MERRIAM-WEBSTER defines hubris as an exaggerated pride or self-confidence, adding that the English language picked up both the concept of hubris and the term for that particular brand of cockiness from the ancient Greeks, “who considered hubris a dangerous character flaw capable of provoking the wrath of the gods.” “In classical Greek tragedy, hubris was often a fatal shortcoming that brought
about the fall of the tragic hero,” says the on-line entry. “Typically, overconfidence led the hero to attempt to overstep the boundaries of human limitations and assume a godlike status, and the gods inevitably humbled the offender with a sharp reminder of his or her mortality.”
This is hubris – or Ύβρις
Confidence, or αυτοπεποίθηση, by contrast, is one of the most important character
traits that an individual must possess to be successful. To lead others, you have
to believe in yourself and in your abilities. Your staff and even your customers have
an unspoken need to believe in you – your staff because their livelihoods depend on
you being good at what you do, and your customers because they subconsciously
want to identify with a “winner”. The way you walk, the things you say, how you
spend money on your business – these “telegraph” things to your constituents; they send cues which let them know whether or not to believe in you and support your efforts.
But when confidence goes into overdrive, the ramifications can sometimes
spell disaster. I didn’t always work in restaurants. I started in restaurants and I returned to
restaurants because I love the business. For nearly eight years in between, however,
I took a different career path that brought me to a high-tech company where I quickly
worked my way up the food chain, becoming chief of staff to the CEO. The details are
not important here, but I want to credit that CEO with teaching me things about business
I would never had learned with four MBAs from Harvard. He is a self-made man
(he grew up poor in Nazi-occupied Piraeus) and his sense of confidence helped him
to grow his small business from a garage to a publicly-traded global technology leader
with eight manufacturing facilities on three continents. A key to his success, he always
told me, was that he believed in himself – so much so that he says he never lost a
night’s sleep worrying about business. At the same time, however, he always told me
that he was careful to “never believe (his) own bullshit”. A history buff, he knew well
the pitfalls of hubris, and he always kept his self-confidence in check. So, what does hubris look like in a restaurant owner? And how do we remedy ourselves when our self-confidence crosses over to hubris? Here are a few signs that I’ve noticed…
“What can I learn from another chef?
I’ve been doing this for decades.” As the old saying goes, you never stop learning.
And the fact that you’ve been doing something for decades coupled with the
idea that you’re not open to learning new things spells disaster. The restaurant business
is changing at hyperspeed, fueled by the overload of information on the internet and the discovery that the web’s best feature is that it allows us to share pictures of the food we ate last night. The public fascination with food has never been higher and if you think you know it all rather than embrace new trends that you can learn from another chef, then you’re taunting the gods. I come across restaurant owners that take this one fatal step further – they think that dining out at other restaurants is a waste of time. I actually had an owner’s son tell me that he doesn’t care what
the other restaurants do; that he was going to do what he wanted to do and blaze his own trail. (His father was building a new restaurant which was going to be in the fine dining niche – a first for his family as they had traditionally run pizza restaurants all their lives.) Fine and well, but remember,
the market is telling the industry what it wants. Dining out in other restaurants
allows you to understand where food trends, restaurant design trends and
service trends (among others) are and where they’re headed. While it’s true that
there are trailblazers out there that set the trends, its more likely that your hesitation to seek them out and embrace them is an example of … hubris.
“I’ve been doing it this way for thirty
years and I have a house made of marble to prove that it works.” Congratulations. You are probably a very good operator to be able to build your own Parthenon in your suburban town. But be honest with yourself. If your temple was built twenty years ago, would you still be able to build it today? Is your success because you’re a good operator that understands the market and inspire your staff or because you were in the right place at the right time. Don’t lie to yourself. It only takes one competitor that
understand the customers better than you and that can attract better help to come
and take your business away.
I had a conversation with an Estiator reader just a month ago. He told me that for decades his diner had been going gangbusters, which allowed him to grow complacent – the money would always come in, he believed. And then the news came that a very good operator was about to open a shiny new diner a couple of miles away. He could have lied to himself that his customers would stay loyal to him. He could have lied to himself that they would not be able to do it as well as he does. He could have lied to himself that his location was better, or that he had an easier parking lot to come in and out of, or that he would not be distracted running multiple diners as the new diner would be one of four that the new guy owned. He could have “believed his own bullshit”. Instead, he got honest with himself, cleaned his place up, retrained staff, redid his menu, invested in the restaurant’s décor, made sure he was more visible to guests, and when the new place opened, he held his own. If it were not for the competition, he would not have made dozens of improvements that actually increased his business. Now, look in the mirror and ask yourself how you would have reacted… With confidence, or with hubris?
MANAGING FOR SUCCESS
Constantine Kolitsas is the president of CNK Consulting, a Restaurant Consultant business located in the NY tri-state area. He can be reached at 203-947-6234 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.