The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, encourages club chefs to build a team of trusted advisors who will challenge their decisions and help guide their leadership.
Today, I walked the boiler room with our engineer of thirty-five years. Words like intake values, heat sensors, freshwater cycles, and backflow rolled out of his mouth so cavalierly. Honestly, I don’t know a darn thing he said, but I am grateful for his knowledge.
Chefs and engineers have many similarities. The chef is the culinary expert in any organization. Similar to engineers, the chef is the only one who truly understands the inner working of their department.
The way our engineer used those terms in our discussion sounded hauntingly familiar to the way I spoke as a chef. The only difference is that I would soften and minimize technical terms (and end the conversation by tasting something delicious).
When I would walk colleagues into the kitchen, they marveled at all the different staff members scurrying to keep pace. Our cooks were always serious, with their heads down, looking up with a respectful nod to these strangers when they visited.
One of my mentors, Ed Staros, Former Ritz-Carlton Vice President and Managing Director, said he would have loved being a chef and being a master of a craft. In his role, he saw himself as a manager of others’ mastery and felt most people could accomplish their roles without him. I would professionally disagree with his assessment, though. Ed was a master of people and of himself. He was humble and deeply intelligent. He also had an iron will when it came to quality.
In my current position as GM/COO of The Union Club of Cleveland, I have a new “boss” every two years. While these club presidents are masters of their professions, more often than not, “club president” is a new job title for them.
Giving up control or re-explaining operations is a normal challenge for each new term. Much like Staros (and our chef and engineer), operational excellence is my expertise.
Over the past six years, to keep myself trained on a north star, I have collected a key group of individuals who help guide my decisions and direction. These individuals represent the club industry, our membership, a professional community, and my worship group. Each is founded in a relationship of mutual respect and built on spiritual and business balance.
These advisors are certainly not individuals who are going to tell me what I want to hear. In fact, often they request I go back and re-think my views or a situation to find a better solution.
As a chef, you have a responsibility to create a clear vision for yourself and those on your team. Your staff must trust in the consistency, tact, moral and ethical approach you bring to all of your decision-making. A great leader owes the team their complete attention and a detailed, clear, identifiable process.
My advisors are not selected for consensus ideals. In fact, they are selected for the contrary. I want them to protect my decisions with contrasting views. If a problem is large or personal, I will engage in long detailed meetings with these advisors. The final decision always rests in my hands as the leader, but securing great guidance will most often secure consistent, confident results.
Our chef and I often discuss who his advisors are and when he should reach out to them. Most decisions in cooking are black or white, but in leadership, a fair process requires more insight, and “pause.” Almost like a “draft” email, an important decision must be reviewed or mentally read over numerous times.
Do you ever send a response without pause? Usually, these responses cause greater harm than resolution.
The great Billy Graham would write a letter in longhand as many as fifty times until the letter was soft enough to be understood and greeted with understanding. He once said, “I tip my pen in tears for my advisories so that the best decision for both can be made.”
As chefs we are the experts in culinary, but certainly not in the relationship of people. For that, we must be slow, methodical students. We must lean on our advisors and take the time to evaluate our decisions.
Great decisions are not about being right. They are about being fair and moral. As we continue to build teams and serve as mentors to those we hire, remember to build up your own set of advisors, pause and evaluate how your decisions will impact your team, and make certain they are well-vetted and for the greater good.