Stephen Waters: The four skills YOU need for successful management

Saturday night at my local, the White Hart in Mortlake, and it’s buzzing. It’s close to full, the customers are having a great time and the team is on it. You can almost feel the energy and the focus. Their energy is tangible, and their focus is visible. They’re co-ordinated, motivated, and super-slick in their support of each other.


I collar the manager and we talk about how the evening is going. I compliment her on the high level of teamwork and ask her where she learnt this. She tells me that her employer has invested in her development throughout her career.


If it’s any good, hospitality management development will feature the development of four interconnected skill sets. Self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, and performance management.

Building self-awareness is about the idea that, as humans we tend to trust our instincts and so it’s useful to know what shaped them. It’s also about a heightened understanding of the impact we make on others. In the hospitality business most managers are higher than average on impact-awareness, but some can be dramatically below average. Increasingly these days self-awareness acts as an important ethical guide: Is what I am about to do in keeping with my values? This is critical for the increased level of ethical navigation we all now need.


Elevated levels of self-awareness then create opportunities for self-discipline, or self-management, the second component. No one wants an inauthentic boss; indeed, our research shows that authenticity is right up there at the top of the list of the qualities bar & restaurant people want from their bosses, the others being consistency and approachability. Knowing the pattern of your instincts helps you trust your instincts and therefore make better decisions.


We stay authentic, actually we’re ourselves more, with skill. We bring focus, adaptability, flexibility, and self-motivation to the piece. This builds exceptional trust.  The third component is empathy. The ability to put ourselves aside and walk in somebody else’s shoes. The extent to which we can sense how another person is feeling about a situation. This helps us accept the individual, listen, see their potential and builds our reputation as coach and mentor.

Only with the first three competences in place are we able to manage effective performance.

Teamworking depends on effective feedback. Without it the team will have less idea whether performance is good or not in other people’s eyes and how it could improve. The relationship between feedback and performance is complex, indeed there are many common assumptions about the process including;


  1. That it is a good thing
  2. That feedback helps boost or maintain high performance
  3. That bosses should give it and staff should receive it
  4. That we always start with something positive or use the sandwich;
    first, say something nice, second, deliver the message – seen as the bad bit,
    and finally say something else nice

Research challenges this: much or most feedback actually lowers performance. The giver can assume a rational response and overlook the emotional element and most people actually know their weaknesses better than others do.

People in hospitality can spot inauthenticity a mile away. When their managers use techniques on them, they back away as fast as they can. But, notice the positive intention in the sandwich. Starting with something nice is a way of saying ‘I want to help, are we safe? is there enough trust for me to proceed? The filling in the sandwich is the real message (which can get lost) and the ‘saying something nice’ at the end has the intention of sending the person away positive and focused.


Rather than any of this, we need to decide case by case whether there is already sufficient trust in the relationship (if so, go straight to main message, if not sure ask for permission) and rather than saying something nice, simply ask the other person to summarise the desired behaviour and use this as an opportunity to check for understanding and then amend if necessary.

Feedback is really powerful when we focus on the behaviour rather than the person’s attitudes, this helps us be tough on the issues, (often subtle parts of our businesses’ competitive offer) and feedback is particularly powerful when explicitly connected to existing goals. There’s more: focusing on strengths improves performance better than focusing on weaknesses.


Own your opinion – say I think, I want, I believe – and focus on specifics particularly where there are problems. Follow up quickly with more feedback when you see changes along the right lines. And finally make sure that there are no obstacles to change which are outside your colleague’s control. e.g., lack of resources; lack of authority; conflicting instructions; lack of time; lack of basic ability. Most of all avoid the word feedback, be yourself, stick to normal language.

Watershed School is a management training school uniquely dedicated to the bar and restaurant business.


Founded in 2001 by Stephen Waters, ex-managing director of Pitcher & Piano and head of its in-house management academy, Watershed takes a ground-breaking approach to training, favouring active learning, collaboration and shared experience over role play and prescriptive teaching.

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