Chef – Do you manage or lead

By Martin Probst, Learning & Development Whiz at Leading Chef Academy

To be successful as Executive chef, you need to do the right things (effectiveness – leadership) and do things right (efficiency – management). When you are flat out, for example, ask yourself if you are busy just for the sake of being busy, or if you are busy in an effective and efficient way.

I am sure you agree that the hospitality industry nowadays is extremely fast paced, and requires flexibility from each individual employee. Restaurants, hotels, catering companies etc. move from one trend into the next and demand especially from you, the Executive chef, to step out of your comfort zone and expect you to adapt fast.

You need to understand that human beings often choose the easiest way to a feel-good experience without considering the long-term impact. As previously explained in one of my blogs Chef – Who do you blame?, an independent person possesses ‘above the line’ thinking, which means the person takes ‘response-ability’ (the ability to chose their response to achieve long term benefits, rather than harm). Leaders need to possess this ability, and have a vision. The vision determines their actions. As you can see in the following behaviour diagram, ‘above the line’ thinking involves doing things that don’t feel good but are actually good for you.

Behaviour diagramm

As an Executive chef, you should spend some time doing activities that belong to level 1 and the rest of your time doing those belonging to level 2. This is the quadrant of learning, evolution and long-term benefits and success. Quadrant level 2 is where tasks are outside your comfort zone and you are yet to establish habits that feel good. These are usually the things you know you should be doing but often don’t get around to do it (remember the cause and effect principle in an earlier blog?)

It is all too easy to give up on activities that belong to level 2, to give your power away and to believe that you don’t have what it takes to succeed with these still unfamiliar tasks. If you do not persist, and patiently keep practising the undertakings that belong to quadrant 2, you fall into the harmful ‘below the line thinking’. Activities or actions that belong to Level 3 feel good at the moment, even though you know and ignore the damaging outcome that they bring.

Spend most of your time in level 3 and you will end up in level 4. If you just keep doing what gives you short-term satisfaction or pleasure but ignore the actual detriment that comes with it, you will unquestionably end up in level 4. All a little confusing? Here is an example: I often witness newly promoted Executive chefs spending their valuable time micro-managing their outlets. This is clearly a level 3 behaviour. It feels good, because they know what they are doing. After all, they cooked for years before they got their promotion. What they should be doing instead is spending their valuable time learning new tasks and responsibilities that will eventually contribute more effectively to the business than cooking and performing Sous-chef or even Chef de partie tasks. Level 3 activities down the track often lead to staff issues, conflicts, high staff turnover, redundancies, and even bankruptcy. These behaviours are unresourceful and not sustainable.

Management vs. Leadership

The role of an efficient MANAGER is to focus on the end of the production line by doing things right, and to ask “How can I best achieve the outcome?” The role of an effective LEADER is doing the right thing and to focus on the beginning of the production line and ask “What are the things we want to achieve?” Executive chefs need to be a bit of both, and have to be careful not to get lost in daily (micro) management. The first rule is to be a role model for all your employees and the hospitality business itself. Levels 3 and 4 are not the places you want to end up at. So let’s have a look at the solution:

  • Spend most of your time with activities in level 2 and you, as well as your brigade, will LEARN | EVOLVE | SUCCEED


Are you looking for educational resources tailored to Executive chefs and their kitchen brigade? Then check out our online education & training solutions here.

Learning new things can be painful at first, as it doesn’t feel good. It comes with the fear of being found out, as we Executive chefs often believe we should know everything. This is clearly not the case and only proofs that we have too high expectations of ourselves.

“You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” ~ Ray Kroc



Make sure you embrace uncertainty more, are willing to stuff up and take on new challenges that don’t feel good at first, but are in the long run good for you, others and the greater good. As you keep performing the tasks, you will notice that you constantly improve until you converted level 2 tasks into level 1 habits which suddenly feel good. You gained confidence through the skills and knowledge you learned with your empowering attitude of embracing uncertainty, determination and trust in yourself. Don’t get lost in the paradigm of daily management, because the manager is still dependent on the leader. In other words, no management success can compensate for failure in leadership. So, be open to new challenges and grow as a person, manager and leader every day. It will grow into long-term benefits and success.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~ John C. Maxwell


Gaining Trust and Respect Get the Foundation right 3D coverGaining Trust and Respect Plan Ahead 3D cover

If you would like to get more information on this topic and how you can improve your thinking and the critical thinking within your brigade, then download our resources here.



Check out the interview with Glenn Wright, Executive Chef Hilton South Wharf Melbourne.

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By Martin Probst

In a nutshell, Martin Probst is the Managing Director of LEADING CHEF ACADEMY. He is not interested in teaching you how to suck eggs and is convinced that you are a top banana if it comes to your cooking ability. His mission is to add to your existing kitchen experience a blend of innovative LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT, EMPLOYEE MANAGEMENT & ORGANISATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS skills, so you can taste the success you deserve for all the hard work you put into your career over the years. His vision is to connect modern chefs around the globe and take them to the next level with our online education & training solutions.

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