Is It Really My Way Or The Highway?

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, 2018

The kitchen environment is hierarchical. Without discipline, nothing will work. People need to understand this. The way you conduct yourself is very important and has a strong influence on your team members. This is the perfect playground for the ego but remember: chefing is not about ego — it is about team spirit and leadership!

Every chef has a different style for leading a team. This is, as it is in all other companies and industries, the most challenging part. I had lots of things to learn and I learned many of them the hard way. Some chefs lead by fear and authority only, as this is how they believe things get done. My Sous Chef, when I was an apprentice in Germany, was one of them. He was a nightmare. Believe me, you don’t want to be one of them. It takes constant and permanent self-development to learn and improve your leadership skills. Yes, it is a skill which can be learned. I learned it too — though it took me decades, literally.

It depends on your mentality and character. I am more the hot-tempered guy. Other chefs are more relaxed by nature. But I have met some real freaks, I can tell you. Today I believe that the greatest challenge we face in the kitchen is to lead with emotional intelligence. This includes an empathetic leadership style. Many old school chefs probably won’t agree with me on that — so be it. They probably also don’t even know what emotional intelligence is — how could they?

I decided to change my leadership style drastically, as I was suffering from my own temper. My team was suffering and eventually our guests were suffering from it as well in one way or another. The day came when I consciously decided to do something about it.

I experienced a major turn during one of my assignments in Malaysia. Before that, I took a break and was away from a professional kitchen for about six months. When I returned it was surprising to see how little I really knew about myself after so many years leading different kitchen teams.

I was shocked to see how easily I could lose my temper and go apeshit. Unbelievable! I thought I had myself much better under control. So, I read a few books about that topic and got inspired to change something for the better. A lot of discipline, willpower and awareness is necessary if you want to grow and develop your emotional intelligence. And man, everything is now going so much smoother than before.

There is no need to freak out, jump about like a monkey and scold the staff around. But it takes a constant and conscious effort on a daily basis. Real power comes from inner peace. Strength is born of calmness. There is great power in tranquility. Slow and steady wins the race.

Another great thing I learned is to involve my team in any decision-making process, listen to their opinions and ask for their advice. Ten brains can figure out more than one. This was my approach and it is still today. Of course, at the end, I was the one who made the decision, tough decisions sometimes, but one guy has to make the decision in the end. I never had any issue with making decisions and making them fast! Here is how I got stuff done: learn to share your opinion last, not first.

For example, when you conduct a briefing or meeting with your team and there is an issue you want to bring up for discussion, ask your team first what their opinion is. Most of us make the mistake of going into a briefing and telling others what the problem is. Then we share what we think of the problem, rather than first listening to what the team has to say. Listen to your team first. You will make them feel important, because you allow them to share their views first. Your team will feel that you take them seriously. That’s the smart thing to do, to wait until everyone has had their go.

As I say, ten brains figure out more than one. So maybe, the solution of the problem is presented to you during the discussion. You just evaluate later and make a decision. Get your team involved and they will appreciate it.

Thanks for reading this post!

If you are curious for more than I urge you to check out my book here for more stories, great tips, tricks and other tools!

Have a good one!


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