Walking the tightrope

Wisdom from the productivity classic Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy: “Sometimes people come up to me and ask, “How do I achieve balance between my work and my home life?””

“I ask them in return, “How often does a tightrope walker balance when on the high wire?””

“That is the same situation with balance between work and home life. You have to do it all the time. You never reach a point where you have attained it perfectly. You have to work at it.”

On our shoulders

From the outside it might look as if a team hold collective responsibility for their success, but on the inside, we alone shoulder the stress around our workload. You can compare it to feeling alone in a crowd, although the reality is that everyone is going through something similar.

When we work so closely together as chefs, we can take advantage of the camaraderie that bonds us together. We can make space to acknowledge what’s causing all the stress, so no one is forced to deal with it in their life outside the kitchen. As the old adage says, “a burden shared is a burden divided.”

All that’s required is a team culture that allows everyone to show up as they are: to simply be human.

Huddle

What kind of ritual does your team close each shift with? Even a two-minute huddle to objectively reflect on service can bring closure to what is usually a long day for most of us. Cleaning the kitchen together doesn’t really count. And it doesn’t have to be a drawn-out affair, accompanied by alcohol, chef.

Alignment

How scattered we can be during a regular day in the kitchen. And it’s not always the nature of our work that’s to blame. We react unfavourably when something goes wrong. Some of us carry things we haven’t fully processed or dealt with in our lives. Others engage in the power plays that are inevitable when people gather together.

But how much energy does it then take for the team to realign themselves for service? But a strong culture keeps people aligned towards their common purpose. When it’s not ‘leaking’ energy, the team exerts a positive impact on an employee’s work-life balance.

Boundaries

What boundaries does your culture enforce between work and life outside it, chef? Are they fluid, permeable, or non-existent even? It might be that you trespass boundaries only in the event of a contingency. But even then, you can establish a set of ground rules as an organisation to help your team honour the separation essential to a healthy work-life balance.

And it has to work both ways. When you lead a kitchen, within those ground rules should be structures that help you find balance too, chef.

Ownership

There are two sides to our tribal kitchen culture. One the one hand it shapes what you do and how you behave. It produces an almost infantile behaviour in employees. “Tell me what I should do to fit in, to be part of the team, and I’ll do it.” We battle the symptoms in our kitchens everyday: people not showing up for their shift, calling in sick at the last minute, etc.

But if you instill a sense of sovereignty and treat them as professionals, wouldn’t your chefs take ownership of how they show up for work and take responsibility for their work-life balance?

‘Busy’ness

This fortnight, Love Letters to Chefs asks you to look at your team culture and how it impacts work-life balance.

Does your kitchen feed the myth of ‘busy’ness, chef? That unless you’re seen to be producing work – seen being the operative word here – you hold no value? Do you expect your chefs to justify every moment of their existence, without giving them a moment to pause for breath?

This is what you have to see: that the opportunities to recover your balance lie first and foremost in those moments.

Comfort zone

In my research I came across many stories of head chefs feeling guilty or being made to feel guilty about prioritising their own work-life balance. I don’t know how you might personally deal with that dilemma, but in this post I will share some truths that might help you.

Most people look to their jobs to provide learning, growth and a sense of meaning. As a leader, you’re holding a space for them to experience all of that. And that sometimes means drawing them out of their comfort zones. But it’s for you to manage that delicate balance between all your responsibilities here: to make sure things get done, to facilitate someone’s growth and to honour your own needs.

The world is watching..

In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…
This is the inter-related structure of reality.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

For the past 2.5 years, I have repeatedly used these words by Martin Luther King, Jr. to emphasise why we need to treat each other well in the kitchen. But we shouldn’t need a reason, should we? It should be the norm, a given on any team that have come together collectively for a purpose.

Why would we align our actions and energy towards anything else except that one goal? Why do we not see the power of lifting someone up as opposed to bringing them down? Where are we headed if we don’t look out for each other?

Ungrounded leaders

I cannot emphasise enough how much your own grounding matters as a leader, chef. Your own practice – whatever it might be that grounds you – is so very vital not just in helping you make better decisions, but in getting through the work day that constantly takes you off-centre. I have also witnessed this many times – if you’re all over the place, then the entire team expresses that ‘directionless’ energy.

And if you’re the kind of leader that is a pleasure to work under – open, warm and approachable – then you also have to keep in mind that you simply cannot be all things to all people.