Research Paper By Clifton Carmody
(Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
“Benefits of Mindful Leadership Coaching for Hospitality and Restaurant Leaders”
Hospitality and restaurant managers represent over 400,0000 positions in the United States alone. Most restaurant managers (9 of 10) earned their management positions by working their way up through the system, and the hospitality industry is not far behind. Whether valets that moved up through the ranks to front desk manager in your favorite hotels or the general manager of your local Applebee’s who was once a busboy, many have moved up the ranks to their current positions. The hospitality and restaurant industries are large employers and a great place to learn about and start a career.
There are unique stressors in the hotel and restaurant industries that are common wherever one is employed. High turnover amongst all staff, high weekly hours, odd shift hours are typical within these industries. These are service sector positions that place unusually high regard on guest satisfaction and guest comments. One wrong decision with a guest can be very detrimental to one’s career. Also, one of the highest industry costs associated with the service sector business is labor cost. The importance placed on labor costs often puts undue stress on all staff with any unexpected increase in projected activity in any shift. This lack of staff can be, and often is, the leading cause of guest complaints. Guest (dis)satisfaction in the digital age is shared with the whole world (including corporate superiors) in real-time. Severe comments can often mean a leader being reprimanded or, in the worst cases, terminated. These are stressors that are dealt with daily for hospitality leaders.
Regarding training, in addition to basic hospitality training, there is often high importance placed on learning the technical requirements and sales side of the industry. After learning how to make the food, or make the room, or serve the guest, or use the software, training is often over. For ambitious leaders rising in the ranks of their industry, there is a shortage of programs related to leadership training of any kind. They got to their position by knowing the transactional processes of their industry. They could do their job duties better than anyone else under the stresses of their position responsibilities. Because they were the best, they got promoted. And each subsequent promotion was given similarly. There is a limit to how far an employee can go in this manner without adequate supplemental training.
As the position needs fewer hands-on management skills and more leadership skills, softer skills are required. These new leaders being able to work in high-stress industries with multiple points of guest and employee contacts, a newer set of skills are needed than those that got them promoted.
Listed below are ten skills that are needed in the industry. These areas that are worked on within the mindfulness training and leadership coaching umbrellas have been proven to help develop the skills of stress management, emotional intelligence, empathy, focus, self-regulation, social awareness, personal meaning, leadership presence, intergenerational awareness, and compassion. Certain techniques and skills can be learned in day-long or weekend-long workshops, although the best learning is developed through medium- and long-term ongoing programs.
Most employers do not have the resources for ongoing training programs to help high potential employees or long-term struggling leaders develop the needed skills during this era of high turnover and changing employee needs. With annual turnover for “managers being between 40-50%”, giving leaders training to improve the handling of personal and professional stressors benefits both the employer and employee. Mindful leadership coaching can fill a unique position as a method for developing high potential leaders in the hospitality and restaurant industries into next level positions.
“Hospitality leaders” in this document shall refer to restaurant or hotel front line supervisors and managers through the position of operations directors. This is a term to describe the whole range of industry leaders who work with guests to supply meals and overnight accommodations. While there could be ample discussion as to what a leader is versus a manager, we will optimistically see all of the front line supervisors as leaders.
“Mindful Leadership Coaching”, in this context, will refer to traditional transformational leadership coaching that also uses situational mindful awareness and training to improve personal and organizational efficacy.
Mindful leadership coaching uses the full spectrum of transformational coaching techniques with the client, along with the additional expertise of the coach in mindful awareness practices. Mindful leadership coaching can stand alone or be augmented with mindfulness techniques learned in a traditional six- or eight-week course. Together, these create an impressive set of tools for the client to be happier in their personal lives and more productive at work.
The ten areas of focus listed above can be broken down into three areas for the purpose of discussion. There are six work-related skills that have an immediate impact, primarily in the workplace. There are two skills that will help in both the client’s work and personal lives. And there are two personal life skills that help with the unique challenges facing industry employees.
Working in restaurants or hotels, a leader is expected to “walk the talk”. As David Mamet famously said, “In a restaurant, one is both observed and unobserved. Joy and sorrow can be displayed and observed unwittingly.” In a work environment, such as the hospitality industry, that is shared with guests, there are hundreds, if not more, opportunities a day for both guests and employees to see a leader do something improper or frowned upon. From stepping over a piece of trash to allowing a guest to struggle to carry their bags to holding the door for another person, there are multiple times in a simple trip to the bathroom for a leader to be judged. Leadership presence is the ability to carry oneself as the owner of the establishment, making guests and employees feel comfortable and watched over. How the leader speaks to surly guests or a disgruntled employee in a conspicuous area is of the highest importance for the morale of staff and how the establishment is rated in the eyes of the public.
Working with a client, the coach can work on leadership presence, emotional intelligence, and social awareness assignments that improve the perception of all parties that work daily with the client. The awareness with how a leader is perceived is contingent upon how self-aware the leader is in general. Leadership awareness is a proven skill that can be developed in the client and is an easy first skill to work on in young high potential managers with their mindful leadership coach.
The next four areas to be discussed (emotional awareness, empathy, social awareness, and intergenerational awareness) are related to the understanding of the staff and guests that the leaders work with on a day to day basis. The four have cross overs and will be discussed together for brevity’s sake.
As positions take on more relational responsibilities over transactional, there is greater importance for understanding the needs and relating to people from where they are. Each group that the leader relates to has different needs. Often the guests are of a different generation than the staff and the leader. Also, one of the biggest costs associated with labor is turnover. Currently, the economy is employee-friendly. Millennials make a large part of the service sector employee population, and it has been discussed ad-nauseam that the skills to retain this generation’s engagement are far different from the skills needed and learned by the established leader’s generation. No longer can a manager stand behind “policy” with staff, there needs to be an explanation as to why things are the way they are. What might have been considered hand-holding in the past is part and parcel of handling staff in the 21st century? All these skills can be developed by acquiring mindful awareness techniques while working with the coach.
Emotional awareness, empathy, social awareness, and intergenerational awareness are skills that are developed as byproducts of mindful awareness training, which are very useful in the handling of day to day responsibilities in hospitality operations. Indeed these are 21st-century skills with compelling arguments to be developed throughout leadership paradigms. Author, speaker, and ex USA Navy SEAL, Brent Gleeson highlighted the importance of this in leaders when he said: “The ability to be perceptively in tune with yourself and your emotions, as well as having sound situational awareness is a powerful tool for leading a team.”
Mindful awareness has been proven to develop these areas through a process that promotes decision making from the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain as opposed to the amygdala. During high-stress moments (which is often a characteristic of this sector’s work-day), nature’s way of giving us added safety was developing the fight or flight response. This is the purpose of the part of the brain called the amygdala. Humans in this era rarely need this, but we have evolved to use that part of our brain often for any surprises that come into our life. By working with a coach, the leader can develop mindful awareness skills in a way that urgent decisions are made using the prefrontal cortex part of the brain instead of the animalistic amygdala. Thinking from the prefrontal cortex is associated with compassion, empathy, emotional intelligence, and a host of other positive social behaviors.
The industry is exciting, and it often is attractive to younger employees, but often the same things that attracted them to the industry make growing in the industry less appealing to the adult careerists. The odd hours of the industry have the majority of the staff working when the rest of the world is off work, such as late nights, weekends, and holidays. While this is great for student workers, this is hard for careerists who have family members with more traditional schedules.
The well-documented drinking and drug culture of the industry might have been fun as a college student, but managers who have family responsibilities first thing in the morning might not enjoy the late nights as they once did. As the famed celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain said, “not much has changed since then [the 1970s], especially in terms of drugs and alcohol.” Often, becoming a first-time manager is a wonderful career opportunity for those young people interested in the industry. Often though, the realities of the difficulties of the career do not set in until years have been vested, and family financial responsibilities are upon the careerist. In addition to those above-mentioned hardships, the hours worked in these industries are notoriously long.
At a certain stage in the careerist life, the personal tolls associated with a young person’s industry begins to take its toll. With a high rate of divorce and alcoholism, those careerists with families need tools that heretofore have not been readily available. Stress management, focus, and personal meaning need to be found to navigate the hurdles that self-medication or extramarital affairs have served with others.
Often it is the personal challenges that do not support the career that is responsible for the loss of an otherwise good manager/leader in the industry. Direct and indirect costs associated with replacing managers have been estimated to range from 20% of the salary of an entry-level manager to 75% of the salary of a Senior Director. As shown, supplementing the costs of professional hard skill training with the soft skills that a mindful leadership coach bring can easily be justified.
Mindful leadership coaching is well suited for these personal areas, especially due to the personal nature of coaching. Coaching through mindful awareness techniques can serve with stress management and self-regulation. These areas are especially helpful when the careerist is not getting the needed support from other areas in her life. Through the transformational aspects of coaching, personal meaning could be attained in the workplace. By working with a coach to discover what is important to the leader, “the leader can discover ways to use his workplace as a tool for personal meaning,” as found by Zach Mecurial Ph.D. and shared in The Invisible Leader.
Some challenges that the leader-employee and company would need to work together to overcome would be scheduling and participation buy-in. Coaching does not work without active participation from the client. This coaching cannot be forced upon the employee. While some employees may actively participate, not all employees will be interested. Finding the time for both the coaching sessions and mindful awareness training might also be difficult for employees already working a large number of hours on average.
In summary, the hotel and restaurant industry is an exciting and generous industry for young managers. Very rewarding and secure in the industry growth, leaders have ample opportunity to grow within companies and the industry. For companies to fully realize the benefit of years of training, companies could see a significant ROI on mindful leadership coaching for high potential managers and experienced senior managers further established in their careers.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/
National Restaurant Association 2019 “Restaurant Industry Fact Book” https://restaurant.org/research/restaurant-statistics/restaurant-industry-facts-at-a-glance
Tenney, M. (2016). The mindfulness edge: how to rewire your brain for leadership and personal excellence without adding to your schedule. Hoboken: Wiley.
Gonzalez, M. (2012). Mindful leadership: the 9 ways to self-awareness, transforming yourself, and inspiring others. Mississauga, Ont.: J. Wiley & Sons, Canada.
Marturano, J. (2015). Finding the Space to Lead: a Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
The Balance for Small Business: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-new-restaurant-expenses-2888458
In An Industry Rife With Substance Abuse, Restaurant Workers Help Their Own https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/01/16/577462426/restaurant-industry-workers-help-each-other-rise-above-substance-abuse
Uncovering the Connection Between the Restaurant Industry & Addiction (https://upserve.com/restaurant-insider/complicated-connection-restaurant-industry-addiction/ )
Occupations With High Rates of Alcoholism https://www.addictioncenter.com/community/occupations-with-high-rates-of-alcoholism/
“7 Surprisingly Common Problems That Restaurants Face” https://restaurantengine.com/common-problems-restaurants-face/
“The State of the Restaurant Industry: Facing Challenges and Embracing Opportunity” https://www.business.com/articles/state-of-restaurant-industry/
“Alcohol Abuse in the Hospitality Industry” https://www.alcohol.org/professions/hospitality/
“The Top 9 Challenges Multi-Unit Restaurant Chains face Today” https://tacitcorporation.com/challenges-for-multi-restaurant-chains/
“The Operations Hurdles Facing Restaurants in 2020” https://www.qsrmagazine.com/restaurant-operations/operations-hurdles-facing-restaurants-2020
Mercurio, Z. (2017). The invisible leader: transform your life, work, and organization with the power of authentic purpose. Charleston, SC: Advantage.
“Benefits of mindfulness at work: the role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23276118