Leadership lessons from Masterchef

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams 

It was interesting watching the 3 Michelin starred chefs working with the finalists in this year’s Masterchef final, as they all demonstrated different leadership styles in their restaurants.
The first chef they worked with was Michael Wignall in Surrey, and he was very precise in what he wanted from them. He had very high standards and demonstrated exactly what he expected from the chefs.

There wasn’t much in the way of praise and recognition from him with one chef commenting that he “hoped” he would be able to deliver on the service, with Michael’s reply being that he hoped so too, rather than reassuring him that he expected him to do well.

Michael’s approach was to micro manage them with the outcome being the most important factor in the process for him.

Watching the chefs in action there was a sense of fear in the way they worked, with them being more concerned about not making a mistake rather than excelling in their work. When standards looked like slipping Michael had no hesitation in having members of his team take over to restore order.
There is no doubt they felt challenged and they learnt from the experience, but I was left wondering how much they enjoyed it.

The next stop was Nottingham to work with Sat Bains, who exhibited a far more relaxed style with the contestants than Michael. His starting point with them appeared to be that of trust, he expected them to do a good job. He demonstrated the dishes he wanted them to prepare and ensured they tasted as they went along so they felt involved in the preparation of the dish he was demonstrating.

He was also clear in his expectations, but was keen to point out that they had some latitude in the way the dish looked. Sat’s main criteria was that the diners had dishes that they would be excited by, so he wasn’t wedded to the idea that the final dishes had to look exactly like the ones he prepared.
This nurturing and encouraging style put the contestants at ease and allowed them to focus on the work in hand, with the pressure coming from themselves rather than from Sat.

The standards they were expected to meet were still extremely high as was the level of challenge they were facing, but you could feel that the whole of the restaurant staff were willing them to do well. At the end of their sessions they were greeted with applause and high fives from the staff working with them, which indicates a culture of teamwork and all taking pleasure and pride in the outcomes.

The final challenge in this part of the competition was to visit Massimo Bottura at his restaurant in Modena Italy. Whereas Michael had a serious business like approach to his leadership and Sat adopted a relaxed confident and trusting style, Massimo was different again. His goal with his leadership was to create the environment to allow his people to experiment, be creative and above all to display their passion for what they love doing. His belief was that the best food is created by those chefs who bring their passion to the table and who are prepared to bare their soul in their cooking.
This was perhaps the biggest challenge for the contestants as for some of them it meant going against their training, which had taught them the importance of structure and precision.

Massimo’s approach encouraged them to step outside their comfort zones and to share their passion for cooking and to create dishes which told a story and demonstrated emotion and creativity. When they rose to the challenge posed by Massimo, we saw the contestants come alive and show real excitement and pride for what they had created.

This excitement was shared by Massimo and his team with all the staff celebrating the success enjoyed by the contestants. In the last cooking challenge it was the experience at Massimo’s that they all referred to as having the biggest impact on them.
What did he do differently, how did he inspire them? All three chefs are excellent at what they do, so what stands Massimo apart?

I think the answer lies in how he shares his emotions, his values and what makes motivates him. This encourages those around him to do the same and to free themselves of their inhibitions. At Michael’s restaurant the contestants were somewhat inhibited in their approach, all concerned with producing exactly what Michael wanted. At Sat’s restaurant they were more confident with Sat encouraging them and demonstrating trust in them to achieve the standards he laid down. Massimo took this a step further with them actively being encouraged to be creative in their approach and this released their passion and enthusiasm to give of their very best.

Questions for you to consider?

How does your leadership style compare to the styles of the 3 chefs?

How do you demonstrate trust in your people?

How does your passion for what you do show itself?

What could you do differently?

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