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For thousands of years, people have gathered around a fire, relying on its warmth and ability to provide sustenance. And while our contemporary gatherings may look a little different from ours… prehistoric ancestorsthere’s still some magic that happens when a group of people get together for a feast over the flame: it’s the magic of the barbecue.
I am an avid griller. That means I’m constantly learning new strategies to give the best barbecue possible with food guests ask for to take away. As I’ve grown as a leader, I realized that many of these strategies I use while in front of the fire also apply to my business. So how can we take the magic of the barbecue out of our backyard and office?
There’s nothing worse than attending a summer barbecue to find that there isn’t any food to meet your dietary restrictions. You’re stuck eating chips and salsa for dinner while the rest of the guests enjoy the party.
As hosts, it’s our job to take all dietary needs and preferences into account when creating the menu to ensure everyone who’s invited can participate. The same goes for creating an inclusive work culture: what should be on your offer to support everyone, regardless of their background?
It may be more work for the host, but increasing the flavors on the menu increases the likelihood that everyone will leave satisfied and maybe even surprised by a dish they’ve never tried before. Likewise, by creating a inclusive and diverse working environment, we not only meet the needs of the changing people in our team, but also create a richer and more exciting end product for our customers.
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Control the heat
When you’re barbecuing, you need to be well attuned to the heat of the grill. Want the temperature high and hot for a quick sear on a steak? Or smoke a brisket low and slow?
The best grillers control their heat; they don’t let the heat control them. In leadership, emotion is our fire and it is vital to our success, but it can be all too easy to let our emotions move away from us. Without self-awareness and controlwe can overshoot, inadvertently burden or even hurt our employees.
Conversely, we can be too ‘cool’, let ourselves be abused or let bad behavior slip. Great leaders know how to modulate their attitudes based on the context and the outcome they are trying to achieve – they are in the moment, their eyes firmly on the thermometer, ready to make adjustments at any moment.
Preparation is our friend
A barbecue host’s nightmare can look like this: You’re standing at the grill, bullets sweating, and the food is an hour behind schedule. The diners are hungry, impatient and quietly wondering if they should leave and just order takeaway.
Without proper preparation, a barbecue can quickly derail. In addition, if you don’t plant and marinate the meat or don’t season the vegetables, the food you were going to serve will not only be late but substandard.
Our result is proportional to our preparation. Whether I’m in front of the grill or my board members, if I’m not prepared, my results won’t reach my goals. If I’m too busy to properly prepare a board meeting, the meeting is unfocused and unproductive. However, if I take the time to set my goals and collect my notes, the meeting goes seamlessly and we achieve what we need.
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The discipline of fire
Grillers know they can’t “put it and forget it,” walking away from the fire to chat with friends or cool off indoors. If they do, they could be committing one of the cardinal sins of grilling: overcooked meat. Your heart sinks when you prick the charred, dry chest, and more often than not, the food is irreparable. Even if we’ve barbecued a million times, we have to watch the process minute by minute, looking for signs that the food is ready.
A ‘put it and forget it’ approach to leadership is equally disastrous. It is vital that leaders stay focused and continuously monitor the health of their businesses, projects and people. The processes we build – especially the processes that we can sometimes find “boring” or boring – and the coherence what we do with them helps our business thrive.
If we neglect regular check-ins, we could miss a flare-up and jeopardize our success. The discipline of great leadership is standing by the fire when all you want to do is sit down, have a beer and relax with the rest of the guests.
Grilling with intuition
I don’t necessarily recommend that you try this at home, but when I grill I don’t use a thermometer or follow any recipes. Of course, thermometers and recipes can be helpful – I relied heavily on them when I first learned. But over time, I found that when I stopped using it, I was forced to be hyper-present, relying on my senses and intuition to know my next move.
In business, we must avoid relying too much on standard check-in practices and data analysis or we will become complacent. Such tools provide extremely useful information, but it’s easy to become so obsessed with what the data says that we don’t ask fundamental questions, such as “What do I think about this? Are we going in the right direction?” One of the most powerful tools we have is our intuition, and sometimes it’s the most useful data point we can track.
Recipes, thermometers and data form the basis, but what happens if the thermometer breaks or the data formula is outdated? When we stay hyper-present and focused, we make sure we don’t miss out on potential opportunities or problems. And if we want to create something beyond the typical hamburger and move towards the exceptional, we have to put away the recipe books, take risks and trust our gut.
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There’s a reason we all love attending barbecues. But before you stop reading and start planning one, I’ve got a few more tips to get you ready for success on the grill and in the office. A grill speed, if you will.
Consider using an herb you’ve never tried before, but remember to taste it before throwing in the whole bottle. This is similar to experimenting and iterating in the workplace. Try new things and work on improving them over time.
Also, never underestimate the simple contribution of salt and pepper or what a splash of Worcestershire sauce can add to the overall flavor of a dish. Sometimes it’s the simple things we do in business that get us across the finish line. People may not always notice when they are there, but they certainly will when they are not.
Finally, as the late great Anthony Bourdain once said, “Barbecue may not be the way to world peace, but it’s a start.” Barbecue might not be what we look for leadership advice, but it can still teach us a lot.