Leadership – It’s All in the Cheeseburger


Last week I sat at the lunch counter at a local San Francisco burger café. I was having an out of body experience enjoying the most intense, juicy, delicious mouth watering cheeseburger of my life. Without realizing, I became hypnotized watching the lead Line Cook. The hustle and chatter of the café, coffee pots clanging and the vocals of Buddy Holly suddenly faded to silence. Like a slow motion movie scene he was a master of hyper-tasking and orchestrated seven
individual cooks into a fluid dance of co-dependant intertwined steps creating the most delicious cheeseburger one will ever taste. My admiration grew witnessing his ability to call upon each cook and in turn their instant response to him without ever looking away at their station. At times cooks would take over other stations to maintain this rhythmic flow of energy, as they instinctively understood how each step was dependant on the other. Each individual, yet when combined through teamwork, together create a culinary masterpiece.

I froze in awe of this mastery of leadership. With melted cheese dripping down my chin I suddenly envisioned the leasing and service staffs at our communities. They work connected to the management teams and feed performance data to the accounting and corporate support teams. Asset and regional leadership study this performance data and translate these financials into ‘report cards’ to the clients that hire their services each month.

Great leaders in our industry recognize this. They understand that although each role is important individually, they take great care in educating their teams to understand how they fit into the whole. Not to be confused with cross-training, great leaders know the value in educating awareness. They know employees who understand their purpose and relationship to everyone in the company workflow are happier and more fulfilled in the workplace. I remember interviewing a site team at a community we were purchasing. I asked the Assistant Property Manager a question on the weekly reporting metrics and noticed how uncomfortably
nervous she became. I paused for a few moments and asked her if she knew the purpose of the weekly report. She responded “I don’t know. I am just required to email these to the Regional every Monday by 10 am. I only generate these reports and forward them by our deadline. That is my job.” I took the next hour showing her how to translate what each report truly represented, how to find the metrics and how her team’s daily actions and decisions impact the results of these metrics. I noticed her body language changing as we spoke. Her eyes brightened, and her questions and ideas began flowing and before we finished this exchange. She shared a new motivation to walk her property each morning and ensure that every detail and decision she makes impacts the whole in a positive manner. She said her outlook on her role completely changed now that she understood her connection to the overall process.

Great leaders engage their teams to evaluate and measure their behavior not only for the individual roles, but also how behavior affects all other departments and team members. They know when employees practice this regularly; there are impressive side effects – cohesion, a culture of mutual respect, employee self-worth, empowerment, and the desire to affect change as well as help others, just to name a few. The management company’s performance improves. Every time. Always. Absolute.

I visited a management company’s corporate office years ago when we interviewed the executives for a potential merger with our parent firm. I learned from their regional vice president that “They understood the value of each role at the property level. They trained those positions to focus on their responsibilities and did not include these employees in higher lever strategic planning meetings.” For example, the leasing staff did not need to know the process of how accounting closed the financial periods. It was not relevant to their purpose, and that knowledge would simply create confusion and ambiguity. I thought of the assistant manager who shared “I don’t know – it’s just my job”. Placing your employees on a ‘need to know’ basis often equates to confusion and ambiguity. Many accounting teams express frustration with site level employees who fail to meet close deadlines: updating rents, ensuring move outs, etc. are nice and clean before the reconciliations are processed. When the site teams understand the process of accounting month end close, empowerment to work together as a cohesive team to meet the company goal naturally occurs. Great leaders empower and educate. This takes a good amount of time, and sadly most supervisors focus on the end result – status updates, projects, assignments and deadlines dominate communications. Take a moment and think about how your results might improve when your employees understand why their work is important and how their skills impact the end goals.

“Employees cannot perform to their full potential unless they truly understand what is expected of them.”

Leaders that stand apart ensure their employees measure their performance on how successful they support their other teams and together as a whole to meet the company’s goals. To succeed they become that Lead Line Cook: Educating and training every single team member to understand all roles and why they matter, holding them accountable to how they fit the overall process, and teaching them how they can step outside of their role and assist others when needed. How do you know they’ve got it? Maybe it’s when a maintenance technician understands the impact of vacant lost rent during turnover. Or it could show in your leasing teams helping to dead head flowers at the property entrance because they fully understand how poor curb appeal can materially impact property cash flow. These are opportunities for you as a leader to become an educator. Your goal is to become a teacher of the symbiotic relationship of how we are all connected to each other in building equity.

-Equity of improved residency experiences.
-Equity of self worth and the desire to get excited about waking up and heading to work.
-Equity of the real property investment we are hired to manage and maintain.

As a supervisor and a leader ask yourself what kind of Lead Line Cook are you?