Lawrence McFadden, GM/COO of the Union Club of Cleveland, believes successful leaders must balance front-of-the-club finesse with back-office executive management and strategic leadership duties.
Hundreds of books on leadership are written annually, each promoting a unique perspective on the topic. The art of leadership has become a bestselling business in the product and service industry. But what does it mean to be a leader in today’s clubs and resorts?
As a young chef, my greatest mentor would step right into our shoes. Working side by side with us, we got to witness the mastery of his craft every day. Although there was very little dialogue in the kitchen, we learned through observation and gentle correction. Another mentor of mine never touched a glass, tray or dish, imposing an understanding of our role through a succession of questions instead.
Traditionally, Executive Chefs are described as either hands-on or back office. While great leaders balance both, industry gossip often branded a chef as one or the other, regardless of the truth. Marriott further clouded the matter by removing the word “Chef” and assigning titles like Kitchen Manager or Culinary Leader. As titles continued to change and merge—General Manager to COO, Executive Chef to Director of Culinary—so did the expectations and qualifications. Educational institutions began marketing Bachelors, Masters and even a Ph.D. in culinary arts, creating full-blown business relevance to job descriptions. Soon, carrying a tray became too expensive for both employee and employer, and justified hiring more managers in lower cast jobs.
During this transitional time, many of Marriott’s General Managers came from the kitchen. Mr. Marriott respected his kitchen managers, labeling them as not as artists but as leaders. Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, and Weston shared a slightly different view; start with an artisan base, and, like a great recipe, fold in the business-leadership acumen.
During the interview for my current position as GM/COO of Cleveland’s premier city club, I asked for clarification if the Club was seeking a Maître d’hotel or a General Manager, as these are surely two different expectations. The hiring committee’s response was clear – personal interactions like opening doors, shaking hands, and seating members are an essential part of the member experience, but those actions alone won’t keep the lights on in the long term. My response? “The door always needs to be opened, just not always by me.”
After three years at the Club, I have found a true balance of front-of-the-club finesse with back-office executive management and strategic leadership duties. It seems our younger members are less concerned with visibility as opposed to the older, more traditional members. Regardless, my members generally describe me in one of two ways – as an individual, professional, family man and community leader, or their General Manager only connected to the clubs’ successes. Both are entirely accurate in the unique role GMs hold in today’s private clubs.
A successful leader should be known for one, pay attention to all, and, when the market changes, evolve. Our great profession will always celebrate the fun of the craft, but it should not be imposed out of customer misunderstanding. A servant leader is equal parts support, action and patience. The key is to adjust the proportions for the perfect result.