Blog (filtered)

Being a leader takes practice. We’re excited to share our latest experiments and lessons learned.

Jess Hench
Friday, October 21, 2016

If you missed last week's post, check out Part I.

Team Challenge or Pressure Test?

On MasterChef, the contestants often have to participate in a Team Challenge in which they are divided into two teams, Red and Blue, to compete against each other. A Captain is chosen for each team, and the Captains then choose their teammates. The teams need to prepare a meal in a challenging setting, often for high-status guests. The Captains cook alongside their teammates, and there is often a lot of yelling and swearing and even crying as they all work hard to meet the challenge. Ultimately, one team is selected as the winner of the challenge.

But after the challenge is when an interesting twist occurs. The Red and Blue teams worked hard to overcome obstacles and perform together as a team. Yet once the winning team is chosen, the members of the losing team then have to turn against each other and compete in a Pressure Test.  This is a short and difficult challenge in which they have to make a dish that requires technical skill, like a soufflé or a perfect éclair. As a result of the Pressure Test, one contestant is asked to remove his or her apron and leave the kitchen, eliminated from the competition. 

Once again, these challenges make me think about human dynamics we see in workplaces.  Think about your department or office. Is your workplace more of a Team Challenge or a Pressure Test? A well-functioning team should have a clearly designated Captain, in your case probably a manager or director. The Captain helps determine the strengths of each team member, focusing each person’s workload on what they do best, and helping teammates to overcome challenges as they arise. The Captain also works alongside the team, helping to accomplish the work and accepting responsibility for the outcomes. If you are a manager, do you lead like a Team Captain, supporting your team and taking the heat of the kitchen along with them? Or are you more like Chef Ramsay, yelling from the sidelines and keeping yourself at a distance, using praise sparingly?

The pressure test is a strange phenomenon that only really happens on a competition show. In our workplaces, we are not (hopefully!) in situations in which one person will be marked as the loser and eliminated from the team. But sometimes, workplaces can feel like a pressure test. It can feel like everyone is focused on their own goals and working on separate projects, each trying to be the best and outshine their colleagues. Hopefully in a university setting, our offices won’t feel like pressure tests, but there may be certain high-pressure times when they do feel that way.

As the leader, how can you re-focus your team so that the workplace feels less like a pressure test and more like a team challenge?

Jess Hench
Friday, October 14, 2016

My fiancé, Patrick, enjoys watching cooking competition shows like Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, and MasterChef. I never used to have much interest in competition shows, but I’ve found that I really enjoy MasterChef. I like getting to “know” the contestants, hearing the witty remarks of Chef Ramsay, and seeing all the dishes the chefs create. But while Patrick is focused on which contestant created the best dish from the mystery box ingredients, I find myself looking past the dishes and cooking techniques to the human dynamics at work in the kitchen. 

Chef Ramsay as a Leader:

Gordon Ramsay is known for being a brilliant chef, but also a very tough cookie. He takes cooking very seriously, and he doesn’t hold back his opinions at all. He yells at the home-cook contestants, swears often, and expresses his disappointment openly. But when he’s happy with a contestant’s performance, he expresses that freely as well. He praises the chefs, laughs with them, and willingly admits when he is impressed by a chef’s dish. So what kind of leader is Chef Ramsay? 

Most leadership theories describe the use of task and relationship behaviors, with different leadership styles reflecting more of one or the other. Chef Ramsay is definitely your task-oriented leader, focusing first and foremost on getting the job done, and seeing that it is done well. A chef is no good if a diner has an empty plate or a dish they can’t eat; so the task must be accomplished. But while it may seem that Chef Ramsay is task-oriented to the extreme, we can also see that he does focus on relationships too. He encourages contestants when they are discouraged, pushes them when they are ready to give up, brings them down a peg when their egos get inflated, and pushes them to build on their strengths and improve with each step of the competition. I didn’t bother to watch the show before because I thought Chef Ramsay just yelled at everyone all the time, but now I understand that he really does care about people and want to help them reach their potential. In fact, he is actually a great example of a transformational leader. 

But…would you want Chef Ramsay as your manager? Does his leadership style have a place in a university setting rather than a fancy restaurant’s high-pressure kitchen? Do you like to be pushed to perform at your best, knowing that the manager is pushing you because he believes you have the potential? Or do you prefer a softer approach, someone who is more upbeat and cheerful and encourages in a gentler way? What is more effective?

Check out next week’s post: Part II!