Navigating the Café Management Job: An Introduction

Being a manager can feel like youre on a winding road with no map. In this new Barista Magazine Online series, we go off road and talk to industry leaders about what it really takes to be an effective manager.


Photo by Fabien Bazanegue

Anyone who knows me knows Im obsessed with leadership. I have a subscription to the Harvard Business Review, I read as much as I can about management strategies (and sometimes write about them), and I cringe when I see folks struggling with common managerial problems.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that we dont truly understand what it takes to be an effective leader. Its my opinion that we fail in our efforts in two primary ways: First, we simply dont understand what qualities it takes to lead effectively. Second, those in leadership positions dont know how to identify and foster the qualities necessary to be a good leader. Therefore, not only do we not know how to be good leaders, but we dont know how to identify them either.

When we think of leaders, we often think of a strict set of qualities. Perhaps we think of a person who is outspoken, or bold, or efficient. But what we hope to do in this series is challenge the way we think about leadership. The leaders we need arent always the most obvious choices for leadership, so for this series, we talked to some of the best managers we know. Well have tidbits, advice, rules to follow, and rules to break coming from some of the most well-respected coffee-shop managers and leaders. We hope that this will inspire you, no matter what part of the coffee supply chain you fall under, to think about your role as a leader and encourage others to step into leadership roles, even if they dont fit the mold.

Part of the reason Im writing this series is because we have to reimagine what leadership looks like. I recently received an email from a friend of mine who mentioned that they were not being promoted or looked at for leadership roles because their personality doesnt fit the mold of a typical leader. I think about this email everyday, and I wonder why that is—why do we pass up people who display competency, passion, and skill? Research would suggest that if your manager sees themselves in you, youre more likely to be promoted. Not only does this mean we pass up potentially capable candidates, but it also means we perpetuate systems of discrimination.

As a former manager with varying degrees of success throughout my time as a leader, I think the best thing I learned is that leadership isnt about power—its about empowerment. I didnt need to have all the power to be a good leader, but instead I was responsible for ensuring my staff understood they were accountable for their own job duties and assignments, and that they knew I trusted them to make good decisions. I hope, along with many other stories, to share examples of shops and businesses where baristas and staff are empowered to take responsibility.

Well be publishing the first installment of the series here at Barista Mag Online shortly, so stay tuned. In the meantime, Id like you to think of the best manager youve ever had. What made them effective? How did they and their actions allow you to excel? Now think of an ineffective leader—how do you feel they prevented you from being the best employee you could be? How did their leadership style affect the mood, motivation, and morale of your coworkers? If you have stories, ideas, or even just thoughts from this experiment youd like to share, please send them to us! We look forward to hearing from you!

About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at

1 Comment

  1. I think about this topic virtually every single day. In a highly stereotyped service environment like specialty coffee (often earning its stereotypes), do you find the Strengthsfinder typologies helpful at all?

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