Friday, June 3, 2011

Learning Leadership part I

I have now been living and working in Idaho for just over a year and I am finally starting to feel like I fit in my role as Sous Chef. The title basically means that I am right under the Head or Executive Chef, which in this case is also the owner. When I say fit in I don't mean the actual work. Learning the menu, ordering, taking care of the physical side of the business are all pretty easy for me. The slow process for me has been earning respect from my fellow employes in the role of being their boss. Part of the reason I feel that I am getting somewhere is that a few months ago I started reflecting on people that I have previously worked for and how they handled others. Now I think it is time for a more in-depth study, and for me that means writing it out. Which also means that I will share it with my fellow bloggers and hope that maybe it can be of benefit to others as well.

This will not be an exhaustive essay on everywhere I have worked or everyone I worked for, but is meant to include only those persons and places that have impressed me in ways that relate to what I am doing now. I am not including any of my construction work as I was either working for my father-in-Law (who treated me more like a co-worker), or self-employed.

My first job after the lawn mowing/fence building antics of a twelve to thirteen year old was as a dishwasher at a pretty nice place called the Greenhouse. I don't remember the owners or manager well enough to be of consequence, but the Head Cook, well he has his place. I was a few weeks shy of my fourteenth birthday and my main impressions of his character were crude, grumpy, and a heavy drinker. He was easily upset and many a time I had to dodge pans flying through the air towards the dish pit. I was a pretty quiet kid and at first he scared me, but I eventually got used to him. At this time I had no thoughts about a career in the business but I knew that whatever I did, I would not be like him. After about a year he was gone, but as I got older I would see him around and while he would make fun of me, I could tell it was becoming more of a comradely way and I began seeing him more as a person with problems, likes and dislikes and all that. It culminated one day (I was about twenty-six or so), when going to do a catering job for a friend. He was there to help out, and as I was in charge of the food I found myself having to tell him what to do. I could tell he balked at the idea from his comments at first, but he really tried, and by the end of it I think we both had a new found respect for each other.

Back at the Greenhouse the replacement was the husband and wife team of Bob and Krista. He was a professional Chef and she knew how to run the front of the house, the bookkeeping, and the baking. Together they turned that place around form a typical steak and burger joint into a classy yet affordable place to have a nice meal. Bob was the kind of guy who commanded respect by his attitude of respecting others. He had a cheery disposition that only hinted at what would happen if you got on his bad side. He was smart and confident and seemed to know just what you were capable of. He loved playing hackey-sack and would be out there with us kicking it at every opportunity. Bob wanted to get me on the line and learn the real cooking, but I lacked the confidence in myself at the time. There was a lot that I learned from him but I truly wish I had known how important his knowledge would have been to me. My biggest lesson and also the only time he ever scared me happened thus. I lived about twelve miles away and rode my bike to work each day. There was a time while riding, it became very stormy and I took shelter for ten or twenty minutes. By the time I got to work I was about five minutes late. He took me out to a private table, quietly and calmly said that he did not care what happened, but if I ever was late again, thereby showing him disrespect, I would no longer have a job there. This affected me deeply and to this day I cannot let myself be late to work.

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