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Overhauling a Miserable Leadership Style…In the Kitchen

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Of all the jobs you can get in the modern world, working in a kitchen may be one of the most frantic. And the behavior chefs are legendary for is being troublesome.

If you look at the TV shows about the back-of-the-house in the restaurant business, even the titles are unnerving. From Cutthroat Kitchen to Cupcake Wars, from Kitchen Nightmares to Hell’s Kitchen, none of these sound like great places to work.

And according to world-famous executive chef Eric Ripert, yelling and screaming is practically in the DNA of these establishments. He explains this in a video produced by Entrepreneur Magazine.

To quote Ripert:

The cooks were scared. The kitchen staff was leaving. I realized it was all about me—about being angry.

Chef in a Restaurant

© Flickr user Founding Farmers

Understanding Leadership Styles

Leading isn’t a thing you do as much as it is a philosophy about group activity. People have beliefs about other people, and sometimes those beliefs depend on who they are thinking about. For example, you probably know people you deeply respect and people you think are friendly but unreliable. The leadership style that you use depends on how you feel about the people you are leading, about yourself, and about how you perceive the relationship.

There seven traditional styles of leadership:

  • Authoritarian leadership is characterized by control and order. Supervision is required to make sure people are working, and to confirm they are doing things correctly. Authoritarian leaders often rule through fear or by making extreme demands.
  • Paternalistic leaders, like the parents of young children, take care of their team by working to keep them safe and establishing a culture of absolute loyalty. Paternalistic leaders are often concerned that their followers are still developing and will need both nurturing and discipline at different times.
  • Democratic leaders are focused on the decision-making process as a group activity. They will seek input from their team, and often use techniques such as voting, consensus building, or even random chance to make decisions and assign work. Mutual respect through fairness is of high importance to democratic leaders—even more so than efficiency and sometimes more important than results.
  • Laissez-faire leaders try and delegate as much autonomy as possible to their team members. They believe that independent action will lead to innovation and self-confidence, and they tend to feel that workers should “sink or swim” on their own. A Laissez-faire leader is happy to give guidance or feedback on request, but will rarely initiate it.
  • Transactional leaders operate under a give-and-take model. Some establish a clear set of rewards and punishments and uses these as the primary method of communicating with their team. Others define a status quo, and then dole out special bonuses or disciplinary actions when something unexpected occurs. Transactional leaders see team management as a game with well-defined rules and a score.
  • Transformational leaders have change as their primary objective. It is typically associated with a visioning process, getting strong buy-in from team members, demonstrating commitment as a leader by pitching in to do the work, and seeing the results through to the completion of a project or especially a shared change in perspective.
  • Narcissistic leaders are focused purely on themselves and their own status. They use team members to validate their own self-concept by seeking praise, or by shooting down contradictory ideas to elevate themselves. Narcissistic leaders don’t care about the organization or the people, only about themselves.

Changing Leadership Styles

It might seem like a few of the seven styles are positive and a few are negative, but the truth is each one is well-suited for particular situations, teams, and leaders. In a high-risk, high-stress environment where decisive action is needed at all times—such as the battlefield—an authoritarian style is often best. When working with skilled, independent consultants who mostly work on their own time, a laissez-faire method should be considered. And even the narcissistic leadership style can be useful in rare situations, for example when a personal brand is the product of an organization.

The lesson we should learn from Eric Ripert is that sometimes changing styles is what’s needed. A kitchen can be a place that needs quick action and total authority during the dinner rush, but a more democratic or paternalistic model might be appropriate at other times.

Take a deep look at yourself. Decide which model you gravitate toward. And then ask yourself: is this what me and my team need, right now?

Posing the question—as with so many elements of self-improvement—is the first step.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter

@robbyslaughter

Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
The best time to fail is right at the beginning. The second best is at the end. The worst is to never fail, because then you never learn. - 22 hours ago
Robby Slaughter
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