One of the most powerful ideas I ever learned from one of my restaurant mentors was that empowerment is like a waterfall. There are different levels of responsibility in any organization, but the waterfall doesn’t differentiate. The waterfall covers every level—no matter how high up or how far down. Every member of the team is equally important to the mission you are trying to accomplish, or else the entire thing begins to crumble.

And so, in the weeks before our restaurant grand opening, I made sure that every single one of my employees felt empowered–that they knew their specific importance to the mission:

You are the first face the customer sees. You are the pace-setter. Servers and customers depend on you, and the speed of the kitchen relies on your judgment. You are the most important piece of this restaurant,” I told each host and hostess.

You are the engine that keeps things moving. The customer experience is dependent on you. The servers trust in you. The host station relies on you to seat customers. “You are the most important piece of this restaurant,” I told each busser.

You are the personality of the restaurant. You represent us in every interaction with your customer. The kitchen relies on your clear communication. You are the most important piece of this restaurant,” I told each server.

You are the heart and soul of the operation. Customers show up for you—you are what keeps people coming back. While experience is a huge part, the quality of the food that comes out will make or break us. You are the most important piece of this restaurant,” I told each cook.

You might ask: how can everyone be the most important piece? Doesn’t that seem insincere? Wouldn’t that put a lot of pressure on them?

On a well-run team, each position, at any given moment, is the most important part of what you are trying to accomplish. If you treat it any other way, you will expose holes in execution, you will hold some to higher standards than others, and you will open the door to division and inequity.

With a brand-new restaurant and over 80 new and relatively inexperienced staff, I needed to show each of them individually how singularly important their role was to the success of the restaurant—I absolutely meant every word of it. Because, especially on a team of part-time workers, money (or extrinsic rewards) is never enough to be the sole motivation. People must feel be empowered. And with empowerment, comes pride in their work, ownership of their mistakes, accountability to each other, and elevated standards for the organization’s performance.

Your people also need a sense of purpose. And with a specific, meaningful purpose, pressure subsides. When each member genuinely believes that they are the linchpin—the cornerstone—the fulcrum of that purpose, they will expect everyone else around them to step up. And with a team full of people thinking the same way, their jobs become easier, and your job as the leader becomes easier.

Everyone is the most important part of the team.

You must believe that.

You must convince your team of that.

And each of them must know that.

Approach leadership like a waterfall. Empowerment all the way down.

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