Friday, March 18, 2011

Professional Interview with Tyria K. Joyner

After many emails and missed calls, I finally was able to conduct an interview with someone whom I view to be a perfect example of a leader. Tyria K. Joyner is my boss; she is the regional proprietor and general manager of Ted’s Montana Grill at the Philadelphia Broad Street location.

I am inspired by the leadership skills I see in her on a daily basis. On the one hand she is strict, maintaining the highest expectations of all of her employees and holding each person accountable for the demands of their job. We must succeed, because the consequences of a mistake or a neglected duty reach far beyond one’s own job status. A mistake comments on the business as a whole, including its reputation and its revenue; ultimately, it determines a business’ success. On the other hand, she is warm, understanding, approachable, and fair. From calling everyone ‘sweetie’ and ‘baby’ in an endearing and encouraging way, to joking around when appropriate, to telling someone they did a good job at the end of the night; Tyria is a caring person. She also seems to truly listen to guests and have a sincere desire to make others happy. In my opinion, she is the ideal candidate to run a restaurant. So what are her opinions?

With the first question (do you consider yourself a leader?) we both agreed that Tyria is a leader both by profession and by nature. So then the follow up question was, why? —From where does the motivation to lead come? She answered, “Innately, I am always looking at things from a standpoint of ‘how could I improve on this?’ I think I have a lot of ideas, and having the authority to lead allows me to put my ideas into practice.” It is agonizing for her is to watch corrupt leadership. “It kills me when I see inefficient, dishonest or otherwise corrupt policies, especially in business. I see them and wish I could have the authority to make things right.” So at Ted’s Montana Grill that is exactly what she strives to do.

What does she love the most about the responsibilities of her job and authority? “I love that, in the restaurant business, even the position of highest authority is constantly being checked. I hold the highest position at our TMG, but my co-workers, and even more so, our guests, are constantly challenging my decisions. This always puts me in my place and allows me to constantly reflect on my own performance as a leader.” This is her way of ascertaining that ethical leadership can be maintained. As a server, I watch as she discusses issues with the chefs, with the other managers, the servers, and even the guests. This collaboration, she said, is critical to “our little checks and balances system” within the business.

So it sounds perfectly organized, honest and—well, flawless. But what are the downsides to her job? She regrets most the fact that she must be harsh on her employees, or as she calls us, her “team members.” She explained that mistakes really can’t be tolerated because each mishap brings guest satisfaction down, and the success of the business in jeopardy. While understanding that it is necessary, she doesn’t necessarily enjoy being harsh. “But you know what? It’s a good thing. I would say there is a huge difference between being strict and being mean. Holding each team member accountable lets them know that it’s not okay to lose focus and make mistakes. And it’s never personal; I think we all understand that.” Then, her next words summarized our entire conversation thus far. When I asked her what she believes are the most important qualities of a leader, she responded, “knowing the balance between demanding discipline and showing empathy; and between using authority and distributing it.”

I then moved our conversation in the direction of her personal goals. She told me her goals as a leader are far-reaching: she strives to set a strong example, not just for how to run a restaurant, but for values and ethics in dealing with life in general and its inevitable bumps. Issues that come up in the restaurant business are actually very reminiscent of things that surface in daily life. A server who neglects to be clear to the chef about a guests’ special request is essentially breaking a promise made to the guest, similar to any commitment we make in our daily lives. “So I want to teach my employees life skills, not just business skills.”

Finally I wondered, in the grand scheme of things, how does she perceive leadership in the world today? What is lacking and what kind of changes does she hope to make or see? “If I were an idealist I would say that I hope other restaurants can follow the lead of Ted Turner, and now myself, who make a commitment to transparent, eco-friendly, fresh food that was produced sustainably and ethically and truly holds the health of the consumer as first priority. And in general, of course, transparent and honest business dealings, and decisions made based on the benefit of those they affect. Unfortunately what I see around me are restaurants and businesses that only care about revenue and efficiency; and consumer well-being and transparent procedures are of lowest concern.”

Undoubtedly, Tyria Joyner has a secure handle on leadership. Further, she has strong ideas about ethical and responsible leadership, and makes no compromises on those values. Upon reflection, what inspires me most about her is her acute awareness of the crucial balance between authority and responsibility, and her ability to maintain such a balance. I am fortunate to have such a leader as my boss!

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