1: Imagine a brand new manager. Someone has just been promoted and is now someone else’s boss.

The person may look the same, but the universe has shifted. Three things have magically happened, writes acclaimed New York City restauranteur Danny Meyer in Setting the Table.

First: “An imaginary megaphone has been stitched to their lips, so that everything they say can now be heard by twenty times more people than before.”

Second: “The other staff members have been provided with a pair of binoculars, which they keep trained on the new manager at all times, guaranteeing that everything a manager does will be watched and seen by more people than ever.”

Third: “The new managers have received the gift of “fire,” a kind of power that must be used responsibly, appropriately, and consistently.”

Danny’s leadership philosophy involves applying constant, gentle pressure. He believes “fire” is how leaders make this happen. 

2: So, what exactly is “fire”?

“Fire is power,” Danny tells all of his new managers. “As it does in cooking, fire adds heat, clarifies, and distills the ideas that drive your business to solid results.”

As a young, inexperienced manager, Danny shares that it was more important to him to be liked rather than be respected. “The biggest mistake managers can make is neglecting to set high standards and hold others accountable. This denies employees the chance to learn and excel.”

Understanding and using the “fire” they have been given is the key to driving high performance. “Most managerial problems stem from an irresponsible, inappropriate, or inconsistent use of fire,” Danny writes. “It takes time to learn, but until managers understand all the different ways they can—and must—use their fire, depending on the circumstances, they cannot reach their own greatest potential or help others reach theirs. 

“Managers can use their fire as a torch: a light for guidance and teaching, and for leading and showing the way. 

“They can use their fire to offer warmth and empathy, to make employees feel safe. A manager’s fire can be used as a campfire, to form collegial bonds with employees, and to inspire others and help them grow. 

“A fire can also be a bonfire to rally the troops, to foster team folklore, to get the group motivated, and to bring people together in a unified pursuit of a common goal.

“Managers who inspire high levels of performance in their employees know how to produce magical results that leave people in awe. Managers must be wizards—the way they “breathe fire” is a source of motivation that impels employees to imitate them and to grow. 

“And managers must learn to use the fire in their own bellies as a way to fuel and refuel their own ongoing passion for this business,” writes Danny.

The bottom line? “If leaders lack fire, why would anyone want to follow them?” he asks.

And, if the leader misuses their fire, team members will find a way to snuff it out. 

“If a manager builds too many campfires (suspending his or her power and authority and spending too much time relating to certain employees as close friends), power may be compromised, causing the line between manager and employee to dissolve,” he observes. “And others may resent feeling left out.  

“Even the most compassionate manager must sometimes use fire to singe or scorch someone who is dishonest, or disrespectful to a teammate, a guest, the community, a supplier, or the restaurant itself,” writes Danny. “An organization puts itself in grave danger when it permits integrity to be compromised.”

3: When someone becomes a new manager, they must realize their role is fundamentally different from when they were a frontline associate. Their primary task is no longer to achieve win-win transactions for guests. As managers, they are now responsible for helping to make other people on the team successful. 

It begins by holding oneself to the highest standards of behavior. Then, by learning to use “fire” effectively, they unlock the potential of those they lead.

“By what they embody and the spirit in which they embody it,” Danny notes, “good managers can have a multiplier effect and add significantly to the company’s excellence. Poor managers have the power to do just the opposite.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Are there elements of Danny’s “fire” leadership metaphor at which I excel? Are there other elements where I could be better?

Action: Take action!

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