Leadership Is Like Ice Cream

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The words “leader” and “leadership” used to be widely accepted definitions of person(s) at the very top. Now, they have been widely broadened to reflectively include those who contribute to the process of moving things forward at any level, in any business setting.

I like to think of it this way: leadership is like ice cream, and the specific business, industry, or circumstances are the flavors. It is impossible to use chocolate chip and make it work when pistachio swirl is required, unless you only care about the fact that you used “leadership ice cream” and not about the outcome or how it tastes. Now you know why poor leadership leaves such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

The mixing of flavors (or leadership styles/skills) is a creative endeavor, because it has to be. The quest of all leaders, doing the right thing at the right time, time after time, is not a science; it’s the repetitive capture of quicksilver. An enlightened/contemporary approach demands different leadership tactics for ever-changing circumstances and roles. You can be a lead cook, server, or busser (out in-front-modeling the job in a stellar fashion), but that is different than a general manager, battlefield leader, or neighborhood political leader. Hone in on what will work best for your situation, circumstance, and time frame.

Leadership (at any level) is simply a role. It can be definitive or derivative, but still just one of many roles that are played out within any human enterprise. Management is, in most situations, a job, with an accompanying job description. (Try to find a formal company job description for “leader.”) Leadership and management are properly awesome together—like ice cream and a cone, but they aren’t the same thing!

In the hospitality industry leadership is sought, recognized, and cultivated at all levels. If someone is the best busser/cook/server/bartender they can become a “lead” and leaders at all levels are the lifeblood of any hospitality organization. I am not a top–down leadership school-of-thought adherent, although it has had its place in history. Enlightened organizations currently seek bottom-up/sideways/criss-cross leadership involvement and engagement. They rotate and align the best people, ideas, practices and future “potentials” to positions out in front.

Present day business environments are shockingly fluid and demanding of skills that previously were not essential requirements. At the top of this skills list is learning on the fly and adapting to ever-changing conditions.

How do you develop adroitness, awareness, and capacity? With seasoning! How do you accelerate seasoning? Hopefully, with the complete backing of the entire organization toward leadership development, and by accepting that “mistakes” are part of the process. As many have stated before, not pushing your limits to the point of making some mistakes is a mistake, especially when you’re attempting to create engaged leaders at all levels of your organization. Please keep this logic at the forefront of your mind as you attempt to accomplish one of the major components of any leadership role—identifying and developing future leaders.

Leaders, you must try to create the most impactful flavor of leadership (ice cream) that works best for your situation/team and you’re going to have some bad batches along the way. Many of you already have faced the fact that some folks on your team will come up with a “dirt” flavor of team leadership when you asked them for cool mint. However, you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of positive outcomes if you embrace the quest for engaged leadership at all levels as if it were both a business necessity and a creative flavor endeavor.