Restaurant Management Skill #1: Adaptable Leadership

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You'd think that with the national economy humming along, adaptable leadership wouldn't be all that necessary for business success. It’s easier than it was 10 years ago to make a profit in the coffee or restaurant business. Yet many cities are reaching a point of market saturation, where it doesn’t take much for a restaurant to go unnoticed for a while, or get abandoned by former regulars if service or food quality slips.

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This saturation also means people are being hired and promoted into management roles that they’re not trained for, or don’t have the personality to be successful in. And when the economy slows again (as it inevitably will), more restaurants will struggle to stay open.

Thus, the best thing you can have in your quiver is adaptable leadership skills—yours and that of your middle managers. In fact, the most frequently cited success factor for business managers, according to research, is the ability to develop or adapt. Change is constant and inevitable. Leaders face changes in culture, jobs, markets and more—all the time.

Adaptable leaders adjust to change, develop strategies for dealing with it, and shift their behavior to achieve success in new situations and challenges. They don’t just “get by.”

Bringing employees along for the ride

You’ll always find at least one person on your staff who does not like the idea of change. They thrive on a predictable routine and may dig in their heels when confronted with a shifting business landscape—whether it be a new POS system, a menu overhaul or a new layout for customer seating.

But if you can set the example for an adaptable attitude and actions, most employees will exhibit enthusiasm and cooperation, and morale and creativity can actually increase. Rather than staff stagnating in a fearful, confused reaction to change, they’ll get onboard with you. Enthusiasm is infectious, after all. Not all employees will want to come along for the ride, but the right ones will. They’ll want to learn and grow with you.

How do you know if you’re adaptable?

Adaptable leaders are flexible in a few ways:

Cognitive flexibility — the ability to use different thinking strategies and mental frameworks.

Emotional flexibility — the ability to vary one’s approach to dealing with emotions and those of others.

Dispositional flexibility — the ability to remain optimistic and, at the same time, realistic.

If you don’t feel you’re particularly flexible in the above ways, it’s never too late to learn.

How can you become adaptable if you’re not already?

Cultivate curiosity. Ask questions. Explore and do research before you judge and decide. Take the view that different is not right or wrong. It is just different.

Don’t get too attached to a plan or strategy. Have alternate plans at the ready, or be ready to hear other people’s ideas.

Create support systems.  Look to mentors, friends, coaches, trusted colleagues, family members and others to be your sounding board in times of change. Encourage employees to do the same. Don’t go it alone.

Understand your own reactions to change. Leading your company through change requires real honesty. You have to be clear about your own thoughts about the changes at hand, so you can be straightforward with others and give them the confidence to follow you through it.

Stretch yourself. Immerse yourself in new environments and situations. Do this when you are confronted by change—but get practice by meeting new people and trying new things whenever you can.

Ask your team to do the same in times of change, to get better at their jobs and improve systems and potential for success—because untapped potential is the biggest waste there is.

One of your most important weapons against market forces and service/quality slip ups is adaptability. As a business owner, you have to be adaptable and you have to show your staff how to do it, too.

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Check out more articles in this series:

Restaurant Management Skill #2: Open Communication

Restaurant Management Skill #3: Accountability

Restaurant Management Skill #4: Attention to Detail