Empowerment - The Key to a General Manager’s Shorter Workweek!

Early on in my club management career, I was fortunate to benefit from the wisdom of a club board member who was a very successful business consultant.

Dr. McDonald (a PhD in industrial psychology) gave me the key to balancing my work and personal life and it was perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received as a club manager.

He told me it’s all about one word: Empowerment. Most of us have heard that concept bandied about for many years, but I, for one, didn’t exactly know how to begin. Then it happened.

One of my new board members told me that his son had a company that provided a better system for washing dishes than anything else on the market. We had been using Eco Labs for their service and products for many years and were quite satisfied with the results and our relationship with the company. I agreed, however, to meet with his son to evaluate the merits of this “new and better system” for washing dishes.

When his son, Chris, arrived at my office for his appointment, I had Tim, our dish room manager, join us for the discussion. I then explained to Chris that he and Tim should spend some time in the kitchen dish room to review what he was proposing and how it would be an improvement over our current system. Chris asked if I would also view the presentation and I told him no, that Tim was our dish room manager and he would make the decision.

After saying that, I noticed that Tim was sitting up a little higher because of that assignment of responsibility. (Tim had been at the club for a few years and I compensated him at the level of a club sous chef because I viewed him as that valuable to our kitchen team.)

The next morning Tim walked into my office with the brochure and proposal Chris had left him and I could see that Tim had made a significant number of notes. He told me he had studied the proposal at home for a couple of hours and his recommendation to me was that we continue with our current vendor. I thanked him for his thorough review and told him I concurred with his decision.mWhen I called Chris to inform him of our decision, he became a little irate and said he would be sharing his experience with his father who was on our board and happened to be the house committee chairperson.

A few days later at our monthly board meeting Chris’s father took some time to inform the entire board that “Kopplin was allowing a dishwasher to make a major capital decision and he wanted to know why I would give a line employee that much authority.”

Before I could give my explanation the club president, Mr. Haik, responded.

“I think everyone on this board knows that Dick Kopplin is our general manager and he has our complete support when it comes to club operations. I have noticed that Dick will empower, not only his department managers but other employees to make decisions, often with his guidance, but understanding that the employee needs to own the outcome. I happen to think it is a great leadership philosophy and it has obviously served our club well. Subject closed. Next topic,” he said.

While Mr. Haik was affirming his confidence in my management, I noticed that Dr. McDonald was smiling his approval and I’m sure he would have jumped into the discussion if needed but it wasn’t necessary. The entire board clearly understood from working with me that I would always guide an employee recommendation, if necessary, but that I wanted our team to own their decisions and take accountability for the results.

Here’s the valuable lesson I learned. By empowering our employees, I was able to replicate my leadership philosophy resulting in my ability to take time away from the club whenever I wanted. Our entire team took pride in their operational decisions and they knew I would give them the credit if everything worked well but as the leader, I was also willing to shoulder the blame if things didn’t go as planned.

I’m thankful for learning about empowerment early in my management career. It was very gratifying to watch our employee team grow and mature as I allowed team members to make and take ownership of their decisions.

And an equally good result is that I had as much personal time away from the club as I desired. Empowerment has multiple benefits. This much I know for sure!


“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.