boss that staff have a lot of skills and knowledge,” Kidd says. When it comes time to set the operation’s five-year plan, she brings in the whole staff to help set goals and brainstorm collectively.
Julaine Kiehn, campus dining services director at the University of Missouri in Columbia, says she learned early in her career to share as much information with team members as possible, from department happenings to systemwide news. There is very little information that cannot be shared, Kiehn says.
4. Preach hospitality
As nutrition services supervisor for the School District of Holmen in Holmen, Wis., Michael Gasper teaches his people the importance of customer service, a lesson one of his first bosses taught him. “Each day, I remind them that these are our customers, not students,” he says.
5. Get to know staff
Sam Cross, general manager at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan., learned to adopt a people-first mentality from his positive and negative experiences with leaders. Cross says everyone is more successful when managers get to know each employee individually. “Management is not one-type-fits-all,” he says. “Every person that works for you needs to be managed a little differently, and understanding them as human beings helps.”
6. Celebrate success
Kidd learned to promote and reward achievements from good as well as bad bosses. Even small recognitions such as writing personal notes or handing out T-shirts make a big difference, she says. She also takes some time during staff meetings to share team accomplishments and sends high performers to national conferences.