Dealing With Our Damage- Breaking Curses in the New Year

Good evening, all! Thank you for your patience during my… extended blog silence. Between finishing up the holiday season at the pie shop, shutting down the bakery for a week of vacation, and then all the madness/travel/actual rest involved in said vacation, I found that I needed to take writing off my plate too. You’d think I’d be excited to be stuck in a plane for 3 hours at a stretch with nothing to do BUT write, but an audiobook and the need for sleep had other ideas.

The good news is that I’m rested, refreshed, and slowly getting back into the good habits that I let fall by the wayside in the last few months.

Like most people, though, time with family is not always renewing and refreshing despite love and all the best intentions. My parents can be neurotic and benevolently overbearing sometimes (characteristics which, nebach, my wife says I come by honestly.) They are getting older and learning to deal not just with our world as it is- challenging enough for any age group- but coming to grips with the world as it was. That includes recognizing the good and the bad that we carry forward with us, however unwittingly.

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“Leaving It Better” Can Be Bittersweet- The Complex Feels of Changing Jobs

It was a habit I’d gotten used to every Thursday morning. Thursday is Scone Day.

Every Thursday for the last year, I’d start my day in the bakery by double-checking our inventory and getting started mixing giant batches of scone dough. Sometimes three flavors, but lately just the two best ones. Giant masses of sour-sweet short dough, weighed into mounds, then pressed into discs. No real thinking about it, unless something went wrong- the mix too dry, too wet, not the right yield, or whatever. Otherwise, it was automatic- just like most aspects of the position I’ve worked in for the last two years.

Today I made my last batch of scone dough. Next week, I’ll be moving on to a new job. The staff says it won’t be the same and that they’ll miss me, and I know they’re being kind. I’ve trained the people I’m leaving behind well- they almost function better without me hanging around looking for something to do.

“Looking for something to do.” Once upon a time, the position was grueling. I sweated my bones trying to make production lists, meet the needs of a frantic bakeshop, and train a parade of faces and names to bake. Now, the job is almost… easy. It’s scheduled. Practiced. Thoughtless.

I helped make it that way, and now I’m too tired and stressed to enjoy the easy part anymore.

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“You’re Gonna Carry That Weight”- Leadership and Responsibility

It should have been a commonplace part of the day. Everything should have gone according to plan (one could say about anything.) Yet, someone goofed up.

Part of my job on prep involves readying the next mornings bake in the proofer and setting it on a timer. Lately, I’ve been able to pull all the necessary pastries and keep them in the fridge. The proofer gets used until near the end of my shift, and there’s no real point in me sticking around just to load it. The afternoon team knows where I keep the trayed goods- I point them to the rack, I go home, and they load the proofer when they’re done.

Yesterday, someone forgot. There was mayhem in the morning, and my manager called to ask why the proofer wasn’t loaded.

Yes, I was told to leave early.
Yes, other people loading the proofer is common.
Yes, there were four other pairs of eyes that should have noticed something was left undone.

It’s my job though. It’s my team- and I am responsible.

Cowboy Bebop~you're gonna carry that weight. | Cowboy bebop, Cowboy bebop  quotes, Cowboy bebop tattoo

The Buck Stops Here

Servant leadership means that, instead of being a “boss” and just telling people what to do, the leader says “Here’s what I need you to do- what can I do to help make that possible?” A leader doesn’t just hand out tasks- the leader controls the timeline, provides the resources, streamlines work, fosters communication, and makes the hard decisions and final calls.

The leader also takes ultimate responsibility. Not just when they’re around, not just over their own tasks, and not just when they are told to. The leader wins when the team wins, and when the team fails the leader fails.

This doesn’t mean every screw-up needs to be handled with chest beating and a refrain of mea culpa. As a leader, part of the job is keeping everyone honest and responsible for their actions and coaching when needed. Regardless, a problem with your team is always your problem. Even if it’s something that came from above, that’s a discussion for the leader and their superiors- the leader is still responsible to their team.

Black and white photo of Harry S. truman in the Oval Office, with his desk sign reading "The Buck Stops Here!" prominently shown.

Responsibility Goes Three Directions

I am purposefully ignoring a certain famous Spider-Man quote regarding power and responsibility. I’m pretty sure that even in-universe, Peter Parker is sick to the teeth with how cliche it’s become.

Regarding responsibility, however, there is always a direction involved- Person A is responsible to Person B for task/condition/team/whatever C. You might note that that does not indicate that responsibility only goes “up” the ladder:

Someone in a leadership position is responsible to their superiors for making sure the mission of their team gets done correctly, on time, with a minimum of fuss and complication, and in accordance with the organization. They are responsible for essentially making sure the higher-ups will be done, that their team gets the job done right, and in a way that brings credit to the organization.

An unfortunate aphorism is that “Shit runs downhill.” Credit goes up, blame goes down… a good leader knows how to subvert this “wisdom.”

They are also responsible to their team to manage competently and to the best of their ability. They are responsible for providing the resources needed to get the job, the “big picture” of their goal as a team, and a strategy to help the team succeed. They are responsible for advocating for their team to the higher-ups- whether it’s for needed resources and support, better working conditions, or being the intermediary when discipline is called for.

The aphorism here is that “A chef is a cook that leads other cooks.” As a leader/authority, they are the face of their team to the higher-ups and vice versa.

Finally, a leader is responsible to themselves. They need to meet their expectations for themselves while keeping those expectations reasonable. They need to execute their job to the best of their ability without martyring themselves. They need to give their full effort to their team while still looking after themselves- or else they won’t be in a condition to take care of anyone. They need to answer to their superiors, but without going against their own moral compass in the name of convenience or expediency.

Summing It Up

When you become a leader or take a leadership role, authority comes with responsibility. You are answerable to everyone, and everything is- in some way- your problem.
You need to be able to enforce your superiors will, speak up for your subordinates, and look after yourself according to your own values all at the same time. Even when it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.

It’s a hard road to walk- we can all tell stories about “leaders” who slipped up one way or another. If it was easy, though, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Stay Classy,

Paying the Piper- The Culinary Brain Drain

You can feel it all around the United States. With the massive push of vaccinations and the slowly declining COVID-19 case numbers, restaurants and venues are starting to relax their requirements. People still need to wear masks, yes, and social distancing is still a thing- but you can eat inside now. You can sit with friends. You and your buddies can, within reason, go out and grab a beer just like you used to. We are starting to get back to normal after a year in a plague-ridden Hell of our own creation.

Not all industries are ready though:

Hey, I need to hire two line cooks ASAP! Anyone give me any leads?”
Guys, I’m desperate. I need a dishwasher, a busboy, and at least three cooks NOW- the restaurant is packed every night and I can’t take it anymore!”

Why can’t I find capable help anymore?! Everyone I hire either flakes out, burns out, or just quits! WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE COOKS?!”

They found greener pastures, folks. They had no other choice. We need to raise a new crop of cooks from scratch- maybe we’ll be smarter about it this time.

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Letting it Go- An Unspoken Survival Skill

Sorry about the very late and frankly short blog post this week. For a number of reasons, this weekend got away from me.

This post WAS supposed to be a review of a new restaurant in town that I’ve been enjoying very much. I wanted to have one more meal there, and Emily and I made reservations for their Valentines Day brunch. A fun night out with the wifey AND fodder for a new blog post? That’s a win-win right there.

Then it decided to snow. A lot. Portland is famous for Not Handling Snow Very Well, given the fact that it’s fairly rare and all the hills and steep roads make driving treacherous with even a light dusting on the ground. Heavy snow, nearly wrecking while trying to drive the car for groceries, and finally an ice storm last night meant that those reservations were cancelled.

We were both bummed, of course, but we wound up sharing dinner and a bottle of wine at home along with a cake I had made as a surprise. Making the right decision doesn’t always feel good, but it’s not as bad as making the wrong decision.

You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you’ll weather it- once you stop wishing it was something it wasn’t.

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