A few years ago, my wife and I went to a highly-regarded (and oft-recommended) restaurant in the Orlando area (our now former home).
I ordered a brined, bone-in pork chop. When it came out, looking somewhat like the photo below, I was excited to cut in and take a bite.
“Wow, that's really salty,” was my first reaction.
There's “brined” — a process meant to keep the pork moist and to add some flavor — and then there's “too salty to eat.”
I don't often send food back, but when the server asked how everything was, I told him that the pork chop, upon trying a second small bite, was too salty to enjoy.
The server went back to the kitchen. On his return, he said,
“The chef says that's how it's supposed to taste.”
How did the chef know? It's often said you should “taste as you cook” because even if you're following a recipe, the natural variation in some ingredients might mean that you need to adjust by adding more or less of something. Instead of Plan Do Study Adjust, it's Plan Cook Taste Adjust.
I pushed back and said something to the effect of, “Well, even if that's how it's supposed to taste, it's the saltiest thing I've eaten in a long time.”
I wasn't happy.
The server took my plate back to the kitchen.
Then, the chef came out to our table.
“I'm really sorry. I just tasted what you sent back and you're right. Clearly, something went wrong with the brining. It's not supposed to be that salty.”
I got something else and was very happy with it (although it threw off the timing of our meal, as I watched my wife eat and then she watched me eat).
Look at the difference in approach here:
- Chef was dismissive, there can't be a problem, I'm assuming the customer is wrong
- Chef actually dove into the real reality (with a fork) and discovered there actually was a problem
What are the parallels for leaders in an organization?
If a plant manager is sitting in their corner office and gets told about a safety problem in the factory, we wouldn't want them to be dismissive.
If a hospital CEO is in a conference room and gets told about a surgeon's bad behavior in the operating room, they shouldn't be dismissive.
I think the same is true when it comes to societal issues (racism and discrimination, sexual harassment or abuse) — we shouldn't be dismissive just because we aren't experiencing the problem ourselves.
Go and investigate. Go and see. Go and listen. Go and learn.
Acknowledging the real reality is the first step for an effective leader.
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