Everyday leadership

All of the women of my life have been good cooks. My Dad was not. When he lived by himself in his 80s, I threw out a goodly number of tuna fish cans on each of my visits. Dad, having been born in 1899, believed in a division of labor at the farm. He and his boys had the outside responsibilities of taking care of crops and animals and Mom and my sister, Sylvia, had the inside tasks of cooking and cleaning.

I observed Mom cooking and Sylvia baking and was amazed at the smoothness and lack of hesitancy of their processes. Mom was not a measurer. She was a pincher and a sifter. And the product came out perfect every time.

With the exception of an occasional grilled cheese sandwich or a breakfast of bacon and eggs, made the Mom way, I never felt the need to cook until I was about 40. For some reason I decided to attempt spaghetti. The base of the sauce was purchased but I experimented with the addition of spices and anything else that happened to be in the cabinet. I was surprised when a very tasty meal was achieved.

Since that time I added pizza, hamburger stew (my brother-in-law’s recipe), and meat loaf to my list of dishes. When I decided to make a meat loaf, I called my Mom and inquired about her recipe. She was vague regarding the exact measures, which made sense given her intuitive process. In any case, my finished dish tasted close to what I remembered as a child.

During my next rendition, my wife suggested a recipe on the back of Lipton soup box, which mirrored Mom’s. The recipe required one envelope of the soup. I used two. Three-fourths cup of bread crumbs were obtained by shredding a couple of end slices of bread and I mixed the bread crumbs and a couple of eggs into a large bowl with two pounds of hamburger. One-third cup of Baby Ray’s Barbecue sauce was substituted for the ketchup listed on the recipe and a three-quarter cup of water was added. I included six garlic cloves, one half large white onion, and a couple cups of mushrooms all sliced. I formed my loaf in a pan and topped it with more barbecue sauce. Needless to say, it was delicious.

Recipes are models or templates for a product. In some cases like in chemical plants or manufacturing processes, the recipe must be followed diligently and changed only after controlled experimentation and testing. However, leaders often have leeway in how they lead. Trying new approaches and documenting results can be very valuable for process improvement. Documenting the performance of processes can be very helpful. Mom had her recipes and processes all in her head. By repeated demonstration and description, she transferred the knowledge to my sister. Had she documented her processes, transferability to others would have been easier. Look around your workplace. Are your most important processes accurately documented so others can learn them? If not, get your internal experts to put them down on paper.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.