Leaders, know your cooking style

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The message of Ratatouille is simple: Everyone can cook. Similarly, everyone can lead.


    Jul 07, 2015

    Leaders, know your cooking style

    ONE of my favourite movies is the 2007 computer-animated comedy Ratatouille because of the close-up graphics of really delicious-looking food and the simple message of the movie, which is that "everyone can cook".

    The truth of that saying hit me in a cooking workshop one day, as I was taught how to make a meal out of spaghetti, salt and herbs.

    I was 12 years old and inspired, and I resolved to go home and make spaghetti for the whole family. They did not like it. Still, I fell in love with herbs like parsley and thyme and, later on, got infatuated with rosemary. The relationship between the four of us has been solid ever since.

    I grew up to be not only a considerably adequate cook, but also a leader of sorts. Being a prefect in school took me to many places in my personal development as a leader.

    I learnt how to control a crowd without causing a riot, how to get a point across without offending people and so on. Looking back, it was truly an adventure that brings back great memories, but the most memorable lesson is that leading is just like cooking. And, just like Ratatouille, everyone can cook. In other words, everyone can lead.

    Why do I say so? The leader is like the cook, the current situation is like the kitchen that the leader is in, and everything else about people - their characters, personalities, skill sets, goals and backgrounds - are the ingredients.

    The meal is the ultimate goal that the leader is supposed to help everyone achieve.

    In the real world, all of these variables are different and they are always changing. So the question is: How do you cook?

    The easy answer is that there is no real recipe for success. But I understand how disappointing that sounds, so here are some pointers:


    Just as there are different kinds of chefs, there are different kinds of leaders. Just as each chef has his own cooking style, each leader has his own way of leading.

    Some people are methodical chefs, so they will be organised leaders. Others like things simple - their leadership will be direct and uncomplicated.

    Some individuals like to play around with spices and experiment, so they will have unconventional methods.

    In the end, regardless of which kind of leader you find yourself becoming, the most important thing is to ensure that you play to your strengths and never become too extreme.

    If you are unconventional, ensure that your risks are well thought out. If you happen to be methodical, make sure to allow for flexibility in your plan. If you like things simple, remember that sometimes a little bit of flair would not hurt.

    You should also be ready to shrug off failure and keep trying.


     A good chef always prepares a recipe or has an idea of what he will be doing before beginning the actual preparation of food. Just like a chef, a leader must have a plan, no matter how vague.

    Like a recipe, a plan helps the leader to see what is needed. This, in turn, helps with the pacing of the project and the management of people.

    In addition, a plan helps the leader prepare for what is ahead and see potential pitfalls. This helps the leader prepare for those pitfalls and improve communication between members.


    A smart chef always makes it a point to get to know the ingredients.

    Have you ever realised that the chefs on food shows always make it a point to introduce the ingredients to the audience?

    They usually drop tidbits of information about the ingredients' history and general usage. This is because you never know when knowledge about that food might help in choosing your ingredients.

    Just like a chef, a leader needs to get to know his ingredients - his people. A chef mixes and matches his ingredients to bring out the best qualities in the final product. A leader's job is to mix and match his people to bring out the best in them.

    To do that, a leader has to know who his people are, what inspires them, what their skill sets are and what backgrounds they come from.

    The more you know about people, the easier it is to communicate with them. A good leader knows his people and is able to communicate the final aims and objectives to them. His people would know that he cares about them and about bringing the best out of them, so that everyone gains in the end.


    The kitchen is the home of the chef. Everything that he needs can be found there. A good chef knows his kitchen and the equipment available.

    Likewise, a good leader is aware of his environment and how he can change it.

    A good leader is capable of changing his environment in a way that helps the team to be more productive and efficient, without decreasing the team's passion - for example, having a meeting to realign the team towards their goals and objectives, while cheering them on in their current efforts. Or having little discussions with team members on how they can improve as a team.

    What I truly want to get across is that anyone can be a leader if he is willing to step into the "kitchen" and "start cooking". As long as you have a heart for people, no matter big or small; as long as you are willing to act to bring out the best in everyone, you are a leader.

    The world is not your oyster, it is your kitchen.


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