Friday, April 20, 2007

I KNEW I Could Do This. Sort Of...

Some time ago, I realized that I need constant reaffirmation. Quite the realization for a card-carrying introvert. Aren’t we supposed to be the souls who neither seek nor require outside approval? Aren’t we supposed to be okay, no—better, on our own? It was a bitter pill to swallow, this realization that I need other people to think me worthy, or intelligent, or talented, or good at what I do. Maybe that is one of the strong ties binding me to this blog…J

During my eight-year stint at my dream job, I found my stride as a manager; my "style" eventually cultivated a crew of competent, honest, hard-working ladies who were good friends, could work together with a minimum of back-biting, and were truly invested in the success of the business. Eventually, I simply took it for granted that I knew what I was doing, and I was good at what I did. But, most importantly, my crew respected me. They liked me and appreciated the job I did. That was what put me at the top of the world.

It was twelve long years between my exit from that wonderfully nurturing environment and the realization of my dream of having my own place. In those intervening years, my self-confidence took a severe beating at times; but I never doubted for a minute that, given the right opportunity, I could make the magic happen again. Unfortunately, my months-long struggle with staffing my restaurant ground what was left of that confidence right into the dust. I had the opportunity, and I was falling flat on my face. Maybe it had been too long. Maybe I was too old. Or maybe I just sucked at what I had once taken such pride in. The financial success or failure of the café was something I could take in stride—we’d given ourselves over to the risks involved and were willing to take our beating, if that was how things played out. But the fear that I might have lost or been mistaken about the things I most valued about myself, nearly did me in.

Perhaps it was difficult for some people to get used to working elbow to elbow with the owner. I can understand where some people would be intimidated by that, while others might be inspired. Maybe it was just a matter of getting people who meshed with my style. And, to a man, those people have been…women.

In the early days of my restaurant career, I always feltthat I got along better with "the guys" than with other women. I think that’s because I was one of the few women in the kitchen. The "girls" were the hostesses and the waitresses and the bartenders. They weren’t the sweat-hogs on the pizza line or flipping the burgers or swabbing the floors at 2 am. But I was. I was down there in the trenches with the guys. And to survive in those trenches, I had to learn to give as good as I got. I laugh and shake my head when I hear weeny 21st century women whine about sexual harrassment. Back in the day, you ate that crap up and spit it right back at them. That was how you earned their respect.

I played their game, and I was mildly successful at it. But it wasn’t until I got the title—"manager"—that I realized how much better females are at this work. Women are more empathetic, so they are better not only at dealing with customers, but at dealing with fellow employees. They’re much more likely to accept the kind of wages I can pay. They excel at teamwork, at multi-tasking, and, most importantly, at taking direction from another woman.

Yes….I know. I am a total male-bigot. But it’s MY place, and I can follow any agenda I please. And it is a fact that my crew began to "gel" the minute we saw the back of the last atom of testosterone polluting our kitchen. The biggest difference I have noticed between inexperienced young people of each gender is that the girls are willing to learn; the boys think they know everything. And I don’t have the time or the energy to crack through that know-it-all hide.

And then there have been the tales and rumors of the feats of other local restaurant owners that make me feel like some kind of freakin’ genius. One of my major competitors decided last fall that he wasn’t going to achieve his goal of "putting every other restaurant in the county out of business," so he put the place up for sale. The lady who bought it is now engaged in trying to steal help from every other restaurant around, because she felt compelled to go in and fire her entire crew. All I could think when I heard that was, well, two things: I’m glad I wasn’t stupid enough to do that (though there were times I could have cheerfully swung the axe with wild abandon); and she better stay the hell away from MY people.

The guy up the road a few more blocks was at one time in possession of one of my most brilliant new hires…He f****d up that relationship by not giving her a promised promotion, and by shaving hours off her paycheck. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why a manager/owner would treat people that way. Several readers remarked in the comments of my last entry that it was "good of me" to let my cook have the weekend off to spend with her kid. That’s not being good, it’s just being…human. Beisdes, the way I look at it, there are damn few perks I can offer my people. I can’t afford to pay much, and there is no paid sick leave or vacation or insurance (yet…) So, doesn’t it behoove me to give my crew a perk I can afford—schedule flexibility? To me, that’s just a no-brainer.

I don’t know…I suppose they could all walk out on me tomorrow, and I’d be right back to questioning my worth as a business owner, a manager, and a human being. But, at the moment, I’ve got a few weeks of managerial success under my belt, and I feel my confidence re-inflating like a rainbow-striped hot-air balloon. I am so ready to cut the tethers and soar.


  1. It seem to me that the number one rule in management would be to treat the employees like respected and appreciated teammates.  Any manager who treats an employee like the are expendable will never get the best out of them.

    I'm so happy to read that you've got a team that is working well for you.  You've worked so hard to get to this point.  Go....SOAR!

  2. It's nice to know you are getting your confidence back.  Being in business and being not only financially responsible for the entire package, but for employees wellbeing is a huge undertaking.  Your intuition and prior experience has served you well.  Go Lisa!

  3. You look wonderful soaring up , up and away in your beutiful balloon!

  4. I am so glad everything is going well for you ~ and you are happy with your team ~ may you all keep working happily together for years to come ~ Ally x

  5. I've long found women to be just better workers, willing to get in there and make things happen -- if they can leave interpersonal bs with other employees behind.  As a manager, I've had to spend too much time either coddling or standing behind the men I've managed with a whip.  I've found that women employees just need a suggestion to run with while men need much more detailed directions.  I just love seeing your confidence so high.

  6. Get me a balloon too. Why on earth would anyone want to run all the other eateries out of the county. Except to say that you could do it. And then throw in the towel when he couldn't do it. Really makes me want to eat what he serves. NOT. It's gret that things are going so well.


  7. You sound like a great manager.  Treating your employees well (by giving them requested time off) does seem like a no-brainer to me.  Happy employees, besides being more loyal, are going to give better customer service, which is good for the business in the long run.

  8. I think everyone needs affirmations either by humans or remuneration. I believe it's part of our nature to achieve. I guess you could say it lies in the survival instinct. We need some way of determining that we are surviving beyond the ability to gulp air.

    And yeah!!! You are doing so much more than gulping air! Woohoo!