A Recipe for a CEO’s Success

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eventeen. That’s the number of people it can take to serve up one meal at a five-star restaurant. The charismatic chef will facilitate the awesome delivery of that fine dining experience, role-modelling the ethos of the professional kitchen through disciplined hard work, a clear vision, and a good dose of emotional intelligence. And like the chef, the CEO will execute by bringing the team together to achieve a single focus, one meal at a time, and deliver an impeccable experience.

Of course, the chef is the face of the kitchen. But the bulk of mostly invisible workers hold a stake in the dinner and are rarely given a second thought at the table. From sous-chef to saucier and cuisiner, junior cook, fry cook, grill cook, fish cook, entree cook, pastry cook, each can tip the balance. And the success or failure of the evening will depend on the diligence of servers and dishwashers, bus personnel and pantry supervisors as well.

Stripping down the process gives the meal new meaning. In the kitchen as a corporation, each element is essential in delivering an amazing product: the meal, or rather the experience that will keep diners coming back for more, in turn providing the buzz, the cred and the accolades that will grow the organization.

Just as the chef is responsible for each meal that leaves the kitchen on a busy Friday evening, in business, it is the CEO who ultimately bears the hard work and responsibility for strategy and direction. 

The bulk of a company’s success, or failure, is placed firmly on the shoulders of the CEO. No one questions that the CEO is responsible and accountable beyond strategy. But it’s a scope of leadership that reaches into operations, strategy, marketing, finance and even the company’s social scene. Like the chef and his crew, the CEO needs to facilitate an inclusive and engaging culture, as well as empower a strong executive leadership team, all with a close eye on budgets, allocation and capital. 

There is a belief that once the big picture and vision are set and the strategy in place, the work of the CEO is done. Or, does the path to success follow the leader who vets and sweats the details: shadowing the prep cook, the entree cook, the pastry chef, step by step confirming the delivery of a flawless meal?

There is always a temptation to dive even deeper into the details as a CEO. But we soon realize that becoming a renowned chef requires more than just a good recipe and a flair for good taste. The mix requires some hefty skills around prepping the stations, organizing time and priorities, refining recipes and processes to put teams in the best position for success. A good plate, like a good product, requires an astute drive for innovation to stand apart, and presentation demands as much efficiency to fuel productivity without sacrificing the quality and taste of the final product. 

To fix the process, to tinker with the product, to clean up the mess, how do you stop yourself from getting caught clearing the crumbs from the silverware drawer when the oven is on fire? Do you usher everyone out of the kitchen or do you keep them close by and cook a meal that’s simply to die for?

In the daily grind that makes the organization, the CEO sets the standard and the tone for the company culture by achieving clarity of vision and through role-modelling and not role-playing. The days of “Do as I say” are of leadership past.

Today’s CEO, like the head chef, is highly aware of the operations, but not managing each facet of the business, as though absent to let others lead, yet present to guide and lead in the details only close enough to capture the big picture and translate it through authentic and transparent behaviour. Today’s CEO helps maintain a clear vision and bring it to life while executing the strategic narrative into full operation across the organization.

But hard work and clarity of vision alone won’t ensure smooth delivery of the meal; the empathetic CEO, like the chef ever-aware and finessing over the garnish on each plate, sprinkles a good dose of EQ to ensure that the team is working flawlessly as a team, executing with effective communication, trusted hand-off and collective results.

After all, energy can ensure perfect execution, but charisma will ensure inspiration, so a good leader, needs to be able to inspire people, as much as manage them, and to make them feel appreciated and valued for their work, provide growth opportunities, model good actions that go beyond words, and have the back of everyone on the team.

In this way, engaging the crew becomes critical: inspiring them, recognizing their efforts and praising them when appropriate, disciplining when necessary, being flexible enough to give them a chance to make mistakes and still learn from failure, those are the ingredients of effective leadership.

And while the chef can have everything else in place, if they don’t have a solid, dependable crew rallying behind their mission every day, they have nothing, or worse, whatever dish they concoct will likely produce heartburn and a bitter aftertaste.

So good execution comes with consistency, practise, perseverance and the ability to inspire a clear and easy-to-understand strategy and operating standards to the crew. The tasty recipe includes:

  1. A clear and compelling expression of the company’s strategic narrative–a well-defined vision of WHY we exist
  2. An equally clear and compelling understanding of how the purpose will be accomplished, that is, a mission statement that can be put into action
  3. Solid and realistic core values that govern everyone’s actions and holds them accountable
  4. Clarity of communication: simply put, keep the message simple
  5. Willingness to invest effort and resources into upholding the company’s standards
  6. Ability to select the right people, help them grow and invest in their success
  7. Desire to foster healthy relationships with every individual through trust
  8. Drive to live the organization’s standards, as everyone is watching your actions and magnifying them across the company

Above all, remain consistent in your delivery while remaining optimistic and realistically positive. Yes, do all this, even when the stove is on fire.

Bon appétit.

If you’re a seasoned leader trying to find the right ingredients to effectively lead your team, let’s have a chat about how my Leading with Clarity coaching program can help you serve as the chef at a five-star restaurant. 

Enjoyed this article? Check out my other articles, share your feedback, and drop me a comment about a topic you’d like to read about in upcoming editions. In the meantime, keep leading with clarity and make sure you subscribe to the CLARITY newsletter.

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