A Recipe for Leadership

From the right ingredients to knowing when to adjust, there are six things strong leaders and good recipes have in common.
Restaurant staff looking at a laptop together

Making a really great leader is a bit like making a really great cake.

It starts with a recipe, followed by a lot of practice. You must blend the right ingredients at the right moment, adding a pinch of this and a dash of that when necessary. It’s a good idea to take an occasional taste. Know that there are going to be mistakes, and sometimes the results will fall flat. But looking at leadership like a recipe makes sense.

It’s part science, part art. It’s not just a formula, it’s a process. One where adjustments are needed to achieve the desired result. Using the recipe creation process as a guide, here are six things leadership and recipes have in common:

1. Begin with the end in mind

The best chocolate cake ever made still starts with time-tested basics such as butter, eggs, sugar, flour, etc. It’s the embellishments—cocoa powder, fine dark chocolate, garnishes—that result in the greatness you envision.

Leadership works the same way. Consider all the ingredients with a clear picture of what the end result will look like. If your goal is to have happy guests who will tell their friends about your food and come back to dine again, then make sure everyone on the team knows the goal and is focused on it. The people on your staff are your ingredients and they all have to work in harmony. That works best when the goal is clear.

As with a recipe, success is measured on your ability to repeat the formula or make the right adjustments to achieve consistent performance.

2. Start with familiar items

A recipe always starts with a list of ingredients. These are your staples. Perfectly useful individual items that can stand by themselves. The leader’s job is to become very educated about each component.

Learn the strengths of your greeters, wait staff, chef, line cooks, expediters, bus people, etc. They all have to be at their best and work together for your business to be successful. As with creating a recipe, a change to one of the ingredients affects the other ingredients.

A delicious entrée served with dirty silverware means your recipe is out of balance. It’s a reminder that it’s just as valuable to understand what the dish crew does as it is to know what the chef is putting on the menu.

3. Learn about the items you don’t know

Once you get a handle on the familiar part of your business, you can address the ingredients that seem more exotic. You might have to read up, conduct research, ask questions and, most of all, listen.

This is where you exhibit the difference between being a boss and being a leader. A boss is someone who is in charge, assigns tasks and makes crucial decisions. A leader is someone who influences and gets the most out of others by setting goals and leading by example.

Finding out about the items you don’t know shows your team that you have a commitment to understanding and appreciating their roles. It builds a bond of trust and lets them develop the characteristics that enhance your recipe for success.

4. Experiment with outcomes

As a leader, you have to treat everyone the same but mentor everyone differently. This is similar to refining a recipe. You know the roles of each person on the team, but do you really know the people?

New hires may need extra training. Some people merely need to be pointed in the right direction. But everyone needs to know how they will benefit—bonuses, promotions, days off—by achieving the goal. This kind of transparency puts everyone in the game together and gives them confidence.

5. Refine your recipe

Any chef will tell you the importance of tasting your creation as you go. A strong leader needs to be honest, flexible and have an open mind, especially when something fails. And there will be failures.

Just remember, nothing ever changes without failure. A true leader recognizes a failure and admits it. Leadership means dealing with second-guessing and challenges at every step. A willingness to try and fail empowers everyone to be fearless change agents.

6. Adapt to the circumstances

Once you think your recipe is just right, it’s time to put it to the test. Encourage team members to plant their feet and grow. Good leadership builds future leaders.

Hire people who truly enjoy what they are doing. Encourage them to focus on the enjoyment of the guest. Once you have created the personality of your recipe, it’s only a matter of making small adjustments to deliver a consistent product.

There’s an inspiration behind every recipe. What makes it your own is the amount of attention to detail you choose to put into it.

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