It’s an interesting time to talk about leadership these days with all eyes on our neighbours to the south. But I want to discuss leadership closer to home, right in my own businesses in fact.
For the last several years we have been laying the foundation in Whistler for a growing business run by “democratic leadership.” The idea is that people at Gibbons have a voice in the decision-making process and that their voice matters.
It hasn’t always been this way here.
From 2001 to 2008 Gibbons was moving from strength to strength. It seemed we couldn’t go wrong. It was easy to grow the company, setting up new businesses in Vancouver and Ontario. I was fearless. I had never seen a downturn in the economy, never known anything other than success.
Deep down, however, I knew we had a problem — we had all these great bars that people wanted to come to but behind the scenes, we didn’t have a “human system” in place. We hadn’t found a way of finding the right people, keeping the right people, enhancing and developing the right people so that our businesses could keep on growing.
We were building a house of cards.
Then 2008 arrived. It was a wake-up call for everyone, including us.
When times got tough it became obvious that we didn’t have the internal systems to deal with it. We needed to figure out the algorithm of our success and truly understand it. If we were ever going to be successful in diversifying and expanding, we needed to understand the very essence of what made us tick.
So, we started laying the groundwork in Whistler at our flagship business, The Longhorn. We broke down the business to seven days of the week and staff members could volunteer to be captains of each night. Under the captain, there was a system of people each with varying responsibilities — a marketing captain, a customer service captain, a sales captain. It allowed our staff to take ownership of various parts of the business that night, giving them a voice, a platform to be heard and a forum to show us what they could do.
I got the idea from my time at university but it wasn’t in any textbook. I wanted to be the general manager of the campus bar at Bishop’s University. I had no experience and I didn’t really stand a chance. But I’ve never let things like that stop me. I approached management with a proposal – I’ll take your slowest night of the week and make it your busiest night and if I can do this, let me run the bar. I’m going to save the rest of that story for another day.
Needless to say, the Longhorn experiment worked. It created a system of empowerment where staff could thrive, be creative, give input and be rewarded for their work.
We’re walking the talk of democratic leadership at Gibbons. I see our business as open to all possibilities and we need people and their ideas to take us to the next week. The door is always open for input.
A few weeks ago, for example, we decided that the members of our executive team should be able to set their own salaries.
Don’t believe me? Tune in next week and I’ll tell you all about it.