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What leadership means to me

Nils Braude, director of catering, conferencing & events, Twickenham Experience Limited, passes some lessons in leadership on to CN.

 

Its a Saturday afternoon, England are playing at home to Australia, and we have over 80,000 people in a packed Twickenham Stadium. 10,500 of them have arrived for premium hospitality at the home of England Rugby - that’s 31,500 plates of food, over the course of about three hours. We’ve found out one of our prestigious customers is celebrating a major birthday, so I’m writing a card. This is what leadership means to me.

Its very easy to draw clichéd comparisons between what is happening on the pitch (a convincing England win 30-6) and what is happening off it. But the ethics are the same: everyone has to contribute, and you dont ask someone to do anything you wouldnt do yourself. The guy next to me is my general manager, like me his career has stopped off on kitchen cleaning, duty management, and senior directorship, before elevating to the heady heights of ‘customer relationship counsel on card creation’ at Twickenham Stadium on this particular Saturday!

This isnt about everyone mucking in’ though, or back to the floor’ for that matter. To get 10,500 covers out in the space of just a few of hours takes precision, accuracy, planning and experience. Everyone knows their roles, they are exceptional at them or they wouldnt be here. So, if we want to do something special for someone special to our business, the senior management, who enjoy hovering around the service areas, can take care of it. No one bats an eye lid.

Having addressed planning and accountabilities, team work, clear lines of responsibility, and the age-old art of getting it done’ when it really matters, its becoming evident to me that leadership on and off the pitch arent so different after all. 

The day finishes with as much success off the pitch as on it. Weve delivered exceptional results for demanding guests who have paid a lot for perfection, and need it delivered as an enhancement of their sporting experience. We’ve also made a difference to someone on a big day for them, something they will most likely remember for the rest of their lives. 

So, how do we do it at Twickenham, and what role do I play? Im not massively into management bibles, logos or metaphors. Sometimes it takes a bit of straight talking; delivered by an Aussie coach, or in this case a South African operational director. 

My main management tools are around psychometric testing - we use it for everyone in the team, and everyone we employ. It tests personalities, so everyone can understand how they make their decisions - emotionally or pragmatically - and creates empathy within teams and management. It means that as a leader I can challenge if that works, or support if that is what is needed. Its a really strong system. 

 

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The result is an environment that allows leadership to challenge the limits of what is achievable, while still showing due care and consideration for the team. Why? Because we have to improve what we do, every second of every day. For me, tomorrow can never come quick enough, I like to make decisions quickly, and to test the result of each one. Like sport, you can see results fast in hospitality and you can adapt and change to continuously improve. Teams need to be agile and dynamic, but also share the same goal; brilliant results, on and off the pitch.

Like a rugby coach will often do, sometimes you need to shout and scream, sometimes you need a softer touch; information is power, and this system helps us understand when, and with whom, we should adopt each tactic. People ask me a lot about working with chefs, or for that matter any role which combines flair and creativity; this time Ill avoid the clichéd ‘noisykitchen, the chefs we have here are not uncontrollable and aggressive, they are precise and prepared; creativity comes before the event, excellence comes during it. 

Another cliché linked to leadership is innovation. Again, my own opinion on this probably says a lot about me. Innovation needs to be ubiquitous, it needs to be everywhere and continual. I see groups get together to talk about innovation and I dont like them. To me there are few occasions less innovative than a structured team meeting. It takes a mind-set and the right people, someone has an idea now, lets do it now; we wait until tomorrow and it’s often too late. If youre working at innovation its because youre not innovative; most innovative’ businesses I know don’t have a department dedicated to it, they have it within the walls and DNA of the business. 

Both elite sport and events combine fast, high-pressure environments, with longer periods of reflection and planning. For me this is about preparing business plans and teams to implement highly-practiced scenarios, using talent with the right mix of flair and experience. Its also about changing the plan on the spot, being adaptable and comfortable with change and implementing a new plan quickly. Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan, right up until you punch them in the mouth. I like my teams to be adaptable and agile, as well as precise. 

To do this, everyone needs to be at their best, and willing to adapt and change with the situation. Every now and then it means someone needs to write a birthday card!