15 Tips for becoming a

employee-flow-chart great leader in your club

If you’re grooming a new manager or looking to be a better leader, bar and nightclub expert Bob Johnson has a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to being the boss.

A bar manager asked me recently if I had any suggestions for becoming a better leader. The person asking me was “thrown” into a management position because he was really good at what he was doing previously. It was “assumed” he must have the abilities to be a good manager because of his previous great work performance. In other words, he got promoted to his “level of incompetence.”

Management skills are learned over time—they’re not inherited. You need training, which creates knowledge, to become a good, effective leader/manager—and you need time (experience) in order to develop what you have learned to do. Always remember—experience does not mean you have knowledge. I’ve met many a manager who uses the line, “Hey! Don’t tell me! I’ve been doing this for 17 years!” (Have they been doing it wrong for 17 years?) Time, i.e. experience, does not take the place of knowledge. Time enhances knowledge! To become a good, effective manager you need time in grade that coincides with a lot of knowledge—which equals knowledge with experience—the best combination of all. It’s not an overnight thing.
I believe the most important management requirement is knowing how to deal with people. You have to tell people what to do (and probably how to do it), and you have to do it in such a way that they stay motivated and achieve the required goal. How you communicate personally and professionally with your staff to get a job done determines their level of respect for you and their “likability” for you.  
Here are some of the techniques I used over the years to develop my teams. They worked. Use them to develop your own style of becoming a great leader!

1. Always say “thank you” to staff that are doing well and trying hard.
Show appreciation! It lets them know you are noticing them. It’s important to be noticed and appreciated for what you are doing. The word “please” goes a long way, too!

2. Do you smile a lot and have a positive outlook on just about everything?
Happiness is contagious. Most people will respond to a happier person rather than someone who is surly, grouchy and yells a lot. If you yell at anyone because of a work situation,  trust me—they will “get even.”  They’re all of a sudden “not around” when you need them they can’t stay over to cover a shift for a late arriving shift change bartender, etc. You don’t need that kind of attitude when you’re three deep at the bar and on the verge of losing control! You need everyone’s help and cooperation—all the time.

3. Make eye contact.
Don’t look “down,” or “around” when talking to someone—especially if it relates to business! Give staff your full attention when they’re trying to get through to you. And most importantly, listen to your staff! Encourage constant input. It makes your staff feel they’re contributing.

4. Don’t allow drama to “fester” amongst your staff.
Stop the petty disgruntlements immediately! Try not to let anything “carry over” to the next day that can be resolved that night. Lead! Don’t hesitate to take corrective action. I recall the nights after closing, sitting at a table with two employees who didn’t like each other, yelling and screaming their disgruntlements, with me acting as referee—until we finally worked it out. Whatever it takes, promote team family. Your staff must get along with each other. Anyone who becomes a cancer to your team, anyone who thrives on the “drama,” has to go.

5. Be prepared to jump in and help your people when a work related situation gets “out of control.”
You don’t want any of your staff continually working “in the weeds.” Stress creates turnover.  Encourage your team to help each other get through bad situations.  

6. Let your work ethic form a pattern of leadership.
The most successful men I know still mop floors and pick up trash when they see it needs to be done and no one is doing it. Don’t think for a moment that just because you’re a “manager” those days are over for you; they’re not!

7. Never walk past or delay an action that needs immediate attention.
If you did so, then you just said to the world, “that’s not my problem.” In other words, “I know it’s wrong and I just approved it by doing nothing about it.” You can’t do that as a leader.   

8. Understand “strengths and weaknesses.”
Every member of your staff has a bunch of each—including you. Don’t ask someone to do something they’re not qualified for or capable of  and expect positive results.  

9. Know something about every one of your employees “outside of work.”
Are they going to school? If so, what are they studying? What are their hobbies? Do they like to travel? Would they be interested in going into management one day? It’s amazing how many “outside of work” skills can be used in your business. I had a cocktail waitress who was studying music at a local university. I made her my entertainment director and she loved her “second job.” An art student made my brochures and table tents.
Another time I had a bunch of guys and girls who loved to bowl. They invited me to bowl with them. So I took it a step further. We formed a couple of bowling teams and joined a league. Not only did bowling together make a closer “team family” at our club, but we soon became the meeting place after bowling for all the other bowlers (36 lanes x eight bowlers per lane = a “full house” nine months a year)! Our sales went up 40%. Really! Your employees probably have an abundance of talents that can be used for the betterment of your business. Find out what they are and use them. They’ll love you for it!

10. Enhance your “team family” capability by remembering everyone’s birthday.
It’s simple to do, it works and every member of your staff will appreciate being recognized by everyone else on their special day. Get a cake, or order a couple of pizzas, start a “birthday pool” where everyone chips in a couple of bucks and gives the “birthday cash” to the birthday employee at the end of the night. Or how about “a birthday dinner for two” at a local restaurant (do a “trade out” with a local restaurant)? The ideas are endless! What’s important is that you recognize the employee on his/her birthday.

11. “Look” like a manager.
Dress appropriately. Keep a change of clothes with you in case you have to get out of your suit or dress to do a dirty job.

12. You’ll never need a name tag that says “manager” if you always look poised and don’t overreact to anything.
You must always stay calm, cool and collected under the most difficult situations. Remember the duck—the “swim for survival.” On the surface, the duck appears to be having a nice swim across the lake. Underneath, you’d never know an alligator is chasing him and he’s “paddling like hell” to escape and survive. I’ve felt like the duck many times in the bar business, but tried to never show it on the outside.

13. Don’t play “favorites.”
You’ll lose respect. One of the most demeaning acts a manager commits is showing favoritism to less-qualified staff. His takes the wind right out of your “team family” sail.

14. Display a great sense of humor.
Make it a part of your personality. But know when, how and where to draw the line. Business always comes first.
Treat your employees better than you do your customers—Walt Disney said that.

15. If your club uses a lot of bartenders and servers (tipped employees), make sure everyone is making money.
No one in this business works for minimum wage. If they’re not making money, you need to find out why—and then do something about it. More training? Splitting up shifts more fairly so everyone has a chance to make money?  Otherwise, they’ll find work elsewhere. The last thing you need is more turnover.  
bob-johnson-headshotIn the bar business I learned a long time ago, “You have to have the horses to pull the wagon. No horses? You won’t go very far and you’ll end up hating your job!” You’ve got to continually feed your horses and continually steer them in the right direction. Everyone has to “pitch in” to get the job done. They must be “fed” (or “led?”) into performing.

Bob Johnson, Bar Management expert, is a 47-year veteran of the bar business.  His latest book release, “The Disgusting Practice of Bartender Theft” puts to rest the mysteries to a part of the industry everyone suffers from.  Contact Bob at (800) 447-4384 or check out his website at

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