Having the Courage to Lead in Today's Foodservice Industry

There's an old cliché that goes "the more things change the more they stay the same." Seems to me that notion really applies to today's foodservice industry. 

The industry has never seemed more complex than it is today. Operators continue to come to terms with countless dining trends, including consumers' desire to eat healthier; dealers keep fortifying their purchasing alliances to strengthen the buy side of their businesses; design consultants face the tall task of becoming proficient in BIM; and service agents continue to manage a new business environment that's dominated by extended warranties and defining what constitutes an actual warranty claim.

While all of the developments impact the foodservice industry's mode of operation, the fundamental ingredients that help shape individual companies' success have not changed in the slightest. You see, each successful company has the same four core ingredients: leadership, talented people, vision and a belief system, said professional football legend and U.S. Army veteran Rocky Bleier, during a presentation at the CFESA Spring Conference. "Success is still about individuals coming together for a common good," he added.

That's never been truer than it is now and today's business leaders would be wise to remember this before tinkering with their companies. "In a complex and changing society, people are tempted to make things more complex. Instead, make things simple so it is easy for people to get on board," Bleier said. "We don't have time to change people. We need to find their strengths and emphasize those attributes. And we have to find their weaknesses and manage around them."

Still, that does not mean leaders encourage their organizations to stand pat. Rather, good leaders must embrace and promote a culture of constant improvement. And the individuals in an organization need to embrace that or move on, Bleier said. "People with talent raise the standards for all of us but talent alone can't do it. Leadership needs to mold that talent."

But what exactly is leadership? For some people it's a lot like art, meaning they can't necessarily define it but they know what it is when they see it. Bleier, a veteran of the National Football League and the Vietnam War, offered his own take that seemed to click with me. "There are thousands of definitions of leadership but I define it as having the ability to influence," he said. "The ability to lead is confirmed by those you lead. When you are put in charge, take charge and have the courage to lead. Courage is that moment in time when we take action based on the information we have."

Too often management in large and small companies alike will try to lead in a vacuum with a heavy handed, top down approach, making decisions for the company with little regard for the employees. That's a mistake, because it's the employees that help an organization actually live up to its brand promise, as Juan Martinez points out in this blog post.

Bleier offered a way to avoid this. "Someone needs to have an interest in your people and they have to use that to make a difference," he said.

Indeed, the pace and pressure of today's foodservice industry is pretty significant but those individuals who have the courage to lead and can get the most from their people — their most valuable asset — the outlook will undoubtedly be bright.

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