Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Achieve Excellence with the Salt Shaker Theory

Have you heard about Danny Meyer’s “Saltshaker Theory” of leadership? The successful restauranteur describes his leadership style as one of applying constant, gentle pressure to achieve excellence.
leadership theory
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Meyer learned a lesson about leading people from Pat Cetta, the owner of Sparks, a steakhouse located in New York. Cetta came to visit Meyer at his restaurant, and Meyer was bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t delivering consistent messages to his staff and, as a consequence, they were pushing back and testing limits.

Instead of telling Meyer what to do, Cetta first showed him. Cetta had Meyer to take everything off a dining table except for a saltshaker in the middle of the table. Cetta asked him if that was exactly where Meyer wanted it. Meyer checked it, and moved it about a quarter of an inch to the middle of the table.

Immediately, Cetta moved the salt shaker several inches off center, and asked Meyer to return it to the center of the table. Meyer moved it, and Cetta explained the analogy. He said, “Your staff and your guests are always moving your saltshaker off center. That's their job. It is the job of life. It's the law of entropy!”

Cetta warned Meyer that until he understood that relationships, then he would continue to get upset when someone moved the saltshaker off center.

Cetta said, “It’s not your job to get upset. You just need to understand: That's what they do. Your job is just to move the shaker back each time and let them know exactly what you stand for. Let them know what excellence looks like. And if you're ever willing to let them decide where the center is, then I want you to give them the keys to the store.”

“It's my job, and consequently the job of every other leader in my company, to teach everyone who works for us to distinguish center from off center and always to set things right.”  - Danny Meyer

Where are the parallels for me?
  • When I coached and taught, I believed that I should not get mad at the players/students. I felt that I could be disappointed, but never angry with them. It is important for school leaders to withhold judgment for staff and students, understanding that their "moving the salt shaker" comes with the territory. 
  • I believe that students are looking for boundaries. They want consistency and enforcement of expectations. They don't want anger or judgment, just reinforcement. 
  • Staff members need and depend on consistent messages from leadership. It's a fine line between micromanaging and consistently enforcing expectations. (School leaders, I would love for you to leave a comment on how you manage it.)

If you want to read more about Danny Meyer and what he learned from the hospitality business about leadership (and find the many analogies to education), check out his book below:

You can click the picture above, or click this Amazon link.

How does this leadership style relate to you and/or your school or district?

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