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You Can't Learn How to Ride a Bike at a Seminar

Experience and Leadership Skills

July 16, 2020

I know that the chef Gordan Ramsay can be a polarizing figure. Watching one of his shows, I vacillate between cringing and cheering on the participants he is helping guide — I seem to have a wide range of reactions to what I am seeing. There is one indisputable fact about what I am seeing though; he is a natural leader who is able to bring the best out of the people he is working with.

Improving Communication to Inspire Engagement

The title of this article is from a conversation I had recently and it stuck with me. The idea that you can’t become an expert at something you learn in a very short period of time (like an afternoon) can be frustrating for some. When I work with organizations, there are points when I am sometimes asked to help design trainings around communication — difficult communication. The foundation of the question is typically rooted in how to improve communication so that our culture can shift toward engagement and better execution of our strategy.

Being able to communicate or manage conflict effectively is not something that can solely be taught in a seminar, though it can be a good initiation to a larger process. When I am watching Chef Ramsay work, he’s utilizing the skills he has learned in bringing out the best qualities and skills in people. The people who are working with him already have some of these skills — they may be latent, but they exist within the team.

The Benefits of Experience

The reason I think Gordan Ramsay is a good example — in the context of strategy — is because he is able to work with a large number of variables simultaneously: the food, the support cooks, the owners, even the customers. A baseline set of skills exists — how to lead, how to manage, how to measure success. However, experience has dictated how to best balance those skills.

You can learn the tools you need to be a skilled leader, but the practice and development of these skills is built and refined by their use and response to outside variables over time. So, back to Chef Ramsay. Anyone who has seen one of these shows knows that he can be very direct and gruff. His delivery is often not something I would advise replicating. But on closer observation, there is something in his actions that has been developed over years and that is his ability to transmit that he has the best interests of the party in question in mind. And he is authentic.

The reason people like Gordan Ramsay are such excellent strategists is because they have a belief in what they are doing and they believe in the people who are doing it. They truly want what’s best for everyone. Once you see past the exterior of Chef Ramsay’s personality, what you have is a master strategist. He shares what made him great in a very compressed timeline on his shows, but always leaves the organizations he works with in a state where they know and (usually) understand that true success, in terms of strategy, is based on persistence, hard work, continuous learning and improvement, as well as exploration, or being open to trying something new.

I look at shows like “24 Hours to Hell and Back” as master classes in effective strategy and leadership. You may not be able to learn how to ride a bike at a seminar, but if you listen and watch carefully, you can take what you have learned and make sure that you have what you need to find success if you are willing to put the work.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.