Richard Coraine, co-founder of Union Square Hospitality Group which owns restaurants like Shake Shack and Union Square Cafe, shares his knowledge with aspiring entrepreneurs.
*Please note that Coraine's responses are paraphrased*
What has made you a successful leader?
You need to define what is important to you and what are the things that matter most to you, and you need to stick to them. I have seen people not define what is important to them and they don’t have many followers. I have always boiled it down to three things people want from their boss: they want to know what you want them to do, they want regular feedback, and they want a level playing field.
The first thing is that you need to tell your employees very clearly what you want them to do because I believe that people want to be boss-pleasers; it gives them a chance to rise in the organization. I have seen companies become disfunctional or leaders not effective because they don’t tell people “here is your job, I need you be the best blank and here is what that means.” I try to tell people “here is what success looks like'' not “here’s what I want you to do” because people want to be successful, and I want to be successful, but I need to define that very clearly for people.
The second thing is that people need to know on a regular basis how they are doing: call it feedback, call it reviews, call it whatever you want. But you should never wonder about how your boss feels about how you are doing. I spend a lot of time with people, and a lot of it, I am happy to say, is giving compliments. I prefer to go, “that’s awesome, what you did is exactly what we need - you get this. Keep doing that.” I believe that this is what fosters people to stretch a little further because there is a very fine line between my boss giving me a lot of feedback to help me improve to nothing is ever good enough for my boss. I believe you can stretch people both ways: you can say “what you just did there was awesome, keep doing that” and “you can get a little better at this.” I believe in this ongoing feedback that is not always negative.
The third thing, and I have seen organizations really falter when this is not in play is that there needs to be a level playing field; people need to understand that you are going to be fair to everyone, not just a person because of reasons beyond what they have done for the company. It is “if I do well, and I do well with what you told me to do, the sky's the limit for me.” I have seen organizations where the perception is it’s politics, you have to know somebody, this person got a better deal than me; if you can make sure that you are always fair, then people will sign up for what you want them to do. With this, you need to tell people “here is what I want, here is what we are going to do, here is what success looks like as an organization” and then you have to stick to that. If I am your boss and I am not clear what these three things are or if I don’t embody these three things, why would you follow me?
Again, I am a big believer in aiming at something specific; “here is where we are aiming right now, we are going to be the best at this” and that’s what we are going to do. The rules of the engagement are not going to change. If I can stay with that, and I give you all the tools and feedback you need and everybody knows it's fair, you have the opportunity to really be an accomplished person. I have very tough conversations with people about what we are trying to do; on the flip side of the coin, I will celebrate your accomplishments with more enthusiasm than you can imagine.
One of the things that I have tried to do as a leader is that when people work for me, I ask them “what do you do you want.” I have had people say “someday I want to own my own business,” and for me I am like “okay, I am going to treat you like an owner then,” and that is a lot different than treating you as a manager. You are telling me that you want to understand what it is like to own your own business, so let’s use this time now, and I am going to treat you like an owner. I tell them ahead of time, these are going to be different conversations than they have ever had before. You told me what you wanted, I am not imposing what you think you should be, you have clearly said you want to be treated like an owner.
An example of this would be when I had a guy that worked for me that was one of the best employees I have ever had (probably the closest thing we have ever had to Danny in the company). He came from a different company when he came to work for us, and he was the best wine somalie in the city. He wanted to be a restaurant owner one day, and I talked to him and he said “I only want wine to be one part of what I do; I want to run a restaurant tour and I want to be a general manager.” I said “okay, great, I am going to hire you as a manager, but I am going to treat you differently than you are treated as a wine person.” I continued by saying “before we start, you are now a manager, I am going to talk to you like a manager and an owner. You are not allowed to go in the wine room anymore unless it is to get bottles of wine for service.” He said “okay, I got it” and everytime I saw him in the wine room stocking wine or whatever I said “you are violating our pact, you wanted to learn more about management and not about wine. That’s your comfort zone, you know more about wine than anybody I know, let’s get into management stuff.” I sort of said that “you told me you wanted to be a manager, not just someone in the wine room” The more we played it out, the less he started to rely on wine and the more he got a well-rounded perspective, and now he owns three restaurants in Canada and is one of the better restaurant tours there. It was because of that proposition of “what do you want” rather than “now that you are on the team, I will tell you what you should be.”
• USHG's website
• Richard Coraine's LinkedIn