Boost Your Business: Pauline Nguyen on playing to your strengths


(Pauline Nguyen) When an obstacle or a problem comes our way we have two choices. We can say (sighs), ‘why me’? And then go down that road, or you can say, ‘you’ve chosen me for a reason’, ‘alright, let’s do this! How am I going to handle this’? [Music plays] My names is Pauline Nguyen, I am in the role of managing director at Red Lantern. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant; it’s the most awarded Vietnamese restaurant in the world. My husband, Mark, is the chef here, a huge advocate for sustainability and the ethics of what we eat; a topic that we’re very passionate about at Red Lantern. One of my teachers taught me that in business there are always three roles. There is the artist, the manager and the entrepreneur, and so most people start their businesses as the artist, right, so you have the chef or the seamstress or the baker, they are good at something, they have their artistry. And so they start the business and then they find that they have to, my god, now I’ve got to manage and now I’ve got to wear all these hats. So try to discover who you are – are you the artist? – are you the manager? – or are you the entrepreneur? [Music plays] One must find their strengths and inevitably the business will grow. When Mark, Luke and myself were stuck in the restaurant, this was 15-years ago, we were working 80, 90-hour weeks, we were working so much, I was so stressed and overworked that I developed alopecia, a condition where the hair falls out due to stress, you know, that is not a good situation to be in. I think everyone’s goal is to live, is to not just exist (laughs). Everyone’s goal should be to feel alive, you shouldn’t be coming into your own business, or your small business, or your job and feel dead on the inside, you shouldn’t be dreading it. While I can manage the restaurant with my eyes closed, I don’t enjoy it. I will employ people who love it! and do a much better job than I can, so I can go away and work on my strengths. I can’t recommend enough to logon to Gallup StrengthsFinder and you answer some questions and they’ll give you your top five strengths. The more we can understand ourselves, the more we can understand others, right. I don’t believe in work/life balance. Work/life balance separates the two, what I do is not work, it’s just life, it’s living. When we discover who we really are, what our strengths are, what we really love and we do that every day, then it doesn’t become work, it becomes life. I think one of the challenges as being a small business owner, for myself, I was a control freak; no one could do it better than myself. And so, if you’re a control freak, you’re the only one who has control, if you’re the only one who knows the systems, you’re the only one who’s going to work it. And so, in order to have more freedom, to free up more time, we had to really rethink the nexus of being on the tools, or leading from the front, and to create systems, to get our team to create systems, to build a business that you can sell later on. And, I think, one of the biggest challenges, and I hear it time and time again, is the dialogue that small business owners have within themselves is that no one can do it better than I can and so they’re trapped. Good delegation would be to have your systems and processes recorded, either online or in a folder and have everyone follow the process. Good delegation is having a system that is duplicable. When I talk about systems and processes to other business owners there’s almost a sense of dread, they go ‘systems, process – where do I start’? You’ve got to put all of it down and it becomes your manual. So what we did was, we got all our team members and said, “Bob, from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave write down everything that you do.” And then we got our reservations girl to do all that as well, and I delegated to someone else to put that all together and that becomes your systems manual. So when a new team member comes in, they just have to read that, and when you’re going to sell the business that’s also a very valuable piece of information that the new owners would want to purchase. When you are in a position of micromanaging your staff become very, very, very expensive. To find employees who treat your business like their own, then it becomes a lot of fun. Then as a business owner your phone very rarely rings, all the little things you need to deal with that, that’s what I pay you for. We have that understanding and whatever mistakes they’ve made along the way, they also grow from it and so everyone’s evolving. Growing a business isn’t about how many restaurants you can have, it’s growing on the inside – how are you growing as a person? – how are you team members growing? how is the relationship you have with your suppliers growing? There’s a lot of growth that happens on the inside out. More and more I look for attitude over aptitude, more and more. I want to be surrounded by positive people, people with huge emotional and social intelligence versus standard IQ. The ones who are not afraid to unlearn what they already know are very valuable, because they already have the foundation, but then they’re also flexible to follow your culture, your company culture. What is culture? – culture is, this is the way we do things around here. When someone has that growth attitude all the other skills they can learn later on. They’re coachable and they’re a pleasure to be with, two very important things – if you’re coachable and a pleasure to be with then we can create magic together. At Red Lantern, especially, feedback is so very, very important for us. So our feedback system is when a customer leaves the restaurant they get a text message, Thank you very much, it’s a quick tool, it’s called Typeform, the responses get emailed to me every day, all the positive feedback I forward to my team, any negative feedback or any constructive criticism we address immediately. No one points a finger unless I get feedback from both my team members and as well as a customer. The customer is not always right. When you’re bitter everything tastes terrible, every experience you have is not a good one, and so it’s getting feedback from both the customer and my team members and understanding the whole situation, it’s all about making amends and that is a continual process. I often get asked, are there any regrets in business? How could I have learnt all the things that I have learnt if I didn’t make the mistakes? People, they need to understand that failure is a part of being an entrepreneur. Failure is a part of being in business. There is no failure; it’s just a word, but there is always feedback and there are always lessons, man, I learnt another lesson! how many more lessons am I… there will always, always be lessons, you know. Ryan Holiday, he is the author of a book called The Obstacle is the Way, it’s one of my bibles and he puts it that obstacles don’t inhibit our success, obstacles actually create and define our success. And so as a business leader and a business owner, when an obstacle or a “problem” comes our way we have two choices, we can say, ‘why me’? You know, and then go down that road, or you can say, ‘you’ve chosen me for a reason’. ‘alright, let’s do this. How am I going to handle this’? Instead of getting stressed out, see it as another challenge to overcome. Success in business, I think, means something different to a lot of people. Everyone should work on what their definition of success is. For myself, success is having inner peace, having the ability to experience joy on a daily bases. Success for my now is being able to employ team members who are much smarter than myself, who can do a much a better job at what they do than I can. I am quite particular with the word motivation versus inspiration. You can be motivated to sit on a couch, eat pizza, get fat, watch television, that is, you have a motivation for that. But inspiration and transformation is very different again, and to be inspired by people, by readings, by poetry, by other people’s experiences, by stories, those are the things that make us step to the next level. [Music plays]

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