by Donald Burns, CDMP, CMEC, CHt
We all have defining moments in our life. Moments that have tested us. Moments that have pushed us. Moments that have made us who we are today.
One of mine is when I was 18. I had just joined the Air Force and was supposed to be trained as a Russian translator. Then one day, during basic training a sergeant came into the training room wearing a maroon beret and showed us a film about combat rescue. Men jumping out of helicopters, mountain climbing, scuba diving all in the name to save another life. The Pararescue Teams are the Air Force equivalent of the Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets and the Marines Force Recon.
The washout rate is around 95%, but after watching that film I knew I had to do it. Training to become a Pararescueman is a two-year process that takes you through some of the toughest elite military schools that the United States has to offer. In the four years I served and learned more about myself, teamwork and peak performance than any Ivy League college could teach.
The biggest thing I learned can be summed up in a quote by Winston Churchill,
I’ve taken those lessons from my days in Pararescue and use them with much success in the restaurant industry. These lessons can transform your life and your restaurant to a level you never dreamed possible.
1. Front Sight Focus
In today’s hyper connected and instant gratification world it is easy to get overwhelmed by a barrage of information and people wanting to pull you in every direction. When you work with special operations teams you hear the term front side focus quite a lot. In combat basically it means “keep your eyes trained on the front sight and your front sight trained on the target”. Today I use the term to describe incredible focus and single-mindedness when pursuing a goal or project. When you have front side focus you don’t get distracted by the movement around you. You stay clear, stay focused, stay on target.
In Pararescue training instructors purposely impose as much stress on you as possible with one goal in mind…..stay calm under pressure. It’s funny how that training has helped me immensely in the culinary world. The busier the kitchen got, the calmer and more focused I got.
You can use front-site focus in your daily life by asking the simple question, “What is my primary focus?”
It is a simple question that will get you back on track and on target every time you ask it.
2. All Work is Teamwork
Teams are dynamic. They evolve. They grow. The great team brings out the best of everyone else and each team member plays to their strengths. When I do restaurant coaching common complaint I get from owners, managers and chefs is that “they have to do it all by themselves”. My response is usually the same, “You need to surround yourself with a team that supports your vision, brand and core values.”
Special operations teams are very unique and the bonds formed between team members actually create a brotherhood. There is not one Pararescueman out there that even to this day I would give my life for. Now I’m not saying, that restaurant teams will ever be that strong. However you can build and create a team philosophy that will elevate your culture to a level you never thought possible.
The team leaders set the tone for the entire team. Leadership starts with leading. Leading by example is still the best way to gain perspective your team. Show your team how you want a task done. Work with them during the rush. Asked them about their family. Tell them jokes. Tell them what your expectations are. Hold the entire team accountable. On special operations teams you succeed or fail as a team. The entire team is held accountable. Personal accountability is something that is sadly lacking in today’s society. It’s easy to blame someone else. It takes guts, courage and iron will to admit when you’re wrong and take corrective action to fix it. It starts with you.
3. Live the Code
Rules tell you what you can and cannot do. A code brings together a culture.
When you graduate from a Pararescue class you take an oath. It’s a code. From that day forward you live it like it was carved on the tablets handed to Moses. Codes are strong. They bind us, they bond us and they hold us to a higher standard. That’s a good thing. I have had tremendous luck running restaurants when I instilled a code of conduct for the team. If you are interested in seeing the code I have used for last 18 years, please download a copy of The Mashed Potato Manifesto.
I have even gone as far as having team members sign an acknowledgment that they understand and will live by the code. It’s a powerful tool, try and see for yourself.
4. Never Quit
Those were the words that got me off the wall. Let me back up a minute.
When I was going to Pararescue training, the most feared exercise that got the majority of people to quit was called ,”crossovers”. Let me set the stage. An Olympic size pool. You’re on one side of the pool with a scuba mask, fins, a weight belt and an empty scuba tank on your back. You have to go straight down to the bottom, push-off and go underwater to the other side, come up and take a breath. Then you get about 10 seconds and have to do it going the other way. Now that might seem difficult itself, especially after doing 15 or 20 of them. Here’s the real kicker, the instructors are waiting for you in the middle. Their objective, is to make you panic and come up before getting to the other side. How do they do that? They hold you down, punch you, pull your mask off or take one of your fins off. I remember clearly the very first day we did this. The first guy when it crossed, instructor went down after him and held him down until he passed out. We had a pulled to the side of the pool and give him CPR. That was an attention getter.
After reviving my teammate, the exercise continued. Now crossovers were extremely strenuous. Swimming underwater 25 meters on one breath with an empty scuba tank on your back will burn up some energy. They were kind enough to give us a 10 second break once we are on the side of the wall and if you held on longer you have a screaming instructor in your face yelling at the top of their lungs, “GET OFF THE WALL!”
I remember one time instructors were yelling and screaming and the master sergeant in charge of training came over to me and whispered, “It was calming in a sense. I got clarity and I got my ass across the pool!
You will have times when you’ll want to quit. Don’t.
5. How You Train is How You Perform
On special operations teams you train for war everyday. I have always used this philosophy in any restaurant I have owned, managed or coached. How your team trains is how they will perform. When times get tough in restaurants, the first thing most people cut back on his training and that is really stupid. Restaurants get better when the people in them get better. The way people get better? By training. You would be shocked at how many restaurants I have seen rolling out new menu and no one in the kitchen is trained on any of the dishes. Service team that gets hired, follow someone maybe for a few hours and then is thrown onto the floor into a sink or swim situation. I truly believe that one way to eliminate some of the high turnover that restaurant experience is to do a better job of training. Show your people that you are investing in them and they in turn will invest into making sure your customers have the best experience possible.