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    « A Lucky Christmas | Main | Physics, Cities, and Corporations »

    Lessons from Roadhouse

    You remember ‘Roadhouse’ don’t you?  A classic film from 1989 that starred Patrick Swayze as Dalton, a barroom bouncer, (or more accurately a’cooler’) who takes on the daunting assignment of cleaning up a rough and tumble dive bar/club called the Double Deuce somewhere in rural Missouri, USA. When 'Not nice' time arrives

    After doing some field observations of the bar, the employees, and the clientele (mainly consisting of leaning smugly against the bar and looking on as a series of brawls erupt), Dalton assumes his role as the cooler, and conducts his initial meeting with the team of bouncers. This is Dalton, the hotshot new team leader, recruited by the company owner himself, to lead a group of miscreants that for the most part is not all the happy to see him there.

    At his first staff meeting (or what passes for a staff meeting at the Double Deuce), Dalton makes a measured and forceful speech about his managerial philosophy, his expectations of the team, and his feeling that all issues can be resolved by practicing and applying his time-tested principles and processes.  Kind of like Six Sigma for beating up drunken customers.

    The highlight of the meeting and speech, is Dalton’s explanation of the three rules of nightclub security, which were exercised with varying degrees of success in the film (meaning, hardly at all), and also provide potential lessons for more general management and leadership of any kind of organizational team.  They also rank high on the unintentional comedy scale, because immediately after stating there are ‘three’ rules, Dalton really explains four different concepts, (I’ll label the extra item 1a).

    Whatever, he is Dalton, counting is for losers.

    Rule 1 - Don’t underestimate your enemy

    The bouncers at the Double Deuce were used to simple fist fights with local drunks.  A hassle surely, but nothing too terribly hard to handle.  Once Dalton comes to town, somehow the caliber of thug goes way up.  The bad guys now seem to know some freaky martial arts (leveraging the pool cue as a weapon), and are way more of a challenge.

    The problem was once Dalton started making an impact, the competitors and enemies of the DD now saw them as a threat more than an annoyance. Maybe your organization is a little plucky start up, under the radar but growing steadily.  Be careful of what might happen next, you may think you are beating your larger competitors but chances are they have not really noticed you yet, and have not yet begun their part of the fighting.  

    Rule 1a - Expect the unexpected

    How long did it take after your last staff meeting or planning session that you realized the decision you just made or the approach you just agreed to pursue has to be altered due to some unforeseen circumstance?  Fifteen minutes?  An hour?  Whatever the duration, the value of lengthy planning and strategizing often evaporates once the real world sets in.  Dalton rarely holds formal ‘planning’ meetings, most of the time is spent ‘doing’, and most of us should probably do the same.

    Rule 2 - Take it outside

    Unruly patrons, excessively drunk buffoons needed to be taken outside so as the disturbance and inevitable fight would not have too much detrimental effect on the bar, in terms of broken stuff and collateral damage.  The good customers would only see that the problem was handled, that Dalton and the staff were in charge, and they could continue to have a good time.  Problems in the workplace with staff or with customers often need to be handled the same way.  The team needs to know you will take care of issues when they arise, but don’t usually need to see and hear all the details of how you manage these situations.  A related lesson comes from the Godfather, when after the meeting with Solazzo, the Don takes Sonny aside and berates him privately, not in front of the lower level soldiers that Sonny still needs to command.

    Rule 3 - Be nice. Until it isn’t time to be nice

    Probably the simplest of Dalton’s rules, but the one that was the hardest for the bouncers to embrace. Be nice to the drunk that just threw a beer at me?  Not easy to do.  But Dalton was wise to know that in the long view, being nice as the initial reaction to conflict and adversity is a more sustainable and sane strategy.  Sure, at the Deuce the ‘time to not be nice’ came pretty fact, usually before the ‘take it outside’ rule could be exercised, but still it eventually helped Dalton and the team reach their (admittedly low) goals.  In the workplace I would also substitute the word ‘panic’ for nice in the rule and it would also apply.

    There you have it, Dalton’s rules of management.  Hopefully in your practice of HR or management, or leadership, or coaching your 7 year old’s soccer team you won’t have to put these rules to the test by breaking bottles of Jack Daniels over people’s heads, or crushing them to death with a giant stuffed polar bear.

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    Reader Comments (8)

    Brilliant. Ok, not brilliant but a really valiant effort. lol Should have saved it for TLNT.

    December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrish McFarlane

    Isn't #3 the epitome of customers service, both inside and out? Get the Jet Blue flight attendant on the horn and let's hash it out.

    Merry Christmas, Steve!

    December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin W. Grossman

    Trish - what about the Be Nice rule?

    Kevin - Thanks and a great point. Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2010 | Registered CommenterSteve

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    March 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDylan White

    Brilliant. Ok, not brilliant but a really valiant effort. lol Should have saved it for TLNT.

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