Chef's Creation

A Wide Variety of Tastes

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, 3-LI

The Chef’s Creation

Variety is frequently a positive goal to achieve when doing things such as organizing your life, building an organization, creating a mastermind group, or developing a high functioning team. However, sometimes, we can miss the mark. We can overdo things.

I started thinking about this when my wife made a comment while we were out to dinner with close friends. We were all exclaiming about how beautifully the food was presented. One friend asked if I’d like to taste his dinner and I respectfully declined. My wife quickly said, “Dave doesn’t share anymore. He used to, but he doesn’t share now.”

Chef's Creation

Sharing or Respecting?

She is right about that. At one time, we did just simply share and sample all the food at the restaurant table, and I did participate. And she is also correct that I almost always decline to do so now.  I think I’ve figured out why that change has occurred.

Above and to the left is a picture of the food I ordered that night (Gotta love cellphones! We always have cameras available.) To the right is a picture of the food so kindly and thoughtfully offered to me. Look at how different the food is. Even the plates are different. Variety, right? My dinner, above, is Lamb Chops, the one our friend ordered is Pork Chops. Except for the potatoes (which I believe were the same), everything on the plates is different. The Chef, I’m sure, chose what combinations of tastes to put on the plates. My Lamb Chops were not covered with a cherry compote. His Pork Chop was not covered with a butter, wine and garlic sauce. Neither were those two items — compote and sauce — on the same plates.

The Chef's Creation

Based on conversations with Chefs and reading the descriptions of their creations, I have come to the conclusion that I should not mix the wonderful variety of tastes and smells across plates, but instead, should appreciate — and respect — the Chef’s creation of my own dinner choice. So it isn’t really about whether or not I will share food. If you want to taste my food, I am sure there is enough on my plate to share it with you and still satisfy my own hunger.

But I will decline to taste your food. It will, in my opinion, spoil the experience that the Chef has worked hard to create. It would be like eating something very strong and then trying a soft, delicate wine. It’s likely not going to be a good tasting if I do that. We know to clean our palates between different food courses and drink experiences. Right?

The Leader as Chef

I think this dinner analogy can work with the topic of leadership. As a leader, a major part of our “job” is to create and maintain a culture in the organization. We combine the proper

ingredients — values, vision, technical competencies, work ethics, etc. — to ensure a complete experience for our stakeholders (all puns intended!). Certainly, we want to have a variety of competencies and life experiences to provide innovative products and services. Yet the spices, if you will, must combine properly to make sure we achieve the vision and maintain the values.

o go back to the dinners: There is nothing sweet on the plate I chose. I suppose there could be. Yet the Chef chose not to use a sweet ingredient for this particular meal. My friend’s meal, however, had a somewhat sweet cherry compote which went well on his meat and with the rest of his plate. Who am I to destroy the Chef’s creation by mixing the experiences?

Likewise, we do not want to combine a sour ingredient on our team — perhaps a strong individual contributor but one who doesn’t play well with others — if we wish to maintain a consistent culture. We know that culture trumps everything. It is imperative that we actively manage the organizational culture and not let it become diluted or changed by too much variety.

The Organization as Restaurant

I happen to enjoy almost any cuisine. I have my favorites, of course, but I have rarely found a particular cuisine I just couldn’t eat. But I do not eat several different cuisines at the same dinner.

Perhaps enjoying that food variety is why I so enjoy the work I do now. As a coach, I work with many different Chefs who create fabulous dishes for different restaurants (Italian, Japanese, Irish, Vietnamese, French, Chinese, Mexican, Turkish, African, etc.). That is to say, I work with leaders from all industries who use many technical competencies to provide a wide variety of products and services.

While I often help them to discover spices they have not used and cooking methods they have not seen, I do not advise or expect leaders to create a great Mexican dish if their cuisine is Japanese. While we may study how various different cuisines are being delivered and accepted, we do not try to turn a French Restaurant into a Chinese Restaurant. Our stakeholders would be mightily confused. Nor do we try to turn a service company into a manufacturing company. Instead, we try to share knowledge of spices, human tastes, consistency of experience, and quality of ingredients to make a good restaurant into a great restaurant that is true to its culture and vision.

Bon Appetit!