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How Leadership Wins Masterchef….And Grows Your Business

I recently saw a rerun of Masterchef Australia. Have you seen the series?

For those of you who haven’t (what rock have you been under – the “I’m too busy because I’m doing everything in my business” rock?), it’s a series where every-day aspiring home cooks compete through several weeks to become Masterchef. In the journey, contestants are eliminated every week so that the number of contestants reduces to the best of the best until 2 or 3 are left in the Final. They are eliminated through different contests where they cook-off against each other. One of these eliminations – my favourite – is the Team Challenge.

In the Team Challenge, the contestants are put into different teams and they take over a commercial kitchen and compete against the other teams. The losing team goes into elimination.

Why do I like this?

The way the teams behave in these challenges are examples of how work-teams can behave – the good and the bad.

The episode I watched inspired me to immediately write this shorter-than-normal-and-no-video blog post about Leadership because of the important lesson that your small business can take.

In the episode, there were three teams, yellow, green and black. Each team chose its Captain. While it was acknowledged that the Captain would “lead” the team, there was no real definition about what that leadership meant or how they were to do this. So, each Captain did different things.

The Yellow Team’s Captain asked for suggestions on each of the three courses. Then, she took suggestions from people about what they liked to cook so allocated them accordingly.

The Green Team’s Captain did the same, but at different points over-rode some of the suggestions and designed a menu, close to what was suggested, but clearly of her design.

The Black Team’s Captain was also open to suggestions, but possibly because of the composition of his team, with more forceful characters, accepted the suggestions which did not appear to me to go well together as a three-course meal.

Possibly, the Yellow Team had it easy because the team members specialised in reasonably similar cuisines. So their menu worked. Their Captain required little input into the process. The Green Team, however, showed that a strong leader can change team-dynamics and the resulting menu was a lot stronger than originally suggested, even though it was in keeping with team members’ preferences. This allowed their cook to go off seamlessly because each team member cooked what they knew, but the menu as a whole was designed as a single symphony.

The Black Team showed disorganisation and this continued during the cook. While the Yellow and Green Captains kept control over times and resources, the Black Team Captain merely concentrated on his own dish and people did what they liked. This led to disaster as nobody was there to pick up that other dishes were late or there were not enough of them cooked.

What was really impressive was that the Green Team’s captain decided not to cook anything herself. She chose to control operations by being hands-off but being in touch with the whole team. This paid off on at least a couple of instances where she was able to pull people off other tasks early enough to help a team-mate in trouble, and where she was able to organise the “pass” so that meals were assembled efficiently and perfectly consistently before they went out.

Needless to say, the Black Team lost, and the Green Team won.

What lessons can be learned from this to be used in your small business?

The first, and I think the most important lesson, is that good leadership wins. This is as true of growing your business as it is of winning a cooking competition.

You should design your business model, and then lead it, so that it produces a seamless, happy customer journey. Each part of that journey, from marketing to sales, to fulfilment, to supply of inventory, to administration and finance may have different needs for different skills, but how you put those components together so that your customer sees a seamless journey is as important as the details of each of those functions. While one of your team members may cook a steak well, combining it with a mushroom sauce while you are also serving mushroom soup as a first course may not be the best design. In the same way in your business, it is not only about how well you do each step in the journey to satisfy your customer, but it is also how the steps flow together for his experience.

The second lesson is a difficult one to implement – especially for those under the “I’m too busy because I’m doing everything in my business” rock.

In order to be effective for your business, you need to work on your business and not in it.

If you cook your own dish while all else is falling all around you, your dish will be excellent but the three-course dinner will be spoilt. If you keep working in the tactical details of your business, it will not grow because your personal efforts are not scalable. You may be satisfying one customer, but your other customers are ignored, your cash flow is failing, and your staff are all resigning. What you need to do is to scale your knowledge, not your personal effort.

You need to lift your head and be able to survey the whole business, coordinating the efforts of the people you hire so that they do their best work. It’s helped by having systems and procedures that embody your knowledge of how to do things – and written systems and procedures are scalable.

The question I am often asked is what does it take to be a good leader in your business?

Surprisingly to most people, I think leadership can be learned.

The Captain of the Green Team was one of the youngest competitors in the competition but had worked in her family restaurant. She herself said that while she was eager to be Captain, she had no experience leading a team. I believe she had simply learned how to behave in the kitchen in order to make sure dishes cooked by good cooks were able to be cooked well and go out efficiently. This tells me she learned behaviours by watching how her family dealt with the real-life situation and created leadership behaviours in the kitchen.

So, in order to bring leadership to your business and use it to grow, what do you need to do?

Consciously start to work on your business and not in it.

Frustrated that you have to do everything yourself? Well, I would argue that the only reason you have to do that is that you have not shown leadership. Leadership is about showing the way. Teach people processes, not skills. They should already have skills (which will improve with experience) but what they do not have is the knowledge of how you do things so that your standards are met. Write your systems and procedures, and then train your staff in them; reward them for meeting those standards, re-train them when they don’t. Do not be tempted to take over and start cooking your own dish; as a leader, make it clear that while you have given them all the resources they need, it is their responsibility.

That’s just one of the ways to create your own self-running business. Get my free eBook on other ways here.

Hey, this is a one-off quick blog post taking my opportunity while I’m still inspired by that show. And this week, nope, there’s no video accompaniment!

What do you think? Do you think that leadership does grow businesses? Tell me in the comments below or at teikoh.com, or click on the “Reply” button – I want to know!

See you next week!


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