How Unconventional Restaurateurs Avoid Fooling Themselves

Most of my clients, who are successful owners of independent multi-unit restaurant companies, do not have an MBA. And they never even cut their teeth in the corporate world—they just opened a restaurant and it went from there.

Many of them are unconventional leaders. I have come to appreciate and admire unconventional leaders for their talents and spirits—and to never discount them because they did it “their way.”

When people see the size of the successes these unconventional leaders create, outsiders (and even some insiders—and, frankly, even some of those unconventional leaders) may be surprised.

Two restaurant partners I worked with, who had a business anyone would envy, once told me, “We are just a couple of dummies!” The truth was anything but that.

We went on to transform their organization and give them an upside of 300 percent unit growth. This is growth they could never have created using only their own style.

They had seen their limitations, so they reached out to me. And I give them a ton of credit for creating something that was very good but could still be improved.

Risks of a Cult of Personality

If unconventional leaders want the most success possible—and think an unconventional approach is all they need—they are fooling themselves.

The thing I have noticed about unconventional leaders is that, though they may have huge successes, sometimes their leadership devolves into a cult of personality. That ends up causing a lot of energy-sucking drama within their organizations—or, worse, decline.

Experience tells me it is only when unconventional leaders find a balance—a way to integrate a conventional approach without killing what is working—do they protect their successes and set the stage to have the most success possible.

How Unconventional Leaders Protect Themselves from Themselves

  1. Honor facts. Bombard yourself with information even if those facts run counter to your core beliefs. Remember the most famous quote from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
  2. Rely on your team. Surround yourself with people who take a more conventional approach—who understand organization, structure, efficiency and rational decision making.
  3. Find exceptions. Be willing to surrender your unconventional style on a situational basis. This balances your approach and covers your perilous blind spots.
  4. Share credit. Let the people around you know you value the balance they provide. Your unconventional leadership is not a magic show; it is best when it is blended with people who can go by the book.

All styles of management heave their limitations. Understanding this can be hard for an unconventional leader, because they have always relied on not fitting the mold.

Over to you. If you are an unconventional leader, or know one, what is the most important step for them to take to protect their interests and balance their approach.