Philosophy Over Service Methods, and Other Important Mentoring Lessons

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There are very few aspects of our industry, or any industry for that matter, that allow us to further educate ourselves by reading or sitting in classes. There is really no education that can compare to learning from a mentor who has gained valuable experience throughout their career and is willing to pass those lessons on to the next generation of leaders. That willingness is a fundamental attribute that mentees look for in a mentor. 

There are several ways that each situation we encounter at work can be handled and sometimes all we can do is put together past experiences, an understanding of current private club politics and our gut intuition to make a decision and move forward. However, the invaluable conversations we have had with our mentors will help guide us to what we think is the appropriate decision and understand how to handle the impact of the decision. Nobody fully knows the right move all the time, however one goal we can hope to achieve, especially in private club management, is to say the right thing, in the right way, in front of the right people, at the right time. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, we also have a full operation to run simultaneously. Which is why surrounding yourself with capable individuals that are open to a mentor/mentee relationship is crucial to running a successful operation.

The most important lessons I’ve received from a mentor is how to operate in the “gray”. Earlier in my career, I was a very “black and white” person. I managed by checklists and operating procedures. Even when the operation was in my face that an operating procedure was not the right approach, I would push it through because I knew I would be able to explain it later when questioned, instead of following my gut. Training is another part of the job where operating in the “gray” is so crucial. It is very difficult to train your staff to be flexible on their approach based on the situation. This flexibility is likely only feasible at a small club (i.e., fewer than 500 members) as larger clubs required a more formal training as flexibility could create chaos in the eyes of the membership and could result in the operation spiraling out of control.

When I brought up training with my mentor and how I was struggling with how to train empowerment to the employee so they can take a situation and run with it without asking permission, his response to me was to focus more on philosophy, not service methods. Yes, of course it’s important to train the staff on methods like serve from the left with the left and clear from the right with the right for F&B or make sure there is a new cold water bottle in the golf cart prior to a member using it. But don’t make that the true measure of success, because it’s more important that the staff understands the underlying philosophy in which the membership would like the club to operate than the formality of the service procedures. Ultimately, we are judged on how the membership perceives the management and whether they are happy with the operation of the club. The membership will more likely remember the emotion they felt while experiencing the interaction rather than whether the table was cleared to five-star, five-diamond specifications. To be clear, the focus on philosophy and the training of technique are not mutually exclusive. However we should focus on balancing the two and ensure that the staff, and consequently the membership, understands the importance of having both.

Another valuable lesson my mentors have instilled in me is managing expectations. We always hear that it’s better to under-promise and over deliver. That statement speaks directly to managing expectations. This is an incredibly important message with staff and membership. If we can keep expectations reasonable, there is a better chance of us being successful. There will come a time when you face a board member or staff member that has unrealistic expectations. You can either tell them what they want to hear, or you can tell them what they should hear. Developing the ability to articulate and present a rationale and reasonable approach in the face of scrutiny is important to progressing in your career and being seen as a leader who delivers on commitments. Many of our board members are titans of industry, high-powered professionals or leaders in their own right so this can be challenging given that they may be accustomed to hearing what they want to hear, and not what they should hear. 

We encounter these challenges and many others on a daily basis in our industry so it’s paramount that we leverage the advice of our mentors. The luxury of having the support to guide us through these experiences until we are ready to take the reins on our own should not go underappreciated. Showing your mentor that you value their time and their mentorship is impactful and will help foster mutual respect and further development of this important relationship. 

There is an underappreciated challenge in mentorships and that’s how generational difference can affect the ability for the mentor and mentee to relate. The baby boomer generation looks at generation Y (i.e., Millenials, though most millennials hate to be referred to as such because of the hugely negative connotation the term has) and mainly sees a generation that does not want to put in the time or work to get to the top of the mountain. Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker who has studied Generation Y, looks at this from a different perspective. He believes that millennials grew up in a time when instant gratification was an expectation, not a luxury. For example, having the access to the internet and e-commerce has created a belief that any want can be satisfied instantaneously. This has arguably carried over to career expectations. There was also coddling by parents to make Generation Y believe that they could be “anything” they wanted, and millennials believed it. Having a strong mentor can help you navigate through these negative perceptions about Generation Y and make the relationship stronger in the end. 

A trend in our industry that is not usually spoken about is that younger millennial managers are faced with opportunities to take on higher positions in clubs than in the past. This could mainly be due to the fact that many private clubs are still trying to rebound from the recession and we are seeing fewer tenured managers that survived the cuts, which means lower supply and higher demand for mentors. It is incredibly important that we continue to see the value of mentorship in order to see our profession continue to have a strong network in the future. We must not forget to pay it forward when the time is right!

Miller HeadshotJason Miller is currently the clubhouse manager of the Muttontown Club in Long Island, New York. He is a graduate of the hospitality program at the University of Delaware having also studied at the Swiss school of hospitality and tourism. Jason’s career spans over 10 years, with experience in the hotel and club industry.

Posted by Will Flourance at 08/01/2017 02:47:25 PM |