Hands-On Or Hands-Off: What Type Of Leader Is Best?


The scene: An Area-wide Manager’s Meeting

The participants:  Several MUMs and assorted unit-level managers

The issue: An Area Manager tells his unit-level managers if he ever has to “work in their restaurants” they are failing. He goes on to say he “doesn’t really need them if this happens.”

Now aside from the fact that he’s technically correct: if you have to have your MUM physically work in your restaurant, the managers of the business have failed at some point and if it’s an ongoing issue then most likely the unit managers are incapable of managing the business.

However, most people opt for the sleeves-rolled-up kind of leader who jumps in and lends a hand if things are out of control. But is this always the best thing?

No, it’s not. In fact, most times it’s the least desirable thing to have happen – especially if you get in the weeds. Why?

  1. They just get in the way of real service pros doing the job. They don’t know where things are. Are constantly asking questions about how to do some of the most basic of tasks. And this slows down the system and the talent on hand.
  2. “But our DM/AM can ring orders with the best employees we have. ” Well, good for them. But I’ll also bet you a dollar to a doughnut that those managers who are great at working in the business are less effective at working on the business.
  3. The issue(s) need fixing and if that is going to happen, you can’t do it when you’re knee-deep in the weeds. Someone has to actually be the leader and do a leader’s work.

But shouldn’t a leader be willing to “get in the trenches” (hate that description) and work side-by-side with their staff?

Of course. But always? I think not.

But isn’t it the best tactic to use in order to gain credibility and respect?

Nope. A leader gains credibility from creating the environment necessary for both the employee and business to grow because only the leader can do that. That’s going to require them to do work that isn’t remotely close to jumping in the dish pit or running food or some other such task.

The “hands-on” approach thinking is one of the most confused and abused phrases in management today. Leaders DO NOT have to work various positions within the business, along-side hourly employees, in order to understand the plight of the hourly employee. Can it help? Sure. Is it necessary? Not in the least.

But can’t it create more impactful influence? It can. But mostly it does not. And we know this from decades of employee’s telling us so. I’ve seen leader’s who couldn’t tell you how to turn on the hot water but could change the direction of a single employee’s life in one 5-minute conversation.

Staff know you have their best interest in-mind when you take actions that make a positive impact on their lives or the things they care about most and not because you could ring orders faster on the POS than anyone they ever saw.

For four decades, my Coaching, Consulting, & Learning Events have helped thousands of hospitality leaders worldwide, build successful businesses. Call or text me at +1-817-797-2929 or email me at Jeffrey@JeffreySummers.com.