What It Means To Lead

Leading an organisation successfully is no mean feat. Venue heavyweights Brian Fletcher, Jackie Booth and Brian Cairns share their experiences and advice on leadership, and what it all means.

Brian Fletcher is no stranger to the hospitality and gaming industry. Currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Panthers, Fletcher has many years of experience in running a business under his belt. He was Chief Executive Officer of Hawkesbury Race Club for more than 25 years when he took on this role at Panthers in early 2016. And now, he oversees about 1,000 people within the Panthers grid.

To be a good leader, Fletcher swears by three simple rules: keep your budgets neat, make sure your organisation is clean and always treat people right.

“Leadership to me is making sure you treat the people underneath you well,” he says. “If you treat your managers right, you instil into them that they treat the people under them well too. This means giving them respect and being kind.”

“You don’t speak rudely to people just because you’re the boss,” he continues. “The nicer you are to them [the staff], the more loyalty you get. They jump on the bus and come with you on your company’s journey.”

Fletcher adds that all businesses revolve around people, and the hospitality industry is no exception.


If you were to ask Jackie Booth about her introduction into the hospitality industry, she would say she was ‘born’ into it – without a beat.

Booth started out as a food and beverage attendant at Zagame’s Matthew Flinders Hotel. That was almost 23 years ago. Today, she is the company’s Chief Operating Officer, managing more than 600 people with more than a dozen direct reports.

Booth is undeterred by the responsibilities: “My whole role is about ensuring that what we’re trying to accomplish is clear, and then motivating and empowering [the staff] to allow us to get there, and that’s through culture and recognition and excellent training.”

Setting a clear vision and goals for the business is the first step in engaging your employees, adds Brian Cairns, Chief Operations Officer of RSL Victoria. Cairns started his career with several council organisations and was offered the Chief Executive Officer position at Rosebud RSL at the age of 34. His understanding of the hospitality business and his fine administration skills helped him see through Rosebud RSL’s growth in those years. Today, he oversees operations throughout Victoria, with a dozen people reporting directly to him.

Cairns says good leaders need to have an “eye on the future and what they plan to do.”

“Foresight and setting clear goals are important traits,” he remarks. “Where do you see your business in five years, in 10? Who do you see coming along on your journey? These are some questions you should ask yourself and your team.”

He stresses it is also crucial – as a leader or a manager – to share aims and rationale with your staff, get them excited and engage them to come on the journey and reach those goals with you.

Fletcher brings up another point: once the goals have been set and communicated clearly to the staff, “you have to trust your staff to do what needs to get done.” In other words, empower them and do not micro-manage.

“I hate that [micro-managing],” Fletcher says. “I don’t need to do that. If I can’t trust, for example, my accountants to do their jobs and deliver, then I shouldn’t have them in the first place.”

And, if his staff reach a roadblock or are unsure of how to proceed, his advice to them is to go back to two things: what the business stands for, and what do the customers want.

“If you don’t have a customer, you haven’t got a job. So you can’t forget them in your business strategies and planning. We have to listen to them, understand their pain-points and get the feedback that we need.”

“They’re the people that come in every day and play the gaming machines, have a drink and buy a meal. So, as a leader, you have to pose the question to your staff: how do your strategies help the customers and, ultimately, the business?”


There are times when things don’t go to plan or a decision made at the top-level backfires. Fletcher – whose no-fuss, straightforward demeanour is respected throughout the Panthers organisation and beyond – believes mistakes are part of the learning journey and “one must be honest, deal with the error and move on.”

“I’ve made plenty of [mistakes] over my time,” he says. “It’s all a learning process; as long as you’re aware of that error, you’re upfront about it and seek a solution right after, you move on. The biggest mistake you can do is sweep it under the carpet.”

Admitting to an error or dealing with a conflict are not easy things to do and they both require some courage. But, like Fletcher, Cairns says to do nothing or to procrastinate on the next steps only makes matters worse. He gives an analogy of offices from back in the day where the ‘In’, ‘Out’ and ‘Pending’ trays were ubiquitous.

“We had a lot of paperwork then and, to sort them out, we had these trays,” he explains. “Out of the three, which had the highest pile of work? The ‘Pending’ trays. And why? Because people did not want to deal with the more difficult tasks. And the pile would just keep getting higher.”

Procrastinating on conflicts or tough decisions sends a clear message to your employees: you cannot make a decision.

“The bottom-line is you’re trying not to make a decision,” continues Cairns. “I think leadership is about making decisions. They might not always be right, they might not always sit well with everybody, but I think leadership is sticking to a decision and saying, ‘Look, we’re going to do this, this is where we’re going’.”


Speaking to Booth, Cairns and Fletcher about their leadership experiences, a few things shine brightly from the conversations – their passion for their staff and company, their intimate knowledge of the hospitality industry and how challenging it can be, and how crucial it is to recognise the good work of employees.

“If you ask me what part of the business is the most important part, I say, everyone plays a part,” says Cairns. “The guy who’s in the back washing 500 plates is working every bit as hard as the person at the front. Everybody’s contributing to the

business and you need to recognise that.”

At Zagame’s, there’s an incentive program that runs between its venues.

“We write what we call ‘Z-mails’ for each other, and it’s about colleagues recognising colleagues, rather than management recognising staff,” Booth says. “So, if people see their colleagues doing something that is above and beyond the standard scope of their daily job, they can write them a Z-mail, which comes to the head office. The directors, the operations team and I will review them.”

Every quarter, the winning staff members from each Zagame venue are rewarded with certificates, gift vouchers and special pins to wear on their uniforms.

However, Booth advises, even the smallest gestures and acknowledgements can go a long way, especially on hectic days when everyone else is out partying during the weekends or celebrating Christmas, and your employees are working hard trying to look after them.

“It’s about recognising that and making those days easier on [your team] so this could mean shorter shifts or a special lunch for the staff,” she says. “Small rewards like this show them you care.”

“Hospitality is not easy but it’s a very rewarding industry,” concludes Booth. “You have the power to impact people’s experiences in your venue. For example, you can make someone’s birthday a great one or a bad one. As a manager, if you treat your staff right, they will treat the customer right. In the end, everyone, including the business, wins.”

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