Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Leadership Lessons from MasterChef Australia

The 2015 Master Chef Australia concluded some months back, but is now being telecast in India. As the Finale Week is approaching, I thought it was opportune to pay a tribute to one of my most favorite television programmes.

I have been watching Master Chef Australia for about five years now and it never fails to touch a chord. It is much more than a cooking reality show. While it does celebrate food, flavor, culinary skills, technique and presentation, it also packs in more lessons.

Watch how Gary, Matt and George don their roles as coaches and mentors and provide unmistakable lessons for leadership.

When the participants are cooking and racing against time, the trio steps in to provide that bit of valuable advice or to flag-off a potential cooking disaster. It is always done professionally and is always about the skill, technique, ingredient, speed and never about the person.

Take-Away for leaders:
Don’t wait till appraisal time to provide inputs or comments. Be involved, observe carefully and ensure you don’t set your team up for failure.

This is leadership in action! Watch every tasting ceremony and see how sensitivity, compassion and objectivity become the core values of an ‘appraisal’ or ‘review'. When the participant places the dish for the ultimate test of tasting, the judges’ body language and expression is neither condescending nor critical. The first remark, whatever the outcome would be, is always positive like –“Wow! That looks good”.

When the stakes are high, especially in an elimination round, every tasting is preceded with a personal conversation – “what’s driving you?”, “how did you do today?”, “is something bothering you?”. There’s so much empathy that is demonstrated, especially with the participant who has struggled the most or whose dish is showing problems.

We see expert, incisive knowledge as the basis of observations and comments. Even though the viewers aren’t tasting the dish, we know exactly what went right or awry with the flavour, technique or ingredient. No personal biases come in the way.  

Take-Away for leaders:
Demonstrate deep domain knowledge and let objectivity and fairness ride supreme. This way the candidate is completely enrolled in your evaluation and respects the decision. And don't fake the personal conversation. Insincerity is always detected.

The judges clearly spell out reasons for their score and you can’t fault their verdict.  The good points are unfailingly highlighted, along with the poor ones. In a close tie, the ultimate parameters are flavor and balance. Presentation, hard work, team spirit all get their due. But when its down to the last crumb and every dish is a visual treat, then it is all about the core value – how did the food taste.

Take-Away for leaders:
Let your employee know exactly the reason behind your scores and always align performance to the ultimate objective or core value of the role/project.

This is when the participant with the lowest score gets eliminated from the show. And how! The best moments are showcased, strengths and achievements are celebrated and the participant is reminded of his/her goal or dream.

What’s beautiful is that much after the elimination, the last frame tells the viewers about the participant's current journey and success - "We wish you well", "We know you’ll do well" "We’ll look out for you".