40 Hours of Silence- When The Bakeshop Becomes a One-Man Show

This past week I had the kitchen to myself, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

With the loss of my assistant to pursue better compensation and more secure hours, the pie shop kitchen is now a one-man show until I find and hire someone else.

What makes a “chef” to me has always been their team. The chef may call the shots, train the team, find and direct the right people to build it out- but it’s the existence of the team itself that grants the chef their role. Until I have a team again, I can’t very well call myself a chef.

What am I then? Quiet most of the them. Thoughtful. Doing my best to deny the bitterness and grievance and accept that for now, my “Way of the Floured Hand” is to be found in hermitage.

What’s that been like?
Quiet and thoughtful.

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Managing Motivations

Every chef, every employer, every team leader has stories about the different people they’ve had to work with and lead.

They’ve had old hands with years of experience step down to a lower position than they held and prove to be absolutely useless in spite of their experience. They had green workers come in and, while they make mistakes, they hustle harder than five cooks and bring their best every day seemingly for no reason beyond the adrenaline rush and the post-shift drink with the team.

There are folks who come through for a month then lose interest or move on, and there’s those who’ve been in the same arguably low-level position for years. While they’re pleased for a raise, they show no interest in promotions or doing any work beyond what they are doing now. They always seem pleased while peeling potatoes, prepping fish, or chopping vegetables.

It’s never just about money… but what else it is changes from person to person, and it’s a leaders job to make the best they can of it.

Small potted plants on a white table in a room with a blank white wall. In front of the plants is a small plaque reading “Do what you love.” 
There is a blog post on this site about why that is shitty advice.
Great picture, TERRIBLE advice.
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Envy- Slaying the Green-Eyed Monster

When I am in a sour mood- cranky, frustrated, exhausted, irritated by life- that’s often when I am most likely to do something charitable. I’ll help out a friend with a problem, give some extra cash to a panhandler, or buy something I don’t really need to support a good cause.

Why? There’s a lot of psychology behind the action. We can discuss the differences between empathy and sympathy, that being frustrated puts me in a more empathetic place to others and I’m more likely to try and help. We can discuss how doing good things releases endorphins, making me feel good, and whether or not that makes the action actually “altruistic.” It could even be as simple as “I feel like this world sucks, so I’m gonna do SOMETHING to make it better.

Those would be excellent blog posts… but they are not this one. This post is about the fact that that same principle applies to when good things happen to other people, and to help your negative feelings about it. This post is about Impostor Syndrome, envy, and diffusing both by supporting your friends.

Five peoples hand grabbing each others wrists in support
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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Learning to Lead by Letting Go

Managing is a full-time job in itself, and going from being a cook or baker to a managing is more than a promotion. It’s a shift in mentality. After years of needing to be “hands-on,” I will no longer have the time, energy or focus to give every task personal attention. Ironically, one of the hardest lessons I will have to learn as a chef is how not to be in control.

"Leadership" written in chalk on a black background.
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com
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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,