Sharing Success

L’Occhio di Padrone

There is an old Italian saying used by many of our restaurateur customers which perfectly describes a common frustration among business owners, regardless of industry: “L’occhio di Padrone, Ingrassa Il Cavallo” (literally: “Under the eye of the owner, the horse grows fat.”) In other words, many businesses (including restaurants) find that, even when the owner is excellence focused, their employees may not display that same dedication, especially when the owner is not around.

Management has always intrigued me because I have always been curious as to how winning coaches (whether in sports or business) get their teams to embrace a sense of excellence.

And in the process of watching what has worked (and not) for coaches in my life, there are some key lessons about motivating teams which have helped in my career. I thought I would share them here, in case they might help you too.


Walk the Talk

Back when I first played high school basketball, the junior varsity coach stressed during practice his offensive philosophy of always making the extra pass and finding the open teammate. Doing so, he explained, would maximize the number of high percentage shots we would attempt, ultimately resulting in more baskets.

However, during games, my teammates and I would fall into old habits. Instead of making the extra pass, we “freelanced” by taking riskier shots. Because we had many good players on the team, many of these shots went into the hoop. When we made those baskets, everyone, including our coach, was pleased. Because our coach ignored his own offensive philosophy by applauding our freelance successes, so did his players.


What Gets Measured Gets Done

When I later joined the varsity team, that coach also stressed making the extra pass, in search of higher percentage shots. However, in the first game that I ignored an open teammate under the basket and instead took (and made) an ill advised shot, the varsity coach did not applaud my scoring. Instead, he benched me for the rest of the game.

The varsity coach understood that, by always holding every player accountable to his winning strategy, the entire team would learn to play at a much higher level … which we did!


Exceptions Undermine Credibility

I saw a whole different side of coaching when, during college, I worked part time in the packaging department of a Silicon Valley company.

When I started, the department supervisor stressed the importance of quality and gave us strict appearance standards for each package type we assembled. In order to meet tight deadlines during the last few weeks of each shipping quarter, the same supervisor pushed the department to speed production, even at the expense of quality. As a result, boxes with a less than perfect appearance were shipped. Then, as soon as the next quarter began, he started stressing “superior quality” again.

Letting sloppy boxes reach customers might not have directly hurt product quality. But allowing exceptions made it hard to take the company’s quality “dedication” seriously. It also made me (and perhaps customers) wonder where else the company was cutting corners.


Insist on Excellence, Even When It Hurts

About twenty years ago, I started an entry level cannery position at Stanislaus. In watching fellow employees, most seemed to take personal pride in the quality of their work, even when no one was around to see it. That is when I figured out that my Uncle Dino was like my varsity coach. In other words, he set high quality standards and never allowed exceptions.

In fact, insisting on excellence, even when it causes financial pain (for example, disposing of slightly “off spec” product at a loss, rather than selling it), goes a long way in demonstrating to team members that a coach’s dedication is genuine. When that happens, employees learn they will never be second guessed for insisting on superior quality themselves.



Whether you are a basketball coach, a business leader, or a restaurateur, if your success depends on consistently superior execution by your team members, it is your job, as the leader, to develop and insist upon tight standards. Successful leaders must also have the discipline to demonstrate adherence to those standards, even when it hurts. I believe that when this is done correctly, the team will internalize this winning strategy and behave accordingly – even when the owner is not watching!